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Post by thelivyjr »

As in GARP, the new organization's main task was planning complex international research projects.

For example, under WCRP an International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project collected streams of raw data from the weather satellites of several nations, channeling the data through a variety of government and university groups for processing and analysis.

The vast data sets were stored in a central archives, managed by a U.S. government agency.

Up to this point the United States had dominated climate discussions, as it dominated most scientific affairs while the rest of the world's advanced nations were digging out of the ruins of the Second World War.

But now that the other economies and research establishments had recovered, international exchanges became crucial.

The driving force, as one observer remarked, was "a small group of 'entrepreneurs,' who promoted what they viewed as global rather than national interests."

Blurring the distinction between government officials and non-governmental actors, they organized a series of quasi-official international meetings which were increasingly influential.

Some of the meetings were formally sponsored by the WMO, others by ICSU or UNEP.

Villach, 1985

The most important initiative was a series of invitational meetings for meteorologists sponsored by all three organizations, with particular impetus from UNEP's farsighted director, the Egyptian biologist Mostafa Tolba.

Beginning in 1980 the meetings gathered scientists for intense discussions in Villach, a quiet town in the Austrian Alps.

A historic turning point was the1985 Villach conference, where experts from 29 countries both rich and poor, representing a variety of widely separated fields, exchanged knowledge and argued over ideas.

By the end of the meeting they had formed a prototype of an international climate science community — a community with a firm consensus.

From their review of the evidence that had accumulated in the past half-dozen years (supercomputer models, the discovery that CO2 levels had plunged during past ice ages, an observed rising of global temperature, a SCOPE assessment of the likely impacts of warming, and so forth), the Villach scientists agreed that greenhouse gases could warm the Earth by several degrees, with grave consequences.

But it was a more recent and surprising calculation that made "the biggest buzz of the conference."

Methane gas and various other gases emitted by industry and agriculture, which were rapidly accumulating in the atmosphere but had attracted little attention until now, could have a collective effect on climate roughly equal to the effect of CO2 itself.

The climate changes that had been predicted to come when the level of CO2 doubled, a century in the future, would in fact come on twice as fast — within their own lifetimes.

"Suddenly the climate change issue became much more urgent," recalled Bolin.

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Post by thelivyjr »

It was Bolin who wrote the 500-page report of the Villach conference, quietly translating the group's scientific findings into a bold warning: "in the first half of the next century a rise of global mean temperature could occur which is greater than any in man's history."

As usual, the scientists called for more research.

But the report also took a more activist stance than scientists had normally taken.

Brought together as individual researchers in their personal capacities, with no official governmental responsibilities, they felt free to respond to the alarming conclusions that emerged from their discussions.

In their concluding statement the Villach group pointed out that governments made many policies (building dams and dikes, managing farmlands and forests, etc.) under the assumption that the climate would be the same in the future as in the past.

That was no longer a sound approach.

Indeed the prospect of climate change demanded more than a passive response.

Pointing out that "the rate and degree of future warming could be profoundly affected by governmental policies," the Villach report insisted that "Governments should take into account" the conference's conclusions "in their policies on social and economic development and control of emissions of radiatively active gases."

As a specific first step they diffidently suggested "consideration of a global convention" to act against global warming.

Climate science, in short, was no longer just a matter for scientists.

The press took no notice, but Bolin, Tolba and others made sure that the Villach recommendations came to the attention of the international scientific leadership.

As a practical result, in 1986 the WMO, UNEP,and ICSU jointly established an Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases (AGGG).

It was a small, elite committee of experts.

For funding and advice, it relied largely on scientists and institutions that were already advocating policies to restrain climate change.

The AGGG organized international workshops and promoted studies, aiming eventually to stimulate further world conferences.

In particular, a workshop in Bellagio, Italy in 1987 included politicians and policy experts as well as scientists among its two dozen participants.

They took a first stab at setting policy by proposing a target: the world should not warm up faster than 0.1°C per decade.

Some of those present began to lay plans for a major conference to be held the following year in Toronto.

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Post by thelivyjr »

These U.N.-sponsored efforts were only one strand, although the central one, in a tangle of national, bilateral, and multi-national initiatives.

Countless organizations were now seeking to be part of the action.

