This week, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa’s tourism minister, was nominated to head the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC). Van Schalkwyk is a former apartheid operative who bartered his way into the black majority government by helping it smear its democratic opposition. He is a statist bureaucrat who is one of the most unpopular political figures in the new South Africa. He is just right for the job.
There is no one better to put in charge of the entire political enterprise of climate change as it is collapsing amidst failed negotiations and accusations of fraud. Van Schalkwyk will be sure to hasten the end. He did the same when he took over the rump of South Africa’s National Party, the party of apartheid, and led it to crushing defeat. He gave up and joined the African National Congress (ANC) government in return for his ministry.
That was bad news for South Africans, as Van Schalkwyk encouraged other politicians to defect from the country’s leading opposition parties to join the corrupt and hegemonic ANC. (An angry public began referring to those who crossed the floor for political favors as “crosstitutes.”) But it is good news for critics of the UN climate change bureaucracy, who now have a target who personifies everything there is to dislike about the system.
The worldwide “consensus” on climate change is unraveling amidst mounting evidence that the UN and senior scientists manipulated the data to suit their predictions of rapid warming and their prescriptions for drastic intervention in the global economy. It is, of course, true that carbon dioxide is a “greenhouse gas” that helps warm the earth; it is true that we have pumped more of it into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.
It is also true that there is evidence of increasing average global surface temperatures over the same time period, and reason to believe that trend could continue over the next century. But it is also true that there are other factors affecting global climate, including some that reduce temperatures. And it is also true that our most sophisticated computer models cannot predict how warmer temperatures will affect our climate in the future.
That wasn’t good enough for those eager to create a sense of alarm. They projected worst-case scenarios and tried to convince the world that the potential costs of future warming far outweighed the costs of shutting down whole industries. They never explained whether climate change could actually be reversed; they did not need to, as long as they could scare people enough to avoid having to answer tough questions.
Now, after more than a decade of temperature stagnation that the models failed to predict, and the publication of e-mails suggesting that leading scientists conspired to silence skeptical colleagues, the questions are impossible to avoid. Government-led efforts to control emissions, such as cap-and-trade, “green jobs,” and “weatherizing” homes have also been exposed as rent-seeking cronyism rather than sound policy.
Enter Van Schalkwyk. He was given the ministry of environmental affairs and tourism in 2004 despite having no prior background or interest in environmental science. He has retained his cabinet position and made a name for himself in the international climate change community through his talent as a deal-broker and his shrewd sense of political opportunity. The occult world of climate change negotiations will suit his skills perfectly.
Though ridiculed as a political leader, Van Schalkwyk is among his country’s most competent bureaucrats. Yet even he cannot save the UN’s climate change framework–and he may not care. He may simply follow the example of fellow South African Richard Goldstone, who was appointed to the apartheid bench and later re-cast himself as a human rights icon, leapfrogging up the UN bureaucracy from one failure to the next.
Those who still place great store in the UN’s climate change efforts are deeply worried about Van Schalkwyk’s appointment. “The UNFCC post must be headed by someone of integrity, and that’s not a characteristic associated with Van Schalkwyk, thanks to his chequered career as an apartheid student spy and a man who sold out his political party for a junior cabinet seat,” said Patrick Bond of South Africa’s Centre for Civil Society.
The truth is that no scientist or policymaker of integrity would want the job. The science is a mess, and the policy disagreements between developing and developed countries are intractable. President Barack Obama could not solve the UN’s climate change troubles, and neither will Marthunus van Schalkwyk. But Van Schalkwyk will be content to sit atop the rubble as the edifice crumbles. He has done it before–and done it well.