03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The US Chamber of Commerce Is Killing the Copenhagen Climate Treaty

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has already done everything it can to kill the chances of a legally binding agreement emerging from the Copenhagen climate change summit.

Now it can sit back, relax and watch the action from a coffee shop outside the United Nations conference, content that its efforts to derail U.S. climate policy have effectively hamstrung the international negotiations.

As explained clearly in "The Global Climate Change Lobby," an excellent new report from the Center for Public Integrity, corporate lobbyists and trade associations focus their attention on tampering with domestic legislative efforts, and then stand by and watch as their positions and talking points contaminate international negotiations indirectly.

Business interests (or BINGOs as they're called in U.N. speak) "can have very little effect at these meetings," according to Nick Campbell, a European industry lobbyist who has represented the International Chamber of Commerce at U.N. climate talks since the early 1990s when the global effort to fight climate change began with the Rio Earth Summit.

If the Chamber or other lobbying groups send any staff to international summits like the upcoming Copenhagen conference, their goal is to "loiter" in the coffee shops and collect business cards from delegates they can target later on legislative matters back home.

According to Campbell, "the advantage of coming to these meetings -- as I've spent years trying to tell my colleagues -- and I may as well talk to a brick wall over there -- is that you have more opportunity talking to delegates at these meetings than you do at home."

"You have the coffee bar; [delegates] are off-line. You might be staying at the same hotels as people," Campbell says.

Brian Flannery, Exxon Mobil's chief climate advisor and, along with Campbell, a representative of the International Chamber of Commerce, says that a UNFCCC conference "isn't a place for lobbying. All the industry associations recognize their key issue is to work at home, with their governments, in their capitals," Flannery says.

The U.N. talks are strictly used for networking efforts. "You form contacts all over the world, people you know who will answer the phone" later when you call them on domestic issues, according to Flannery.

But the Chamber of Commerce has not remained entirely quiet in the weeks before Copenhagen.

The group recently issued a white paper belittling the efforts of world leaders to reach an ambitious, legally-binding agreement in the Danish capital. The report is titled "The Prospects for Copenhagen: More Realism Can Smooth the Way," [PDF] and was produced by the Chamber's climate policy arm, the Institute for 21st Century Energy.

"There's very little prospect that we'll get a comprehensive agreement coming out of Copenhagen," says Steve Eule, the Institute's Vice President, in an online video discussing the report.

I highlighted the Chamber's long history of interference within the U.S. climate policy debate recently, recapping the exodus of Chamber members who fled the group this summer due to its call for a Scopes Monkey Trial of global warming science and its work to block Congressional climate and energy bills.

So it is no surprise to hear the Chamber join the chorus of naysayers who assert that a binding global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions would be impractical to achieve in Copenhagen. Admittedly, it would take a Herculean effort to reach a legally-binding deal, especially on the part of the United States, which has thus far failed to pass energy and climate legislation domestically, crippling the international process in the eyes of many observers.

But the Chamber's reasoning is much different from those who predict that, while a binding deal won't emerge in Copenhagen, such a deal is definitely achievable within 3, 6 or 12 months after (depending on when the U.S. passes its energy and climate legislation).

The Chamber claims that a deal won't emerge in December because it "would require large and expensive emissions reductions" and place a burden on developed nations' economies, principally the United States economy, which is the Chamber's primary area of interest.

The main message in the Chamber's report - behind its lofty rhetoric about how technology can save the day (someday) and business is ready to lead the way (with a healthy and endless bucket of subsidies and little or no regulation or accountability) - is that climate change does not merit such an urgent global response.

You see, the Chamber of Commerce remains skeptical that man-made global warming is even occurring, despite all the incontrovertible proof provided by the best scientists in the world over the past few decades.

Consider this excerpt from the Chamber report's executive summary:

"Developing countries contend that as developed countries are responsible for most of the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide (a debatable claim), they should go first with emissions cuts of at least 40% to 45% below the 1990 level by 2020 and 80% to 95% below by 2050." [Emphasis mine.]


That the lion's share of CO2 dumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution came from the developed nations? That man-made global warming exists?

The Chamber's past climate denial efforts offer plenty of clarity on its stances about global warming and carbon pollution from fossil fuel dependent industries.

What the Chamber's so-called 'Institute for 21st Century Energy' really argues for is preserving the status quo dominance of 19th century fuels and energy technologies. Unless of course nations are willing to provide bucket loads of subsidies for the private sector to turn around and make a pitifully meager investment in new clean energy technologies, all while the atmosphere continues to cook.

The report implies that, if the U.S. were to pursue the emissions reduction target dictated by the best scientists in the world (an 80% minimum reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2050), America would be reduced to a nation of impoverished Haitian or North Korean peasants.

"An 80% cut [in global warming pollution] by 2050 would shrink the country's 'carbon footprint,' relative to its economy and population, to levels today seen only in countries like Haiti and North Korea." (pg. 8)

This scare tactic is thoroughly debunked by economists and national security experts at the Pentagon. In fact, only when we leave carbon-based economies behind will the United States' (and the world's) prosperity levels continue to increase.

The main takeaway from this 'new' Chamber report is that its message is not new at all. The Institute for 21st Century Energy's message very closely resembles the arguments trotted out by the Chamber many years ago in its attacks on the Kyoto Protocol.

For example, an excerpt from the Chamber's 'Summary Remarks' section of its 2005 report, Reality Check: Straight Talk About the Kyoto Protocol:

"Addressing the climate change challenge by attempting to stabilize the level of CO2 in the atmosphere (if proven necessary) would require expending absolutely vast sums of money (many trillions of dollars) on a far larger scale of intervention than that envisaged by the Kyoto Protocol. However, adopting such an enlarged intervention, premised on enforced, huge cutbacks on CO2 emissions, could be highly destructive to the economies of many nations and could severely curtail the availability of funds needed for addressing other major societal problems, particularly if such a program were to be implemented within a short time frame of a few decades." [Emphasis mine.]

Different year, different treaty, same message. It may not be "proven necessary" to reduce CO2 emissions, and if it is, it will cost too much and destroy the U.S. economy, and it's unrealistic to tackle such a problem "within a short time frame of a few decades."

Chamber President Tom Donohue struck a different note in late September, in the wake of the membership exodus, when he promised that, "The U.S. Chamber continues to support strong federal legislation and a binding international agreement to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change."

But in reality, Donohue wears the Chamber's intransigence on climate action as a badge of honor, recently telling reporters that, "If people want to attack us, bring 'em on. We are not changing where we are. We've thought long and hard about what is important here and we are not going anywhere."

Except to the coffee shops in Copenhagen to "loiter," of course.