Global Warming Becomes Politicised

As scientific knowledge increased concerning the likelihood of global warming, the types of gas involved and their anthropogenic sources, and about the severity of the possible changes, the activities of the scientists involved in the WCP and in national programmes became inherently more political because of the implications of the responses they envisaged. As early as 1978, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), WMO, UNEP and ICSU's Scientific Committee On Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) had organised a workshop which looked at energy strategies in relation to a possible global warming (Williams, 1978).11 Several individuals had also written books on the necessity of a political response: for example, Crispin Tickell's Climatic Change and World A/airs, Stephen Schneider's The Genesis Strategy, and Amory Lovins's Least-Cost Energy: Solving the C02 Problem (Tickell, 1977; Schneider, 1976; Lovins et al., 1981).12

There was a small rise in public interest in global warming in the early 1980s, stimulated in particular by press coverage in 1984 of reports by James Hansen and Stephen Schneider (Mazur and Lee, 1993:695-6). This then died off until 1988, when global warming exploded on to the political agenda. However, scientists had started to call on politicians to act. During the period 1985-8, many more scientists also became convinced of the need, not only for some framework convention analogous to that developed for ozone depletion (the Vienna Convention), but for strong preventive action on global warming. This process occurred as they became more convinced that the human-enhanced greenhouse effect was responsible for the global warming experienced in the 1980s. For example, Kenneth Hare, Chair of the Climatic Board of Canada, and of the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases (see below), wrote in 1988:

Until a short while ago, my own position was.. .that the evidence was too equivocal to do more than give a yellow alert to governments.. .I was an announced wait-and-see conservative.It was the paper by Jones et al. [1986] published in Nature that began to sway me to the above position [that temperature rises in the 1980s can reasonably strongly be attributed to ghg concentration increases].. .I can and do tell them [governments] that they should base their environmental planning on the assumption that the greenhouse warming will continue and accelerate.

This process of politicisation started at the Villach Conference. A major part of the conference's report involved detailed description of what the priorities for further research should be. This was not, however, purely to do with natural science research, which had previously been the case. The Villach Conference made recommendations which emphasised the need for economic, social and technological research into policy options for responding to any potential climate change. 'Support for the analysis of policy and economic options should be increased by governments and funding agencies. In these assessments the widest possible range of social responses aimed at preventing or adapting to climate change should be identified, analysed, and evaluated.' (WMO, 1986:3). The last recommendation was that a small task force set up by UNEP, WMO and ICSU should 'initiate, if deemed necessary, consideration of a global convention' (WMO, 1986: para. 5). One of the speakers at the conference reveals the change in attitude which was occurring: 'As a reversal of a position I held a year or so ago, I believe it is timely to start on the long, tedious and sensitive task of framing a CONVENTION on greenhouse gases, climate change and energy' (Malone, 1986:33). A shift of emphasis away from solely the need for more research, towards including assertions of the need for political action, had started.

To ensure that the recommendations of the Villach Conference were followed up, WMO, UNEP, and ICSU established the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases (AGGG) (Maunder, 1990:9). The AGGG set up four working groups which examined various policy aspects of reducing greenhouse gases, each of which produced reports in 1990 (Clark, 1990; Fisher, 1990; Jaeger, 1990; Rijsbern and Swart, 1990).

WCP also followed up the Villach Conference with two workshops entitled 'Developing Policies for Responding to Climatic Change' held in Villach and in Bellagio, Italy, in 1987. These workshops came to similar, but stronger, conclusions, stating that 'a prudent response to climatic change would consider limitation and adaptation strategies' (Jaeger, 1988: iv). They called for the 'examination.of the need for an agreement on a law of the atmosphere as a global commons or the need to move towards a convention along the lines of that developed for ozone' (Jaeger, 1988:v). They also called for intensified development of non-fossil fuel energy systems, support for measures to reduce deforestation, and implementation of measures to limit the growth of non-CO2 ghgs in the atmosphere (Jaeger, 1988).

Alongside these developments, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) presented its report Our Common Future (also known as the 'Brundtland Report' after the Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, who chaired the commission), on 27

April 1987. This was a general report on environmental degradation and how it related to development issues. The commission had been set up by the UN in 1983. Regarding climate, its report reproduced the recommendations of the 1985 Villach Conference, and in particular emphasised the 'urgent' necessity of increasing energy efficiency and shifting the fuel mix towards renewables (WCED, 1987:176-7).

