The Secret Reason Copenhagen Failed

Executive-Secretary of the UN Climate Conference, Yvo de Boer (L) and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon attend the plenary ses
Executive-Secretary of the UN Climate Conference, Yvo de Boer (L) and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon attend the plenary session at the Bella Center of Copenhagen on December 19, 2009 at the end of the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference. Fury erupted among delegates at the Copenhagen climate talks, today over a draft accord agreed by a select group of leaders, with several poor nations saying it amounted to a coup d'etat against the United Nations. AFP PHOTO / OLIVIER MORIN (Photo credit should read OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

In the spring of 2014, I was having lunch with one of my heroes, Attorney General of New York, Eric Schneiderman, and his head of the Environmental Protection Bureau, Lemuel Srolovic. We were discussing the special climate summit that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had called for September 23rd, where all the world leaders were to discuss their plans for the coming Paris summit in 2015.

We were also discussing the possibilities of a state Attorney General suing oil and coal companies for being implicit in causing climate change. Through a friend, I found a few, obscure studies from some major universities showing links between the two. Then, the conversation turned to ClimateGate.

In November of 2009, an event occurred that would change the course of climate activism around the world. The huge servers of the University of East Anglia were illegally hacked into, and more than 1,000 emails and documents were stolen and used as a tool for climate-change deniers to take scientific information out of context and create a smear campaign, accusing climate scientists of intentionally lying and miscalculating their work.

ClimateGate happened a few weeks before the Copenhagen climate negotiations began in 2009.

Even though we now know that those talks were pretty disastrous.

They began, I've heard from many who attended, with a group of very positive, optimistic environmentalists who truly believed they would come away with a meaningful treaty. These were people who cared deeply about our future who were out in force, with their hopes high and their morale enthusiastic.

It wasn't long after the talks began that the air seemed to deflate out of the balloon, and people began to feel defeated. One of the major culprits of this deflation was ClimateGate. The hackers copied thousand of files from various Internet locations to paint a picture that global warming itself was a massive scientific conspiracy, creating a barrage of allegations with the hidden purpose of undermining the climate meetings.

Unfortunately, the media jumped on these out-of-context emails, and by the time the full story had come out, the damage had already been done. Eight different third-party studies eventually cleared each of the scientists from any wrongdoing, but it was too late. The atmosphere in Copenhagen and the public's opinion had turned, taking the conference from an air of determined optimism to one of shock and defeat.

The truth is that hacks and misrepresentations like this are still taking place across the world to this day. In November of 2015, Eric Schneiderman finally did issue a subpoena to Exxon Mobil, beginning a massive investigation to uncover if the company consciously lied to investors and the public about the risks of climate change, citing specific statements and advertisements. There is also a separate inquiry into whether or not Peabody Energy, the nation's largest coal producer, properly disclosed financial risks associated with global warming. There's a lot to be gained by burying scientific data that uncovers the truth of climate change. It's a multi-billion dollar industry.

As we sat contemplating this at lunch, the Attorney General, Lemuel and I wondered what some group might try to do to disrupt the upcoming September summit or, God forbid, the Paris summit in December of 2015. Would anyone dare to do something to disrupt or postpone COP21?