In a stunning turn of events last week, member nations of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- the world's most influential body on the subject of global warming -- voted out the current head, Robert T. Watson, and replaced him with Rajendra Pachauri, an engineer from India.
There were 76 votes for Pachauri, 49 for Watson, and an additional 7 for Jose Goldemberg, a hyper-environmentalist Brazilian minister who was offered as a "compromise" candidate.
The geographic distribution of votes totally dispels the myth put forth by my greener friends that the United States is "isolated" and "out of step" on the issue of global warming. Almost all of Watson's support came from Europe and the Pacific Island States. In terms of area of the world or percent of the world's population, Watson and his supporters carried only a small minority. It's the Europeans, not the Americans, who are isolated on the world stage when it comes to global climate issues. More leadership stars for George Bush, who was the first to break ranks with the Euros on this issue.
A variety of factors conspired against Watson. Ten years of carping about the United States did not endear him to the current Administration, nor did his expressed preference for doing global warming policy rather than global warming science.
"Global Change," a Washington newsletter, said of Watson in 1997: "In his work for the federal government and now the World Bank, Watson retains his involvement with science but can also influence directly and strongly the social issues that matter to him." Of his potential to influence policy, Watson said, "I find it an order of magnitude more rewarding, much more rewarding."
Watson in that interview described the Clinton Administration's position on global warming as "absolutely admirable." Of the then-Republican Congress, he said, "Rather than moving things forward constructively, we've [?] been trying to make sure that the things we've been doing were not undone."
That quote probably didn't help him with the current Administration. Nor did his statement at a U.N. press conference in Shanghai on the day of George Bush's inauguration: "A country like China has done more, in my opinion, than a country like the United States to move forward in economic development while remaining environmentally sensitive." A look at the opaque air of Shanghai and Beijing argues otherwise.
Watson was in Shanghai to preside over the approval of the UN's third and latest compendium on climate change, which included a ridiculous "storyline" (that's what the UN now calls its forecasts) of an 11°F global warming in the next 100 years. Those of us in the scientific community who reviewed the document never saw this outlandish projection because it was inserted after our peer review. John Christy, the Alabama scientist who has developed the satellite temperature history (which shows very little warming) subsequently told a hearing chaired by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), "This is one forecast that isn't going to happen."
At the time, the UN also made 244 other temperature forecasts, all cooler. But Watson seized on this one and told the press that it "adds impetus for governments to live up to their commitments [under the Kyoto Protocol] to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases."
Also working against Watson was the recent nomination of Pachauri from India, which certainly elicited a lot of support from developing countries.
The developing nations remain angry with the Europeans over their intransigence at The Hague in November, 2000. There, the United States proposed meeting a fraction of its "obligations" to the Kyoto Protocol by assisting those nations with reforestation and cleaner technologies. It was the Europeans, however - mainly via the strength of French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet and German Minister Jurgen Trittin - who stood in the way. They were more insistent that the U.S. cut use of fossil fuels than provide economic assistance. Of course, the U.S. has absolutely no "obligations" under the Protocol because it was never ratified by a vote of 67 Senators.
All of this guaranteed that oil-producing nations, as well as the developing world, were set to vote against the Europeans, which is precisely what happened.
In succeeding days, we're sure to see a spate of stories blaming the United States, ExxonMobil and Republicans for Watson's defeat. More accurately, blame should be laid squarely where it belongs: at the European community, which drastically over-reached and isolated itself on the subject of global warming.