Of course, none of this work was actually done by abstract "organizations."

It was made to happen by a few human beings.

Among these Bert Bolin was the indispensable man, chairing meetings, editing reports, promoting the establishment of panels.

Along with his exceptional personal abilities as a scientist, executive, and diplomat, Bolin had a firm base in his position as professor of meteorology at the University of Stockholm.

Villach and other world conferences, along with similar consensus-building studies on climate change carried out in the 1980s by national bodies such as the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, crystallized a set of beliefs and attitudes among climate scientists.

Science writerJonathan Weiner reported after a series of interviews, "By the second half of the 1980s, many experts were frantic to persuade the world of what was about to happen."

"Yet they could not afford to sound frantic, or they would lose credibility."

Any push for policy changes set the scientists against potent economic and political forces, and also against some colleagues who vehemently denied the likelihood of global warming.

The scientific arguments became entangled with emotions.

"They were so worried about the changes they saw coming, and the difficulty of persuading the world," Weiner noticed, "that they sometimes caught themselves rooting for the changes to appear... it was hard to know how to feel."

Human motivation is never simple, and behind the emotional commitment of scientists lay more than dry evaluation of data.

Adding to their concern about global warming was the normal desire of people to perceive their own field as vitally important, with the corollary that funds should be generously awarded for their work and for their students and colleagues.

An important minority took their case directly to the public, but most scientists felt more comfortable sending rational appeals through channels to government officials.

The scientists found allies among administrators in national and international bureaucracies, persuading many that the world faced a serious problem.

That reinforced the normal inclination of officials to extol the importance of their areas of responsibility and to seek greater budgets and broader powers.

Whenever evidence suggests that something needs to be done, those who stand to profit from the doing will be especially quick to accept the evidence and to argue for policy changes.

As the political scientist Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen argues, "Calls for environmental regulation were generally attractive to environmental bureaucracies," and attention to global warming "allowed national bodies to expand their influence."

As for politicians, by speaking to public concerns for the environment they could mount "a world stage on which to indulge in global green rhetoric."

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Post by thelivyjr »

To sort through the human motives and determine what policy actions were truly needed, the only reliable guide would be rigorous scientific conclusions — which would require more research.

While some scientists and officials tentatively proposed policy changes, many more were pushing for better international research projects.

Although ICSU's SCOPE program had produced some useful work, such as reports on the global carbon cycle, that was barely a beginning.

The WCRP's work was likewise useful, but as an organization under the supervision of the WMO (which is to say, the heads of national weather services), the WCRP was naturally preoccupied with meteorology.

All this was too narrow for the scientists who were taking up the new "climate system" approach, which was building connections among geophysics, chemistry, and biology.

They decided they needed a new administrative body.

International Research Expands (1980s)

Spurred especially by U.S. scientists acting through their National Academy of Sciences, around 1983 various organizations came together under ICSU to develop an International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP).

Starting up in 1986, the IGBP built its own large structure of committees, panels, and working groups.

The drawback, as one climate scientist pointed out, was a feeling that "an IGBP should be in the business of measuring or modeling everything at once from the mantle of the Earth to the center of the Sun!"

The WCRP remained active in its sphere, launching international collaborations in meteorology and related oceanography.

Like the IGBP and other international scientific programs, the WCRP had no significant funds of its own.

It was a locus of panels, workshops, draft reports, and above all negotiations.

Scientists would hammer out an agreement on the research topics that should get the most attention over the next five or ten years, and who should study which problem in collaboration with whom.

The scientists would then go back to their respective governments, backed by the international consensus, to beg for funds for the specific projects.

The most important early effort has been called the largest scientific experiment ever conducted: the First GARP Global Experiment, FGGE, pronounced “figgy.”

(An initial task of the organizers of such a collaboration is devising a usable acronym — a mode of naming that is emblematic of organizations with distinct if transient identities, stuck together from independent components.)

During 1978-79 large numbers of aircraft, drifting buoys, ships, balloons and satellites made observations with the participation of some 140 nations.

It took several years to process the data, but the result was standardized weather numbers covering the entire globe in a uniform grid for an entire year — exactly what computer teams needed as a reality check for their climate models.

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Post by thelivyjr »

Other important examples of projects that gathered data internationally were the Tropical Ocean and Global Atmosphere Programme (TOGA), the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE), and the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS), which surveyed the carbon in the world's oceans.

Scheduled to run through the mid 1990s, these were complex institutions, coordinating the work of hundreds of scientists and support staff from a variety of institutions in dozens of nations under the auspices of the WCRP.

Two participants described the developments of the 1980s as a "revolution" in the social structure of climate science.

The field was propelled to a new level not only by great improvements in scientific tools such as computers and satellites, but equally by great improvements in international networking thanks to cheap air travel and telecommunications.

"Huge teams of highly skilled people can review each other's work, perform integrated assessments, and generate ideas" far better than the mostly isolated individuals of earlier decades, they pointed out.

"A steady diet of fresh scientific perspectives helps to maintain regular doses of funding, helped in turn by an endless round of conferences."

Seeking Environmental Agreements

Research impelled a major policy breakthrough in the late 1980s, although not for climate.

International public concern over damage to the protective stratospheric ozone layer, and scientific work coordinated by UNEP, led to policy discussions beginning in 1982.

The result was a Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, signed by 20 nations in 1985.

This document was only a toothless expression of hopes, but it established a framework.

The framework became useful when the discovery of an "ozone hole" over Antarctica shocked officials and the public, showing that the problem was already urgent.

In the epochal 1987 Montreal Protocol of the Vienna Convention, governments formally pledged to restrict emission of specific ozone-damaging chemicals.

This was not the first international agreement to restrict pollution in response to scientific advice.

One notable example was an Antarctic Treaty, regulating activities on the polar continent, inspired by the IGY and signed back in 1959.

More to the point, in 1979 the nations of Western Europe had adopted a Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.

This pledged them to limit their sulfate emissions, which scientists had proved was the cause of destructive acid rain.

The aim was to restrain coal burning in, say, Britain so it would not kill forests in, say, Germany.

Later, more nations and other chemicals were added to the agreement.

The convention led to the establishment of an international scientific project to study the problem, complete with elaborate computer modeling to connect acid rain with economic scenarios for power generation.

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Post by thelivyjr »

The Montreal Protocol set an even higher and stricter standard for international cooperation and national self-restraint.

Over the following decade it had wonderful success in reducing emissions of CFCs, staving off further deterioration of the ozone layer.

Although important for protecting human health and vital ecosystems, this did only a little to hinder climate change.

(CFCs are only one of many greenhouse gases, and some of the chemicals that industry substituted for CFCs were themselves greenhouse gases.)

However, the people who had begun to worry about global warming hoped that the precedent set by the Montreal Protocol could serve as an example for negotiations to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.

Industrial groups and ideologues had vehemently opposed this sort of regulation as an insufferable economic drag.

But in regulating CFCs, as in regulating the sulfate emissions that caused acid rain and in a variety of other environmental issues, a few years of experience showed that market-oriented mechanisms could be devised to do the job surprisingly cheaply.

Indeed, over the long run the restrictions brought a net savings to the global economy.

The success at Montreal was followed up the next year, 1988, in a "World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security," nicknamed the Toronto Conference.

The planning came out of the AGGG's 1987 Bellagio workshop with an assist from Gro Bruntdland, the dynamic Prime Minister of Norway (the only woman to hold that post) and a few other environment-minded world leaders.

Sponsored by UNEP and WMO plus the government of Canada, Toronto was a meeting by invitation dominated by scientist experts — not official government representatives, who would have had a much harder time reaching a consensus.

There were a few ministers among the 300 attendees, notably Brundtland, but most countries were represented by relatively junior people.

The Toronto Conference's report concluded that the changes in the atmosphere due to human pollution "represent a major threat to international security and are already having harmful consequences over many parts of the globe."

For the first time, a group of prestigious scientists called on the world's governments to set strict, specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Immediate action was needed, they said, to negotiate an "international framework convention" as a condition for national legislation.

That was the Montreal Protocol model: set targets internationally, and let governments come up with their own policies to meet the targets.

Some participants did not wish to step beyond strictly scientific findings into the realm of politics, but the conference set these hesitations aside: their report declared that by 2005 the world should push its emissions some 20% below the 1988 level.

Observers hailed the setting of this goal as a major accomplishment, if only as a marker to judge how governments responded.

