THE BLOG
11/23/2013 02:13 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Amidst Typhoons and Climate Change, U.S. Spying Network Shows Contempt for Environment

Despite mounting evidence that global warming is leading to devastating environmental disasters in the Pacific region, the U.S. and its partners are suspicious of climate change advocates. Rather brazenly, Washington and its Pacific allies spy on those who are intent on reining in global warming.

Indeed, according to the Guardian newspaper, which wrote a report based on Edward Snowden's recent disclosures, the National Security Agency or N.S.A. spied on Ban Ki-moon and obtained the United Nations Secretary General's "talking points" on climate change. The N.S.A. carried out its espionage prior to a recent meeting between Ban and President Obama at the White House.

It's unclear if Obama read the N.S.A. reports, or tried to outmaneuver Ban based on such intelligence. Nevertheless, the Guardian story reinforces other disclosures which cast the N.S.A. and its Pacific partners in an unflattering environmental light. According to revelations stemming from the so-called "Cable Gate" scandal, the U.S. and Japanese governments discussed taking action to weaken well known anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd.

The group's activists, whose ships routinely confront whalers on the high seas, have long been a thorn in the side of Japanese officials. Seeking to appease Tokyo, the Americans discussed revoking Sea Shepherd's tax exempt status in the United States.

Crass Five Eyes Network and Australia

What is more, the U.S. maintains close ties to Australia, a country which maintains privileged access to something called the "Five Eyes" network. According to other recent reporting, Australia has stopped at nothing when it comes to advancing its own cynical oil espionage within the wider Pacific region.

The revelations, which are contained in an article published by the Sydney Morning Herald, suggest that Australia spied on East Timor during sensitive 2004 negotiations over the future of the Timor Gap oil and gas reserves. In an echo of the Watergate scandal, the Australians reportedly bugged Timorese government offices in Dili at the behest of Canberra's own foreign minister.

East Timor had only gained independence from Indonesia five years before, and regarded the Timor Gap as an ideal opportunity to stabilize government finances. Unfortunately, Australia also laid claim to the offshore energy reserves, and cash-strapped and politically fragile East Timor was eventually obliged to agree to a maritime treaty with Canberra which many in Dili regarded as unfair.

What is more, some charge that the treaty was hastily conceived and did not provide adequate protections for the environment. In 2009, a huge Australian oil spill in the Timor Sea caused anger and consternation in Jakarta and Dili.

Pacific Spying in an Age of Climate Change

Five Eyes spying would be crass and cynical in even the best of times, but recent reports of the network's espionage are particularly jarring in light of catastrophic climate change within the wider region. Indeed, a new study has found that the Pacific is taking in heat at the most elevated rate in many thousands of years.

According to scientists, extreme storm events like typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines, will become more likely in the future as a result of the build-up of greenhouse gases. What is more, researchers add that there will be greater risk of intense rainfall and flooding when cyclones actually hit land.

Haiyan was the third time that catastrophe struck in the Philippines in less than a year: in August, another typhoon resulted in huge flooding on the island of Luzon. In December, 2012 typhoon Bopha caused the deaths of 2,000 Filipinos on the island of Mindanao.

Meanwhile, the low-lying Pacific nation of Kiribati recently confirmed plans to buy land in Fiji so as to assure ongoing food security for its own people. Kiribati was prompted to undertake such drastic measures since its own food production has been devastated by sea level rise and saline water intruding upon its fertile soil.

Speaking at the United Nations climate conference in Poland, an emotional Filipino delegate recently connected climate change with devastating typhoons which have hit his country. Yet, according to recent reports U.S. negotiators have still done their utmost to delay emission reduction commitments at the conference.

In light of such crass negotiations, as well as cynical environmental spying emanating from the Five Eyes network, Pacific islands might want to pursue a more unconventional geopolitical strategy which protects their interests. Unfortunately, small island nations have received scant support from left-leaning Latin America when it comes to pushing a radical climate change agenda. Yet, like the small island nations, Latin America has also been caught in the crosshairs of N.S.A. espionage. Perhaps, as spying revelations continue to leak out, some Latin American leaders will be encouraged to change course and take bolder action.

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of No Rain in the Amazon: How South America's Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet.