Global Warming and Global Politics

By Matthew Paterson | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

The historical development of climate on the international agenda

It is not difficult to understand that the problem of transforming the climate on a world or regional base scale is, by its very nature, an international one, requiring the united efforts and the coordination of the activities of all countries.

(Chief of USSR Hydrometeorological Service, 1967, quoted in Weiss, 1975:812)

Oh Mother Earth, ocean-girdled and mountain-breasted, pardon me for trampling on you.

(Frontispiece, Study of Man’s Impact on the Climate [Matthews et al., 1971], quoted in Victor and Clark, 1991:40)

This chapter outlines the emergence of climate as an issue in international politics. It looks at the emergence of the issue in four sections. These obviously overlap to a great extent, but they can be used to describe the developments as they have evolved.

The first section looks at the history of the science which led to theories about global warming, and at the origins of international cooperation on meteorological issues. The chapter then looks at the gradual emergence during the 1970s and 1980s of a scientific consensus that global warming was possible, and was increasingly held to be likely by many scientists within the relevant fields. One of the main conclusions to be drawn from these two sections is that both the early developments in the science and the early international meteorological cooperation were necessary preconditions for global warming to become a political issue during the 1980s. The development of the scientific theory of global warming provided the basis for consensus between (most) climate scientists which, in turn, acted as a context within which decision-makers acted. And the institutional network of meteorological cooperation which emerged and expanded continuously during the twentieth century, in particular after the Second World War, became self-perpetuating, as people within the institutions looked for ways to expand further those cooperative ventures.

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