(It would turn out that in 2005 the world's emissions were well above the 1988 level.)

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Post by thelivyjr »

The Toronto Conference attracted much publicity, and politicians at the highest level began to pay attention to greenhouse gases.

It helped that the conference was held during the summer of 1988, when exceptional heat and drought caused much public concern in the United States — a nation whose cooperation was indispensable for any effective agreement.

But officials were also impressed by the insistent warnings of leading scientists.

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — trained as a chemist and one of the few prominent politicians able to fully understand her briefings by scientists — gave global warming official standing when she described it as a key issue in a September 1988 speech to the Royal Society.

She showed she meant it by increasing the funding for climate research (although most of the money was only relabelled or taken from other programs).

Thatcher was the first major world leader to take a determined position.

Attention from the politically powerful "Greens" in Germany and elsewhere in continental Europe added to the issue's legitimacy.

One immediate consequence was a 1989 meeting in Hanover, Germany, where twenty environmentalists from Europe and the United States discussed ways to work together.

The result was the Climate Action Network, a loose coalition of non-governmental organizations.

Within two decades the network was exchanging information and coordinating strategy among more than 360 NGOs around the world.

Meanwhile, the media increasingly hinted that any catastrophe in the news, from droughts to floods to polluted seas, might be due to human interference with climate.

What had begun as a research puzzle had become a serious international public concern and a diplomatic issue.

The policy debates required answers to questions even more intractable than the scientific ones.

What would global warming mean for the economy and for society, and what should (or could) governments do about it?

These questions pushed climate scientists toward what some called a "holistic" approach, interacting with many other fields.

Experts in agriculture, economics,and so forth began to build rough numerical models, addressing questions such as how farming and forestry would react to a rise of temperature or to a rise of fuel taxes.

Predictions would also have to figure in possible increases in weather disasters, in tropical diseases,and much else.

The results of the studies were far from reassuring.

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Post by thelivyjr »

Democracy and Policy Advice (1980s)

What role could the international climate science community, so small and fragmented, play among the mighty political and economic forces that were coming to bear on climate policy?

The existing scientific organizations, however well-crafted to coordinate research projects, seemed incapable of taking a stand in policy debates.

As one knowledgeable observer put it, "Because WCRP was seen as largely the vehicle of physical scientists, while IGBP was viewed largely as the vehicle of scientists active in biogeochemical cycles, and because both WCRP and IGBP were seen as scientific research programs, neither seemed to afford the venue that could generate the necessary confidence in the scientific and policy communities."

Events like the Toronto Conference were all very well, but a report issued after a brief meeting could not command much respect.

And it did not commit any particular group to following up systematically.

The Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases (AGGG) set up in 1986 had served well in keeping the issue in the forefront through activities like the Toronto Conference.

However, the group lacked the official status and connections that could give their recommendations force.

Besides, they had little money to spend on studies.

The AGGG's reliance on a few private foundations, and its connections with outspoken environmentalists, raised suspicions that the group's recommendations were partisan.

An even more fundamental drawback was the group's structure, in the traditional model of a tiny elite committee.

As one policy expert explained, "climate change spans an enormous array of disciplines, each with their own competing schools of thought..."

"Seven experts, even with impeccable credentials,... could not credibly serve as mouthpieces of all these communities."

Policy-makers concerned about climate looked for a way to supersede the AGGG with a new kind of institution.

The principal impetus came from the United States government, where the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and others were pushing for an international convention to restrict greenhouse gases.

Conservatives in the United States administration might have been expected to oppose the creation of a new and prestigious body to address climate change.

But they feared still more the strong environmentalist pronouncements that the independent scientists of the AGGG were likely to stimulate.

The U.S. administration, along with some other governments, were also wary of control by the WMO or any other body that was part of the United Nations structure.

Better to form a new, fully independent group under the direct control of representatives appointed by each government — that is, an intergovernmental body.

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Post by thelivyjr »

Responding to this pressure from the United States and others, in 1988 the WMO and UNEP collaborated in creating an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Unlike earlier conferences, national academy panels, and advisory committees, the IPCC was in the hands of people who participated not only as science experts, but as official representatives of their governments — people who had strong links to national laboratories, meteorological offices, and science agencies like NASA.

