Global warming emerged as a significant global political issue in 1988.1 NASA scientistJames Hansen's statement to the US Congress 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) has often been taken as a defining moment. This came on the back of the biggest drought in the US since the 1930s, as well as freak weather patterns across the world, and the realisation that the six hottest years on record were in the 1980s. These events made claims by scientists such as Hansen about possible global warming increasingly plausible.

The events of 1988 stimulated a flurry of international conferences, and a major scientific assessment of the state of knowledge about global warming, in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As the momentum was maintained, climate politics 'matured', with formal negotiations to an international treaty starting in February 1991. These led to the signing of a 'Framework Convention on Climate Change' at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 (United Nations, 1992).2 At the same time, many industrialised states adopted unilateral targets to limit their own emissions of the gases believed to cause global warming. After 1992, states continued to negotiate between themselves how to respond to global warming, in particular how to build upon the Framework Convention. They also began to grapple with the practical problems of implementing the commitments they had unilaterally or multilaterally signed up to.

Popular interpretations of the politics of climate change quickly emerged. Some commentators advanced a variety of conspiracy theories. Warren Brookes, writing in Forbes magazine, suggested that 'just as Marxism is giving way to markets, the political "greens" seem determined to put the world economy back into the red, using the greenhouse effect to stop unfettered market-based expansion' (1989, cited in Athanasiou, 1991:7). Similarly, although in less conspiratorial tones, Solow and Broadus asserted that it is a 'policy in search of a problem' (1990, cited in Hempel, 1993:216). Another conspiracy theory has been that it is a case of 'environmental colonialism' (Agarwal and Narain, 1991), whereby the affluent West is trying to pull the ladder up behind it, using climate change as a political tool to stunt Southern development. In direct contrast, Singer suggested that it was a plot by 'Third World kleptocrats' to find new excuses to demand money from the West (Singer, 1992a). A final conspiracy theory is that the threat of global warming is manufactured by scientific elites to ensure continued funding for 'big science' (Boehmer-Christiansen, 1994a).

Others put forward interpretations not couched in the language of conspiracy. One is that global warming is a classic 'tragedy of the commons' (Hardin, 1968; Grubb, 1989:22; Young, 1994:20-1), where the lack of world government means that those resources on which all countries depend but none can control get overused. This of course has strong resonances with dominant realist and liberal traditions within International Relations (IR). Some Greens have seen it as a strategic tool for Western industry to shore up its power and usher in a new era of economic growth (Chatterjee and Finger, 1994). Others have seen it as a metaphor. Bill McKibben wrote eloquently of global warming as a metaphor for the 'end of nature', that industrial society has finally humanised nature, literally leaving no part of the biosphere untouched by human intervention:

The temperature and rainfall are no longer to be entirely the work of some separate, uncivilisable force, but instead in part a product of our habits, our economies, our ways of life.. .By changing the weather, we make every spot on earth man-made [sic] and artificial. We have deprived nature of its independence, and that is fatal to its meaning. Nature's independence is its meaning; without it there is nothing but us.

In a not dissimilar vein, Paul Ehrlich saw it as an expression of global interconnectedness, stating on Earth Day 1990 that 'a cow breaks wind in Indonesia, and your grandchildren could die in food riots in the United States' (quoted in Ross, 1991:198). Andrew Ross suggested that 'the crusade to claim the whole world as "free" for liberal capitalism is currently locked in step with the campaign to "free" the climate from human influence' (1991:209). Oppenheimer and Boyle invoked religious imagery, suggesting that it was the 'wages of industrialisation' (1990:18, quoted in Ross, 1991:198). However, these interpretations have never been given any sustained examination.

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Negotiating Essentials

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