Saturday January 2, 2010

Former U.S. UN Ambassador Warns of Hidden Dangers in Copenhagen Deal

By Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D.

NEW YORK, January 2, 2010 ( – Former United States representative to the United Nations (UN) John Bolton recently warned that the failure to reach a legally-binding treaty on climate change in Copenhagen may make the outcome document more dangerous to national interests in the long term.

“Precisely because many states will see a document only politically rather than legally binding as less consequential, their guard will be down,” the former diplomat said in a recent article in the Spectator UK online. “They will be more inclined to score points with the global warming crowd by agreeing to language they would have otherwise resisted, believing they can avoid making ‘legal’ commitments in the ‘real’ treaty,” he said.

The two-week-long environmental summit closed last week with an anti-climactic 12-paragraph document that appeared to leave advocates on every side of the debate unhappy. The goal of Copenhagen was to create a legally-binding treaty to replace the failed Kyoto Protocol which was supposed to regulate and monitor greenhouse gas emissions by developed nations and provide money to poor countries to help lower their emissions.

Social conservatives experienced in UN policy debates note that just because the summit was controversial and the outcome document is non-binding does not mean that activists will not use it to promote the very aims nations ostensibly rejected. International pro-life and pro-family organizations have long warned that abortion rights advocates have persistently used governments’ carelessness or naïveté during negotiations of non-binding documents to push the debate in favor of new rights.

Bolton predicted that similar twisting of the non-binding Copenhagen document is a real possibility: “Cause-oriented international NGOs, with reservoirs of patience and long memories, and their dirigiste governmental allies, often resurrect throwaway political commitments and then bludgeon the unsuspecting into making them legally binding.”

The best known example of this is the attempt to elevate the status of the non-binding outcome documents from the UN’s controversial 1994 Cairo conference on population and 1995 Beijing meeting on women’s rights.

During those conferences there was a US-led campaign to get abortion declared an international human right. The backlash was so strong that Vice President Al Gore declared during the Cairo meeting that abortion was “off the table” and the outcome documents similarly ruled it out as a method of family planning, leaving any changes in abortion laws to domestic legislatures. This has not stopped UN staff and activist lawyers from promoting the documents as “soft law” that include abortion rights.

Similarly, activists maintain that abortion is included in the words “reproductive health,” which appear in many non-binding documents as well as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. When that treaty was negotiated, however, abortion advocates did not openly assert that the term included abortion rights and many pro-life nations accepted it with that understanding.

Activists also persist in saying the term “gender” in UN documents includes more than two sexes, despite the fact that the UN General Assembly has never accepted such a meaning. Even though the issues in Copenhagen may be different from their own, social conservatives say they will be watching out for the misuse of the document.