Even if climate change had become part of the agenda in some scientific circles, it was not a major societal issue in the 1960s and early 1970s. But the environment was. When Sweden was looking for ways to strengthen the United Nations the environment was thus a suitable theme during a time when the United Nations was plagued by East-West tensions and issues surrounding decolonization. The result was a Swedish initiative for the United Nations to organize a conference on the environment. This initiative gained further salience for Swedish policy makers because the causes of Sweden's major environmental issues of the time were becoming clear: sulphur emissions from the burning of fossil fuels in other parts of Europe were behind the acidification of lakes and fish deaths in Sweden. Unlike many local environmental problems, this menace could not be dealt with at the national level. It thus became important to convince other governments that the environment and pollution were transnational issues.85 The initiative was accepted and the United Nations Conference on Human Environment took place in Stockholm in 1972. This conference not only marked the beginning of the environment as a global political issue. It also brought new perspectives to the debate, notably the conflicts between environment and development, especially in relation to the need for economic development in poor countries.
There were several preparatory activities directly related to climate change. In the United States, a small informal meeting in 1970 issued a report called The Study of Critical Environmental Problems, which received attention because it examined controversies surrounding the development of supersonic transport.86 A more international gathering was held in Stockholm in 1971, where experts from 14 nations discussed climate change and issued the report Study of Man's Impact on Climate (SMIC)8 The SMIC experts did not come to any consensus: would the greenhouse gases warm the Earth faster than pollution would cool it? Nevertheless, they issued a warning about severe climate change. The review comments noted the possibility of melting polar ice.88 The reports about climate change that were prepared for the Stockholm Conference cannot be characterized as scientific breakthroughs. Rather, they were syntheses
84 Clive Archer and David Scrivener, "International Co-operation in the Arctic Environment," in The Arctic. Environment, People, Policy, eds. Mark Nuttall and Terry V. Callaghan, 601-619 (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000), 602.
85 Lundgren, Acid Rain on the Agenda, 288; Selin and Linner, The Quest for Global Sustainability, 19.
86 Hart and Victor, "Scientific Elites and the Making of US Policy for Climate Change Research 195774."
87 Study of Man's Impact on Climate (SMIC), Inadvertent Climate Modification: Report of the Study of Man's Impact on Climate (SMIC) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971).
88 Weart, "The Discovery of Global Warming," International-7.
and assessments of the scientific knowledge available at the time.89 Nevertheless, together with statements at the Stockholm Conference, they illustrate that global warming was starting to be framed as an international issue worthy of policy attention. These statements include a recognition that "the Earth's temperature may rise as a result of increased atmospheric content of carbon dioxide due to future consumption of fossil fuels."90 Moreover, the Stockholm Action Plan advised a general precautionary approach and recommended governments to "be mindful of activities in which there is an appreciable risk of effects on climate" and to "[c]arefully evaluate the likelihood and magnitude of climate effects."91
Why did climate science enter the international policy arena at this particular point in time? In a study of US scientific elites, Hart and Victor attribute the breakthrough to an opening of a policy window. Previous attempts to further this research in the United States had been caught up in interdepartmental turf fighting. With the Stockholm Conference, there was a new international arena, which opened a domestic policy window in the United States that could be converted to increased funding for research into the greenhouse effect. This development was helped along by a number of weather-related anomalies and an increased political concern about how the impact of such anomalies could cause political instability in the Third World.92 Hart and Victor's focus on an actor network needs to be complemented with the international developments leading to the Stockholm Conference, which demonstrated a mechanism that could legitimately tackle international issues: the United Nations as a forum for cooperation. As described by Selin and Linner in a study of the Stockholm Conference, the political development included an emerging international discourse on environment and development, which connected ecological deterioration, a growing demand for natural resources, and a focus on human development. Moreover, multilateralism was in vogue, increasing the political focus on cooperation across national boundaries, even if this was also challenged in the name of protecting national sovereignty.93 Focus on the wider international developments brought attention to a discourse that was on the rise at the time and later became a key issue in climate policy: sustainable development. Closely connected to this was a growing focus on equity and the increasing tensions between the global North and South.94
89 Hart and Victor, "Scientific Elites and the Making of US Policy for Climate Change Research 195774."
90 United Nations, Conference on the Human Environment: Identification and Control of Pollutants of Broad International Significance. A/Conf.48/8, 7 January 1997), para 42.
91 United Nations, Conference on the Human Environment: Identification and Control of Pollutants of Broad International Significance. A/Conf.48/8, 7 January rec. 70; Bjorn-Ola Linner and Merle Jacob, "From Stockholm to Kyoto and Beyond: A Review of the Globalisation of Global Warming Policy and North-South Relations," Globalization 2, no. 3 (2005): 403.
92 Hart and Victor, "Scientific Elites and the Making of US Policy for Climate Change Research 195774."
93 Selin and Linner, The Quest for Global Sustainability, 4-5.
94 Linner and Jacob, "From Stockholm to Kyoto and Beyond."
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