The organization responsible for managing a global cap-and-trade system worth billions of dollars for carbon emissions projects around the world is trying to get sweeping legal immunities for its actions, even as it plans to expand its activities dramatically in the wake of the United Nations’ Rio + 20 summit on sustainable development, which starts June 20.
Despite its name, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, legal experts ruled in 2006 that it was not to be part of the U.N. system of organizations that has enjoyed diplomatic and legal immunities since the end of World War II. Now, it is scrambling to figure out how to get them. A meeting of a UNFCCC subsidiary in Bonn last month agreed to forward a new draft treaty covering the issue to another meeting in November.
Internal UNFCCC documents, examined by Fox News, show that among other things, top officials hope to use those immunities to avoid challenges in the future based on such things as:
--possible conflicts of interest in their duties,
--breaches of confidentiality in their work,
--violations of the due process rights of those affected by UNFCCC actions,
--making decisions or actions that are beyond the legal mandate of the organization or its subsidiaries.
The Bonn-based UNFCCC is responsible, among other things, for the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the cap and trade emissions system created by the Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. has not ratified. In the wake of Rio + 20, UNFCCC also hopes to manage a mammoth Green Climate Fund, intended to help mobilize as much as $100 billion a year for projects to lower global greenhouse gases.
The Obama Administration has strongly supported creation of the Green Climate Fund, and remains heavily involved in UNFCCC activities surrounding the Kyoto Protocol, including plans to deepen the cuts in global carbon emissions in the years ahead.
The CDM’s record so far, however, at doing the job it is supposed to do is is deeply unimpressive to many. A study by consultants for the European Commission last December critiqued the mechanism for “lack of transparency,” “inconsistency of decisions,” “conflicts of interest,” and extensive support for “unsustainable technology for emissions reduction.”
In other words, the consultants accused the Kyoto mechanism of a number of the same things that the UNFCCC hopes to avoid through the adoption of broader immunities.
A Brussels-based non-government organization named CDM-Watch, which says it is sponsored by the British government s Department for International Development and the International Climate Protection Initiative of the Federal Environment Ministry of Germany, among others, issued its own scathing critique of the Kyoto mechanism at a UNFCCC climate conference in Durban, South Africa, last December..
Among other things, CDM-Watch claimed that anywhere from 40 percent to 70 percent of CDM projects removed no additional carbon from the atmosphere, that CDM projects “have been known to cause social and environmental harm,” and that only the say-so of governments that host UNFCCC projects is involved in declaring whether the projects actually contribute to “sustainable development.”
(Queried by Fox News about their relationship to CDM-Watch and its critique, neither Britain’s DFID nor Germany’s Environmental Ministry responded before this article was published.)
Nonetheless, according to the UNFCCC’s legal presentation, U.N.-style legal immunity is necessary to “ensure the effective implementation of the Kyoto Protocol without interference from national courts,” and “to provide effective protection for all individuals elected [or] selected to carry out official functions under the Kyoto protocol.”
Rather than legal challenges, the sought-for immunities would settle claims through “impartial settlement mechanisms.”
Currently, according to the legal presentation U.N.-style immunities apply to UNFCCC’s head offices in Bonn due to an agreement with the host country, Germany. The problem is that UNFCCC activities elsewhere are not automatically covered.
Giving them the same level of protection from legal systems around the world requires an amendment of the Kyoto Protocol that would demand ratification by all 194 member countries—and as the case of the U.S. has already shown in the case of the main treaty, ratification might be far from automatic.
But the lack of immunity is not keeping the UNFCCC from scaling back its ambitions. The global carbon-trading regime is slated to take a vast new step forward in the wake of the Rio + 20 summit, as the Green Climate Fund, among other new financial vehicles to promote carbon emissions reduction, scales up for international action.
As the Green Climate Fund adds huge new infusions of money to the UNFCCC’s cap-and-trade empire, questions about the wisdom, as well as the propriety, of blanket immunity for “climate change” projects may grow. For one thing, increasing amounts of private capital are being drawn into the cap-and-trade business, a trend the organizers of the upcoming Rio + 20 conference already loudly hope will grow even further.
The potential for conflict of interest in approving such projects may broaden as a result—except that under a blanket regime of immunities, it might never come to light.
Says John Bolton, a former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., frequent critic of the U.N.’s lack of accountability and transparency, and a Fox News contributor: “The creeping expansion of claims for privileges and immunities protection for U.N. activities is symptomatic of a larger problem. Before the United States acquiesces piecemeal to increased claims for immunity, Congress should comprehensively investigate this issue.”
“Only by exposing the arguments to full public scrutiny,” Bolton continued, “will we be able to develop a sensible U.S. approach.”
George Russell is executive editor of Fox News and can be found on Twitter @GeorgeRussell.