Hidden Agendas… Part 3
by Candace Oathout
In 1988, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) worked together to establish an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC was composed mainly 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.
Another 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.) This resulted in panels of scientists becoming a voice in world affairs in ways that had not even been imagined previously. They functioned independently of nationalities and sought to shape perceptions of the actual state of the world itself. Groups that had other reasons for preserving tropical forests, promoting energy conservation, slowing population growth, or reducing air pollution could make common cause as they offered their various ways to reduce emissions of CO2. Greenpeace, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, and many other organizations made reduction one of their top priorities.
The first IPCC report was issued in 1990. It concluded that the world was, in fact, warming although it allowed that much of the warming could be caused by natural processes. Additionally, the report specifically rejected an objection raised by a group of skeptical scientists that the main cause of any observed changes was solar variations.
There were a number of polls of the scientific community taken in the early 1990’s which suggested that most scientists felt their understanding of climate change was incomplete and that predictions of future climate was therefore extremely uncertain. Many climate experts believed that significant Global Warming could occur, however nearly all of them agreed that the future would hold “surprises,” deviations from climate as it was currently understood.
The IPCC had written its report in preparation for a Second World Climate Conference, held in November 1990. Strongly influenced by the IPCC’s conclusions, the conference wound up with a strong call for policy action. This induced the United Nations General Assembly to call for negotiations towards an international agreement that might restrain global warming. The IPCC established a cyclical international process whereby it would review and issue a consensus report on the most recent research on the prospects for climate change in order to establish a foundation for international negotiations to develop guidelines for individual nation’s policy setting processes.
In 1995 the IPCC issued its second report which found that “The balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.” Unfortunately, the IPCC process deliberately mingled science and politics until they could scarcely be disentangled.
The IPCC’s conclusions had a huge impact on the 1997 U.N. Conference on Climate Change held in Kyoto, Japan. This was a policy and media extravaganza attended by nearly 6,000 official delegates and thousands more representatives of environmental groups and industry, plus a swarm of reporters.
The greenhouse debate had now become tangled up with intractable problems involving fairness and the power relations between industrialized and developing countries with Western European countries demanding mandatory carbon emissions restrictions and developing countries rightly refusing to be denied their abilities to develop using inexpensive and readily available fuel and Western technology.
The IPCC has now become in the minds of many the final arbiter of the consensus of all the world’s governments with regard to the policy of climate change when, in fact, it should be serving as a clearinghouse for scientific debate. It has taken up a moral agenda and has framed the climate change debate primarily as one of science decoding nature’s message about humanities destructiveness. It has become a political tool to further the attitudes of scientists like Paul Erlich who said, “Giving society cheap, abundant energy … is the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”