The latest story out of Copenhagen has to do with a leaked draft agreement put together by Denmark, the U.S., and the U.K. According to the Guardian‘s breathless coverage, the leak has climate talks in “disarray,” with developing countries at war with rich countries and the whole edifice getting ready to collapse. Disarray I tell you!

Except the story is a tempest in a teapot. And you could have predicted as much before ever reading it, for reasons I’ll explain in a second.

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First, on the story: The Guardian seems to have been duped. It’s now become clear that the supposedly new draft is one of several old drafts that have been floating around for weeks. For the most part they are boring and practical, though the anti-World Bank crowd is pissed. Regardless, the draft is of no particular significance in and of itself; it reflects longstanding points of tension between rich and poor countries but did not cause them.

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Nothing much to see here. How could you have known?

Consider: Copenhagen maxed out on journalist registrations, at 5,000. (Supposedly there were more than 10,000 waiting in line after that.) The place is choked with journalists, not to mention folks from think tanks and NGOs who are supposed to be blogging. There are thousands of people crammed in a small area, all under instructions to update frequently with fresh news, all exhausted and stressed out, all hungry for something to write about.

On the flip side, virtually nothing of significance to an international agreement will be decided before the final days, perhaps the final hours, of the talks.

What are all those journalists going to write about? They’ll write about “Climategate.” They’ll cover NGO events and reports. They’ll write local color pieces on, say, Danish police preparation (that’s a good story!). Most of all, though, they’ll report the hell out of it every time any representative of any government says anything about anything. Every bit of pre-positioning gossip and bluster will be blown up to billboard size. There is, in short, immense incentive to exaggerate the significance of every piece of “news.”

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Keep that in mind as you wade through the deluge of stories over the next two weeks. It’s a marshmallow puff with a few nuts inside; when all’s said and done, nobody will remember much of it. The only story of lasting importance is the shape of the agreement forged at the end. So stay calm, keep a level head, and most of all, keep coming to Grist for the skinny.


The Danish Ministry of Climate and Energy released a statement:

Under no circumstances is this a ‘Secret Danish draft’ for a new climate change agreement. Such a text does not exist. In this kind of process, many different working papers are circulated amongst many different parties with their hands on the process. These papers are the basis for informal consultations that contribute with input used for testing various positions. Therefore, many papers exist. That is quite normal. The commentary from the Guardian only shows, how outspoken nervousness is at this junction.”

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