Cablegate: Singapore Laments Copenhagen "Trench Fighting" But

Published: Wed 23 Dec 2009 04:55 AM
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1. (U) Summary: As the United Nations Conference on Climate
Change wound down in Copenhagen, Singapore Prime Minister Lee
Hsien Loong criticized the event's "sound and fury" and
"trench fighting" in remarks to Singaporean journalists.
Participants did not adopt the right frame of mind, he said.
Nevertheless, Singapore expressed its support for the
resulting political accord, if only as a useful basis from
which to negotiate a binding agreement. PM Lee reaffirmed
Singapore's recently-announced emissions growth targets
(reported reftel) but conditioned them on attainment of a
binding international agreement. Singapore's mainstream
media initially called the conference a failure, but a
post-conference editorial in the government-linked Straits
Times adopted a more positive tone, acknowledging American
leadership as key to securing the climate change accord. End
Disappointed in Denmark but Hopes for Treaty Next Year
--------------------------------------------- ---------
2. (U) Speaking to Singapore journalists in Copenhagen on
December 19, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he was
"disappointed with the outcome" of the United Nations
Conference on Climate Change but hoped that the work done so
far would lead to a binding treaty within a year. PM Lee
said participating countries should have begun contemplating
the elements of a political statement on climate change in
November, when Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen
told other heads of state at a meeting in Singapore that a
legally binding treaty would be unachievable at Copenhagen.
"But over the last two months, there has been a lot of sound
and fury, a lot of trench fighting over procedures," PM Lee
said. Conference delegates locked into the resulting
"close-quarter combat" lacked the right frame of mind to take
a realistic view of politically feasible measures to combat
climate change, he lamented.
3. (U) Despite PM Lee's disappointment, Singapore expressed
its support for Copenhagen's outcome at the closing plenary
session. The Singapore delegation commended the "sentiment,
commitment, and good faith" of the countries that negotiated
the political accord and noted that those countries "crossed
all sections and interest groups" and "represented all of
us." At the same time, Singapore declared its solidarity
with the Association of Small Island States and called on the
world to treat the Copenhagen accord as a basis for moving
toward a binding agreement. PM Lee later reinforced this
point, telling the press, "We are a small island nation too
... small, vulnerable, and alternative-energy disadvantaged.
If there is no deal, we are in jeopardy."
Reaffirms Emission Goals - But Only If There's a Treaty
--------------------------------------------- ----------
4. (SBU) In Singapore's national statement to the plenary
session in Copenhagen, PM Lee reaffirmed Singapore's existing
pledge to reduce its emissions growth by 16 percent from the
"business as usual" level by 2020. (Comment: "Business as
usual" appears to mean the hypothetical emissions level that
results from extrapolating current trends to 2020. Holding
emissions growth below the "business as usual" trend rate
does not imply a reduction in actual emissions. End
Comment.) PM Lee's subsequent remarks to the press made it
clear that even this modest pledge depends on the world's
ability to achieve a binding treaty: "If there is a deal, we
are committed to do our part. ... It is conditional on the
agreement being reached and other countries also doing their
part too." The PM noted that Singapore's Sustainable
Development Blueprint already calls for a seven to 11 percent
cut in emissions growth, but that in order to reach 16
percent, Singapore will have to evaluate new policies; these
could include increasing domestic energy efficiency standards
and adopting new fiscal incentives, such as a cap-and-trade
mechanism or a carbon tax.
5. (U) Singapore's plenary session statement called on
developed countries to take the lead in substantially
reducing emissions and helping developing countries curb
emissions without compromising economic growth. It also
called for developing nations to reduce emissions in a manner
consistent with their respective capabilities. PM Lee told
delegates that Singapore reduced its carbon intensity by 30
percent between 1990 and 2006 by increasing its green cover,
limiting the number of cars in use, and generating
electricity from natural gas.
Singapore Press Ridicules, Then Endorses Copenhagen Outcome
--------------------------------------------- --------------
6. (U) Singapore media lampooned the Copenhagen conference
as a failure before ultimately shifting tone to endorse its
outcome. The Sunday Times for December 20 ran a sardonic
primer for those who "missed the entire Copenhagen summit,"
including this summary: "Whose fault was it that the meeting
failed? Almost everyone's, if you go by the angry rhetoric.
The US: Did not want to cut emissions more. China: Refused
to allow outside checks. The European Union and other rich
nations: Did not offer enough funding. Developing nations:
Did not want to commit to legally binding cuts. Small island
states: Wasted time arguing over procedures and walking out
of talks halfway." Headlines that day included "Deal a
Letdown After High Hopes" and the mocking "Copenhagen.
Hopenhagen. Nopenhagen." Chua Chin Hon, the Straits Times
U.S. bureau chief, wrote that opinion was divided as to
whether President Obama was "the savior who brokered an
eleventh-hour deal" or "a complete flop who failed to provide
decisive leadership." Chua expressed the view that the
failure to secure a binding agreement suited President
Obama's interests because it gave him "another year of
breathing space" to build domestic support for climate-change
legislation in a difficult political and economic environment.
7. (U) By December 22, the editorial page of the Straits
Times gave the Copenhagen accord a qualified endorsement,
echoing PM Lee's position and acknowledging American
leadership as a key factor in moving the discussions forward:
"This accord has rightly been criticized for lacking
specifics on how to limit Earth's temperature rise to two
degrees Celsius by mid-century. But it is more constructive
to take an encouraging view of the leadership shown by the
United States on the one hand, and by the emerging bloc made
up of China, India, Brazil, and South Africa on the other, to
devise an agreement no matter how vague." The editorial
called for short-term diplomatic efforts to focus on inducing
compliance with the accord's request for member nations to
state definite 2020 emission targets by January 31. Also on
December 22, perhaps in an effort to balance positive
commentary on U.S. efforts, Straits Times China bureau chief
Peh Shing Huei took issue with critics who have blamed China
for Copenhagen's limited achievement. At the same time, Peh
called on China to "leap to the front line in the fight
against global warming" even if such leadership entails some
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