Among state decision-makers, however, there was still considerable inertia about the issue, and the idea of a convention or any sort of political agreement on greenhouse gases was not being addressed. During 19857 the environmental issue being given priority by political leaders was ozone depletion, with the adoption of the Vienna Convention in 1985, and the Montreal Protocol in 1987. The ozone depletion issue was obviously related, as CFCs are both ozone destroyers and ghgs. However, at this stage ozone depletion was being treated more urgently.

The political discussion of global warming had developed gradually during the mid-1980s. However, it gained much momentum in 1988. A combination of factors produced this rapid rise. Of particular importance was the US drought in 1988. This drought was reported to be the worst since the dustbowls of the 1930s (Idso, 1989:41; Gribbin, 1990:2). Over half the counties in the US were officially listed as suffering from drought and, in some places, water levels were 10 metres below normal (Pearce, 1989:1). Time Magazine, among others, highlighted the problems experienced by US farmers facing baked-hard soil and extensive forest fires (Boyle and Ardill, 1989:47-8). Temperatures in the US were also at an all-time high; in Death Valley, for example, a record high of 53°C (127°F) was recorded on 18July, and the day before, San Francisco had its highest ever temperature for that day by nearly 11°C (Idso, 1989:41).

The US drought combined with the perception that freak weather patterns were being experienced throughout the world during the 1980s. Boyle and Ardill note that, in 1988 alone,

There was also drought in the USSR; continued drought and unexpected floods in Africa and India; floods and drought simultaneously in China; floods in Brazil, and Bangladesh; hurricanes in the Caribbean; a cyclone in New Zealand and a typhoon in the Philippines.

(Boyle and Ardill, 1989:48)

The hurricanes, Gilbert andJoan, were hugely destructive. Gilbert left a fifth of the people ofJamaica homeless. Joan 'brought a similar trail of death and devastation' (Boyle and Ardill, 1989:49).

The point of these references to the natural disasters during that period is merely to show that they provided a backdrop for the increased confidence with which scientists made claims about a potential global warming. The fact that publics, in particular in the industrialised countries, had already been sensitised to environmental issues in the 1980s, because of ozone depletion, acid rain and other problems, contributed to the rapidity with which global warming moved up the political agenda. Faced with the freak weather conditions alluded to above, and the realisation that the 1980s was clearly the hottest decade on record, including the six hottest years ever recorded (Houghton and Woodwell, 1989), publics were 'softened up' for the increasingly confident assertions by some climate scientists that anthropogenic global warming was the most likely explanation for the climatic variations experienced. The most clear of these views, and perhaps more importantly, the most widely hyped by the media (Mazur and Lee, 1993:697-8), was given in the statement by James Hansen, chief climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), at a hearing of the US Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on 23 June 1988 (Hansen, 1989). Hansen's most widely reported statement was that 'it is time to stop waffling so much. We should say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here' (quoted in Pearce, 1989:1). Hansen's team at GISS had undertaken much of the research which showed the 1980s to be the hottest decade on record. In his formal statement, while recognising that 'it is not possible to blame a specific heat wave/drought on the greenhouse effect', he emphasised that 'global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and the observed warming' (Hansen, 1989:40-2). According to Gribbin, Hansen's statement was all the more important because he 'had a reputation for caution and was a proponent of the "wait and see" approach' (Gribbin, 1990:3-4).

The freak weather conditions, especially the US drought, the general importance of environmental issues in the mid- to late 1980s, and Hansen's testimony, combined to cause global warming to emerge rapidly onto the international political agenda.13 The Toronto Conference on 'The Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security', held during 27-30 June 1988 in Toronto, and hosted by the Canadian government as a response to the WCED Report (Maunder, 1990:9), was where global warming was first dealt with as a major political issue. 'More than 300 scientists and policy makers from forty-eight countries, United Nations organisations, other international bodies and nongovernmental organisations participated in the sessions' (Toronto Conference, 1988:46). The Toronto Conference was the meeting at which ideas about the sort of international response needed came to be expressed more strongly. Howard Ferguson, the conference's Director, stated in his address that 'the time to act on the problems is now' (Toronto Conference, 1988:45).

Like the WCED Report, the Toronto Conference repeated the Villach Conference assessment of the degree of likely warming under a 'business-as-usual' scenario, and what sort of impacts were likely to result from this warming. It graphically outlined the possible consequences of global warming by suggesting that 'humanity is conducting an uncontrolled globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war' (Toronto Conference, 1988:46).

