December 4, 2009 | Commentary on Climate Change, International Law

National Sovereignty May Melt at Climate Conference

Imagine a team of clipboard-wielding, foreign bureaucrats fanning out across the United States to inspect and report on carbon emissions from American homes and hospitals, farms and factories, schools and power plants. Their reports feed into another batch of international bureaucrats sitting in Geneva, Brussels, or some other European capital. That committee's solemn charge: To pass judgment and slap penalties on the U.S. for any climatic shortcomings.

For fans of national sovereignty, it's not a pretty picture. But the U.S. may well take the first step toward that unhappy future at the United Nations' Copenhagen Climate Change Conference this month. There, "citizens of the world" will gather to hash out the framework of a "Kyoto II" treaty to fight global warming. United Nations and European Union mandarins begrudgingly admit that no fully developed treaty will emerge from the Copenhagen conference. But climate change mania certainly will not die in Denmark, if only because (to paraphrase Ronald Reagan) a U.N. program is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth.

Copenhagen conferees aim to create an international regulatory body empowered to inspect American energy users and assure their strict adherence to any and all promises made to address climate change. Think of an International Atomic Energy Agency, but for carbon emissions -- an "International Climate Change Agency" that will have the power to call the U.S. on the carpet for periodic climate assessments.

The new international bureaucracy will serve as judge and jury as to whether the U.S. has: (1) met its greenhouse gas emissions targets, (2) transferred the proper amount of American taxpayer dollars (tens, if not hundreds, of billions) to countries in the "developing world," and (3) delivered its leading-edge green technology to those same countries - without compensation for the patent holders.

Certainly the U.S. will have some input in the proceedings, but Americans should harbor no illusions about who will have the final say. A committee (or committees) of international experts - whose members may include representatives from overtly hostile nations -- will have the final word on whether the U.S. climate record is up to snuff. Whatever the judgments rendered by these "expert" committees, the U.S. will be legally obligated to comply with their rulings, since ratified treaties become the "supreme law of the land" under the U.S. Constitution.

Just as "developing world" nations dominate other U.N. bodies such as the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, so they will dominate the new international climate bureaucracy and enforcement committees. Developing nations, including economic giants such as India and China, view climate change as a cash cow ... and more. In addition to "milking" developed nations for hundreds of billions of dollars in aid, they'll receive, absolutely free, clean-energy technology worth untold billions more.

Why the largesse? According to the Copenhagen mind-set, the developed world in general -- and the U.S. in particular -- owes a massive "climate debt" to the developing world. A key goal of Kyoto II is to make sure we pay that debt -- dearly.

Given recent events, however, Copenhagen conferees should be forced to answer a different question: Why exactly should the U.S. submit to major intrusions into its domestic energy policy that will threaten its economic well-being?

Climatologists agree that global temperatures have been stable or have even declined over the past decade. In a brewing scandal known as "Climategate" a cache of e-mails either leaked or purloined from Britain's premier climate change research lab strongly suggest that its scientists have used "tricks" to hide the temperature decline and conspired with other global warming "researchers" in a coordinated campaign of data manipulation, obfuscation and intimidation.

Moreover, China, the world's top greenhouse gas emitter, has made it crystal clear that while it's happy to talk about all the "green" energy it plans to produce, it has absolutely no intention of accepting a binding emissions reduction target at Copenhagen or thereafter.

In the walk-up to Copenhagen, it is clear that (1) the credibility of the science making the case for emission reductions has suffered a serious, if not fatal, blow, and (2) the main offender - while happy to take our money and technology for free -- will not agree to lower its own emissions. Yet still the U.S. is hectored to "demonstrate leadership" by drinking the global-warming Kool-Aid and surrendering its sovereignty to a new international bureaucracy dominated by our economic and political rivals.

At its root, America's sovereignty boils down to a matter of who determines U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Who should have the final say about American energy policy and the manner in which billions of taxpayer dollars are distributed to developing nations -- the President? Congress? The American People? The answer under the Kyoto II treaty is "none of the above."

And thus does American sovereignty slip away, not with a bang but with the click of an international bureaucrat's ballpoint pen.

Steven Groves oversees the Freedom Project as the Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

About the Author

Steven Groves Bernard and Barbara Lomas Senior Research Fellow
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First Appeared in The Washington Times