The IPCC was neither a strictly scientific nor a strictly political body, but a unique hybrid.

This met the divergent needs of a variety of groups, especially within the United States government.

The AGGG was not formally abolished.

But within two years that small body ceased to meet, as most of the world's climate scientists were drawn into the IPCC's processes.

Note that contrary to myths that later spread widely, the IPCC was neither an organ of the United Nations nor the creation of liberals; it was an autonomous intergovernmental body created chiefly by the conservative Reagan administration.

Required to issue rules and reports only with the firm agreement of essentially all the world's leading climate scientists plus the consensus of all participating governments without exception, the IPCC's constitution should have been (and perhaps was intended to be) a recipe for paralysis.

By 2001 the panel would turn its procedural restraints into a virtue: whatever it did manage to say would have unimpeachable authority.

In the teeth of opposition from the immensely powerful fossil fuels industry and its many allies, the IPCC would issue what was arguably the most important policy advice any body has ever given, calling for nothing less than a wholesale restructuring of the world's economies and ways of living.

Whether or not governments paid heed, in fulfilling its declared purpose of providing advice the IPCC has rightly been considered a remarkable success.

From the 1980s forward the world saw a proliferation of international conferences and other institutions dealing with environmental problems and policies (and many other issues).

Among these the IPCC was exceptional in the scope of its mission and effort — but not in its methods and outcome.

The requirement for consensus, and the procedures and mores that could make the requirement workable, were built into the decision-making of many other new international regimes that employed scientific research to address environmental problems.

A survey by political scientists found that in general these regimes have been surprisingly effective.

Most people were scarcely aware that all these international initiatives relied on a key historical development: the world-wide advance of democracy.

It is too easy to overlook the obvious fact that international organizations govern themselves in a democratic fashion, with vigorous free debate and votes in councils.

Often, as in the IPCC, decisions are made by a negotiated consensus in a spirit of equality, mutual accommodation, and commitment to the community process — seldom celebrated but essential components of the democratic political culture.

If we tried to make a diagram of the organizations that deal with climate change, we would not draw an authoritarian tree of hierarchical command, but a spaghetti tangle of cross-linked, quasi-independent committees.

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Post by thelivyjr »

It is an important but little-known rule that such organizations were created mainly by governments that felt comfortable with such mechanisms at home, that is, democratic governments.

Nations like Nazi Germany, Communist China, and the former Soviet Union did little to create international organizations (aside from front groups under their own thumb), and participated in them awkwardly.

Happily, the number of nations under democratic governance increased dramatically during the 20th century, and by the end of the century they were predominant.

Therefore democratically based international institutions proliferated, exerting an ever stronger influence in world affairs.

The democratization of international politics was the scarcely noticed foundation upon which the IPCC and its fellow organizations took their stand.

The effect was visible in all areas of human endeavor, but it often came first in science, internationally and democratically minded since its origins.

Indeed the procedures and mores of the scientific community are historically inextricable from the development of a cosmopolitan, egalitarian civil society.

From the seventeenth century forward a community of savants flourished in Europe and across the Atlantic, men and a few women who wrote letters to one another for public discussion, frequently on scientific subjects — a community named, for good reason, the "Republic of Letters."

And from the seventeenth century forward, it was scientists more than anyone who met as equals in their clubs and societies, often with foreign associates present.

Week by week they hammered out rational understandings as they sought agreement on the validity of the latest theories and experiments.

This spirit was taken up in the Enlightenment salons, Freemason lodges, and other venues where scientists and foreigners were welcomed and honored — institutions that played a central role in the spread of republicanism in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Scientists were not so much borrowing procedures from modern democracy as collecting on a loan they had made centuries earlier.

The international organization of climate studies helped fulfill some of the hopes of those who, in the aftermathof the Second World War, had worked to build an open and cooperative world order.

If the IPCC was the outstanding example, in other areas, ranging from disease control to fisheries, panels of scientists were becoming a new voice in world affairs.

Independent of nationalities, they wielded increasing power by claiming dominion over views about the actual state of the world — shaping perceptions of reality itself.

Such a transnational scientific influence on policy matched dreams held by liberals since the nineteenth century.

It awoke corresponding suspicions in the enemies of liberalism.

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