However, it also innovated in making detailed recommendations for action. It called upon governments 'to work with urgency towards an Action Plan for the Protection of the Atmosphere. This should include an international framework convention. The Conference also called upon governments to establish a World Atmosphere Fund financed in part by a levy on the fossil fuel consumption of industrialised countries.' (Toronto Conference, 1988:47). The conference outlined an ambitious aim with respect to reducing CO2 emissions. It stated that governments and industry should 'reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 20 per cent of 1988 levels by the year 2005 as an initial global goal' (Toronto Conference, 1988:53). This was the first international conference to call for such radical action.14 Other actions recommended included revising the Montreal Protocol, making sure energy R&D budgets were directed at options which would reduce or eliminate CO2 emissions, setting targets for energy efficiency improvements, switching to lower CO2 emitting fuels, and reviewing strategies for both renewables and nuclear energy (Toronto Conference, 1988:52-3).

Following the Toronto Conference, global warming moved rapidly up the international agenda. Many world leaders made statements on the need for a response to global warming. In the UK, the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stated in a speech echoing the words of Revelle and Suess that humanity had 'unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself (Thatcher, 1988:2). She noted some of the potential impacts of global warming, in particular the effect on low-lying islands which had been 'brought home' to her at the Commonwealth Conference in Vancouver the previous year by the President of the Maldives (Thatcher, 1988:2). Thatcher's speech was widely viewed as a 'conversion' (McCormick, 1991:62). According to McCormick,James Hansen was one of the people credited with causing this change. Hansen had made a presentation to her during 1988

(McCormick, 1991:63) and, according to Gribbin, she had read his Congressional testimony (Gribbin, 1990:5). Crispin Tickell, then UK Ambassador to the United Nations, and author of Climatic Change and World fairs as far back as 1977, was however most widely accredited with influencing her (apart from the general effect of the rise of environmental issues in general and global warming in particular, and the resulting electoral pressure).

Other prominent politicians also made important statements. Eduard Schevardnadze, then Soviet Foreign Minister, made a stronger speech to the UNGA on 27 September 1988 (Schevardnadze, 1988), where he proposed that UNEP should be transformed into 'an environmental council capable of taking effective decisions to ensure ecological security' (quoted in Boyle and Ardill, 1989:99-100). George Bush made global warming an issue in the US Presidential election of 1988. 'Those who think we're powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect are forgetting about the White House effect' was his famous line on the issue (Boyle and Ardill, 1989:100). He pledged to convene a global conference on the subject at the White House in his first year in office (see below).

The Toronto Conference also led to a series of international and intergovernmental conferences about global warming. These continued through to late 1990, and provided a great deal of the pressure and momentum which led to the formal negotiations which started in 1991. In September 1988, the issue first reached the UN General Assembly, with Malta proposing that climate become part of the 'common heritage of mankind [sic]' (Bodansky, 1993:465). By December of that year, the General Assembly had passed a resolution, endorsing the establishment of the IPCC and urging that the issue become a priority one, but withdrawing from the 'common heritage' concept towards an assertion that climate change was merely a 'common concern' of humanity (Bodansky, 1993:465).

In November 1988 a World Congress on Climate and Development was held in Hamburg. This called for carbon dioxide emissions to be reduced by '30 per cent by the year 2000 and 50 per cent by 2015. It argued for unilateral action from the industrialised nations to start the process of change; a global ban on the production and use of CFCs covered by the Montreal Protocol by 1995,...and urgent strategies for reversing deforestation and beginning afforestation programmes' (Boyle and Ardill, 1989:158). This was despite some, notably the Soviet climatologist Mikhail Budyko, claiming that global warming would be beneficial to agriculture, and emissions should possibly even be deliberately increased (Boyle and Ardill, 1989:130).

During 20-22 February 1989 the Canadian government hosted an International Meeting of Legal and Policy Experts on the Protection of the Atmosphere' in Ottawa. This produced a statement which comprised a series of elements to be included in a framework convention on the protection of the atmosphere (Ottawa Meeting, 1989). It included the provision that 'States should consider the possibility of establishing a World Atmosphere Trust Fund' (Ottawa Meeting, 1989:7). At the same time, the first conference on perspectives on global warming from developing countries was held in New Delhi (New Delhi Conference, 1989). While the New Delhi Conference did not propose a new body like an Atmosphere Fund, it did highlight the need for global warming to be addressed in a North-South context, focusing on the primary responsibility of the industrialised countries to limit emissions and to help developing countries reduce emissions while developing (New Delhi Conference, 1989:5).

In London in March 1989, the UK Government hosted a conference to get new signatures to the Montreal Protocol and plan for a conference to be held in May in Helsinki to update that protocol. However, many of the discussions elaborated on what should be done about global warming. In London, Margaret Thatcher, the UK Prime Minister, argued that 'no new international bodies were needed to protect the world from a thinning ozone layer or the greenhouse effect' (New Scientist:, 18 March 1989:33). In a similar vein, at the Helsinki conference, the 'First Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer', Nicholas Ridley, the then UK Secretary of State for the Environment, said that a climate fund 'implies a degree of sovereignty over sovereign nations that can never really be there' (Guardian, 4 May 1989). The Helsinki Conference agreed to a drastic revision of the Montreal Protocol to be signed in 1990 in London, but no decision was reached concerning ideas about a climate fund.

