A climate convention

The first IPCC assessment set the stage for negotiations about a global climate convention. Initially, policy response were part of IPCC's mandate but very soon, in October 1989, the WMO and UNEP set up a task force to work on action-oriented measures, to which the governments could respond. This was soon replaced by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee under the auspices of the United Nations General Assem-bly.136 The change was partly in response to arguments from developing countries that climate change was not only a technical issue but linked to development.137 Climate science and climate policy were thus formally split.

This chapter will not dwell on the political negotiations that eventually led to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Suffice it to say that the

134 T. Houghton, Jenkins G.J., and J. J. Ephraums, eds. Scientific Assessment of Climate Change - Report of Working Group I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 302, 150, 180, 304, 140.

135 M. J. McG. Tegart, G. W. Sheldon, and D. C. Griffiths, eds. Impacts Assessment of Climate Change -Report of Working Group II (Australian Government Publishing Service, 1990) 3-3, 3-7, 3-10-12,515, 7-1 ff.

136 Shardul Agrawala, "Structural and Process History of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," Climate Change 39, (1998): 621, 634.

137 Bodansky, "The History of the Global Climate Change Regimes," 30; Miller, "Climate Science and the Making of Global Political Order," 60.

IPCC and knowledge about climate change and its potential impacts were not the only driving forces. In addition, growing general public awareness about the environment combined with the lack of progress after the UN Human Environment Conference in Stockholm 1972 resulted in a UNEP report pointing out how the structure of the global economy had worsened environmental problems in developing countries. Several meetings in the global South had also expressed concern about the impact of global warming on poorer countries.138 This all fed into the upcoming 20-year follow-up of the Stockholm Conference. A number of different international agreements were being negotiated and there was an impetus to transform the Brundtland Commission ideals of sustainable development into political commitments. The pressure was on and when the political leaders of the world met for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the UNFCCC was ready to be signed. The way its commitment was phrased left most political issues to be further negotiated:

The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.139

By highlighting anthropogenic interference, this phrase created key research questions for climate science, leaving researchers to show that any shifts in weather pattern and global climate indicators were indeed the result of human action and not only part of natural fluctuations.

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