Snowden Documents Reveal U.S. Spied During 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit


New documents provided by Edward Snowden, nominated on Wednesday for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to expose U.S. surveillance practices, show that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spied on other countries in the lead up to and during the December 2009 United Nations Climate Summit in Copenhagen.

Posted on the internal NSA website on December 7, 2009, the first day of the summit, parts of the document are classified as Top Secret, the highest level of classification in the United States.

The document says that “analysts here at NSA, as well as our Second Party partners, will continue to provide policymakers with unique, timely, and valuable insights into key countries’ preparations and goals for the conference, as well as deliberations within countries on climate change policies and negotiating strategies.”

Second Party partners refers to close partners from intelligence agencies in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The Huffington Post and the Danish daily newspaper Information published the documents in coordination on Wednesday, and they both have in-depth analyses of how the NSA actions may have impacted to talks.

According the the article in Information “the general theme of the document is a set of risk assessments on various effects of climate change that the entire intelligence community was working on”:

“However, the document suggests that the NSA’s actual focus in relation to climate change was spying on other countries to collect intelligence that would support American interests, rather than preventing future climate catastrophes. It describes the U.S. as being under pressure because of its role as the historically largest carbon emitter. A pressure to which the NSA spies were already responding.”

The Copenhagen Summit was the first major climate summit after President Obama’s election, and expectations were high — promoters were calling the event “Hopenhagen.” The meeting was meant to produce a successor agreement to the landmark 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and to take substantial measures to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, whether emitted by developed countries or developing countries. However, the complex negotiations ultimately did not achieve such lofty goals, and the next opportunity for a post-Kyoto agreement is now pinned to the 2015 climate summit in Paris.

The initial response to the revelations that the U.S. spied during the negotiations, which are meant to address a global problem and rely on trust-building measures, have been highly condemning.

Climate change activist and founder of Bill McKibben tweeted: “Insane and disgusting: NSA spied on all the delegations to Copenhagen climate conference.”

“There should be an assurance in negotiations like this that powerful players are not going to gain undue advantage with technological surveillance.” Martin Khor, an adviser to developing countries at the summit and director of the South Centre think tank, told the Guardian. “For negotiations as complex as these we need maximum goodwill and trust. It is absolutely critical. If there is anything that prevents a level playing field, that stops negotiations being held on equal grounds.”

Revelations of the leakage may spark initial outrage, but going forward it will be important for countries to move on and get back to work on what is much more than just an environmental treaty, but a major global economic agreement.

“The big lesson from Copenhagen, we don’t need to push anything to happen. Things will happen when everyone is ready, and I think the point we are at right now will not be damaged by any leakage,” Venezuela’s chief climate envoy Claudia Salerno told RTCC. “We had a long way to mature our own relationships among countries and between negotiators, and that is why I’m so confident that whatever is said regarding the past, we are mature enough right now not to talk about it and let that undermine the future.”

While there may not be any other option than waiting for all countries to agree, it is unfortunate that this process seems only to be catalyzed by the increasing challenges posed by climate change. Heat waves, extreme weather events, droughts and sea level rise will only get worse as time passes waiting for each country to reach a tipping point.

At last year’s climate negotiations in Warsaw, Philippine Climate Change Commissioner and lead climate negotiator Naderev “Yeb” Saño delivered some moving remarks about the dangers of climate change shortly after his home country had experienced the devastating Super Typhoon Haiyan:

“To anyone outside who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare them, I dare them to get off their ivory towers and away from the comfort of their armchairs. I dare them to go to the islands of the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Indian ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels; to the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and the Andes to see communities confronting glacial floods … to the vast savannas of Africa where climate change has likewise become a matter of life and death as food and water become scarce.”