Many of those present at Helsinki wished to set up a climate fund, following the call of the Toronto Conference. They included Mostafa Tolba, UNEP's director, as well as the delegates from Norway and many developing countries. Tolba saw a fund as an 'essential mechanism for assisting the Third World' (Guardian, 6 May 1989). This view was preceded by that of a meeting at the International Court ofJustice in the Hague in March 1989, only a week after the London Conference. This was organised by the governments of France, the Netherlands and Norway and attended by representatives, most of whom were heads of state, of twenty-four countries. Its declaration called for the development within the UN framework of a 'new institutional authority, either by strengthening existing institutions or creating a new institution', with responsibility for combatting global warming, and with 'power to monitor governments' performance...and to enforce compliance through the International Court ofJustice', and also for an Atmospheric fund to assist developing countries (Declaration of the Hague, 11 March 1989).

The Ottawa meeting in February 1989 was followed up with proposals for a draft convention prepared by the UK government and presented to a meeting of UNEP's governing council in Nairobi in May 1989 by Lord Caithness, UK Minister of State for the Environment (House of Commons Energy Committee, 1989: para. 25). According to the UK House of Commons Energy Committee, following the UNEP meeting, the British, Canadian and Maltese governments were made responsible for preparing a convention (House of Commons Energy Committee, 1989: para. 25). It was always intended that such a convention should be ready for signing at UNCED in 1992.

InJuly 1989 the Group of Seven major industrial democracies' annual summit was held in Paris, and was widely dubbed the 'green summit' (Economist 15 July 1989:14-15; Scientific American September 1989:10). The statement of the summit called for 'common efforts to limit emissions of carbon dioxide', and stated that a 'framework or umbrella convention' was 'urgently required' (Scientific American September 1989:10; Keesings Record of World Events, 1989:36802-3). The Meeting of Non-Aligned Countries in Belgrade in September 1989 called on the industrialised countries to 'fundamentally change their attitude to world development, particularly in the protection of the planet' (Keesings Record of World Events, 1989:36907). The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting of October 1989 stated that one of the major problems facing the world was global warming. The statement resolved that Commonwealth members would take 'immediate and positive' action, both 'collectively and individually', on the issue, and it called for 'the early conclusion of an international convention to protect and conserve the global climate' (Commonwealth Heads of Government, 1989:9).

Later, in November, a large 'Ministerial Conference on Atmospheric Pollution and Climatic Change' was held at Noordwijk in the Netherlands, attended by representatives from seventy-two States. This conference's declaration committed its signatories to stabilising CO2 emissions at levels to be set by the IPCC in its preliminary report to the second World Climate Conference in 1990, 'at the latest by the year 2000' (Noordwijk Declaration, 1989: para. 16). It also reiterated the previous timescale proposed for the preparation of a 'climate change convention', and contained a large section on funding, recognising that this is a vital part of the success of a convention. Bodansky suggests that Noordwijk was the most significant meeting in 1989 (1993:467), because it was the first to involve large numbers of high level political representatives. It was also the case, as he notes (1993:462-3), that after Toronto few meetings made as radical proposals on limiting emissions, because they became increasingly intergovernmental. Proposals for 20 per cent cuts in emissions gave way to ones for stabilisation.

Also in November 1989, representatives from some of the Small Island States (Kiribati, the Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, and Trinidad and Tobago) met in Male in the Maldives to discuss global warming from their perspective (Faulks, 1991). This produced the 'Male Declaration' (reproduced in Churchill and Freestone, 1991:341-3), and later led to the establishment of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOS IS) at the Second World Climate Conference (see Chapter 4).

During 17-21 December, the World Conference on Preparing for Climate Change was held in Cairo, Egypt. At the opening address, Suzanne Mubarak from Egypt referred to the 'grim irony' of the fact that, while the 'primary responsibility' for global warming lay with the industrialised countries, the effects would be experienced 'mostly in the countries of the South, where the capacity to cope [was] weaker'. The declaration argued that it was in industrialised countries' own interests to 'develop, bilaterally and multilaterally, funding mechanisms for the transfer of additional financial and technological resources to poorer nations' (Keesings Record ofWorld Events, 1989:37138).

In 1990, the political meetings continued. During 17-18 April, President Bush hosted a conference at the White House as he had pledged to do during his election campaign. The conference was attended by government delegates from seventeen countries. The gulf between the positions of the US and other industrialised countries began to become clear at this point. Bush stated at the conference that no action should be taken until more research had been completed and the science was more certain (Keesings Record/'Word Events, 1990:37394).Journalists commented that, for the White House, the purpose of the conference was to emphasise both the scientific uncertainties of global warming, and the costs of reducing emissions (Economist, 14 April 1990:46; Guardian, 18 April 1990:8, 23). Bush argued that 'what we need are facts, the stuff that science is made of (White House, 1990; Rowlands, 1994:76-7). In contrast, the West German Environment Minister, Klaus Topfer, argued that 'gaps in knowledge must not be used as an excuse for worldwide inaction' (Keesings Record of Word Events, 1990:37394).

Throughout 1990 and 1991, the Woods Hole Research Center in the

US organised a series of regional conferences in developing countries, along with organisations in those countries. The first of these was held in May 1990 in Nairobi to discuss African perspectives on global warming. The Nairobi meeting was organised with the African Centre for Technology Studies, and was attended mainly by people from nongovernmental bodies. The second was inJune in Sao Paolo, co-organised by the University of Sao Paolo. The third, in South-East Asia, was held in 1991. These conferences helped raise the political profile of global warming in developing countries, and highlighted how the perspectives of industrialised and developing countries differed. There is, however, a considerable difference between the statements of the Nairobi and Sao Paolo meetings. The African Declaration places more emphasis on what African governments can and should do about global warming, while the focus of the Sao Paolo Declaration is firmly on the primary responsibility of the industrialised countries with respect to causing global warming, and the conditionally of any actions taken by developing countries on finance and technology from the North (African Centre for Technology Studies, 1990; Universidade de Sao Paolo, 1990).

Also in May 1990, the UN Economic Commission for Europe held a large conference on Sustainable Development in Bergen, Norway. This was intended as a regional follow-up to the WCED report. The Ministerial Session of the conference was attended by 303 delegates from thirty-four governments (UNECE, 1990:12). The Ministerial Declaration stated that 'we [the ECE region governments] assume a major responsibility to limit or reduce greenhouse gases' (UNECE, 1990:17). It pledged their support for completing a framework convention, and noted:

. with appreciation that some countries have already committed themselves in advance to stabilize CO2 emissions at present levels or to reduce them by the year 2000. [and urged]. all ECE countries to take action now, and we agree to commit [sic] to establish national strategies and/or targets and limit or reduce CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases as much as possible and to stabilize them. In the view of most ECE countries, such stabilization at the latest by the year 2000 and at present levels must be the first step.

However, beneath this apparently strong consensus for action, the US, and to a lesser extent the UK, was emerging as the country to be vilified for lagging. The US had refused to commit itself to a quantified target for limiting its CO2 emissions, citing scientific uncertainty and the costs of reducing emissions as the main reason. The UK was at this point preparing to commit itself to a CO2 target. However, it too was emphasising the cost of action. 'We will have to make it clear to our electorate how much pain and anguish they will have to suffer in order to save the planet', said David Trippier, UK Environment Minister (quoted in the Guardian, 17 May 1990).15

In other forums, the importance of global warming as an issue declined relative to 1989. In particular, at the G7 summit in 1990 in Houston, the environment was sidelined to make room for the row between the EC and the US over agricultural subsidies, and the collapse of the USSR and Eastern Europe (Guardian, 7July 1990). The summit did agree that negotiations towards a framework should start after the Second World Climate Conference in November 1990. However, the priority given to the issue was significantly lower than in the previous year.

The other development during 1990 was that many industrialised states began to undertake unilateral commitments to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. The status of these commitments at the time the convention was signed (June 1992) is given in Table 2.1. Some of these states undertook their commitments earlier than 1990. Sweden was the first, in 1988, when it undertook to stabilise CO2 emissions at 1988 levels by 2000. Sweden later retreated from this undertaking in January 1991, to the commitment outlined in Table 2.1. In 1989, both Norway and the Netherlands committed themselves to their targets. Then, in 1990, the following states set targets: Denmark, Italy, and the UK, in May; Austria, Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands (an updated target), in June; New Zealand in July; France in September, Australia, the EC, andJapan, in October; and Iceland and Switzerland in November. In 1991, Belgium announced its target, Sweden revised its, and the United States announced its 'Climate Change: An Action Agenda' policy document, timed to coincide with the start of negotiations (see Chapter 3) (Schmidt, 1991; Fish and South, 1994).

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  • caradoc
    Do governments base their co2 targets on scientific knowledge?
    12 months ago

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