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The politics of global warming have involved policy decisions, legislation, and political debate over the science of and response to global warming. The political struggle over global warming has involved various governmental bodies, special-interest groups, and scientific organizations.


Political sphere

Political alignment and global warming

In most English-speaking countries, support for action to mitigate global warming, such as ratification and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol is strong on the political left.

However, the first politician putting Global Warming on the political agenda was Richard Nixon 1969[1]. Nixon wanted environmental topics (as acid rain and greenhouse effect) to be treated by a third and civil pillar of NATO. The reaction of the NATO allies was lukewarm but the initiative gained impact in the civil field[1].

In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher was instrumental in increasing the United Kingdom's electricity generation from North Sea gas and reducing generation from coal.[2]

In Germany Angela Merkel, then secretary of the environment during the conservative Helmut Kohl government, lead the German Kyoto Delegation and had a substantial role in making the Kyoto agreement possible.[3]

In Australia, the Labor party ratified Kyoto [4]

In Canada, the Liberal Party government ratified Kyoto.

In New Zealand, the Labour government of Helen Clark ratified Kyoto.

In the United Kingdom, the Labour Party ratified Kyoto

In the United States, Bill Clinton's Administration signed Kyoto and Democrats have proposed and supported a number of bills to mitigate emissions. Although Kyoto is signed, the Democratic Congress refuses to take a vote on it and thus the United States is not bound to the treaty. Barack Obama supports passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act to establish a United States Carbon Cap and Trade Program. "We are not going to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. That is out," said US climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing at the 2009 Bangkok Climate Change Talks.[5]

In some countries the political right are fighting on a platform of taking tough action against global warming[6], while in others the political right either dispute the scientific consensus on global warming or oppose action to mitigate global warming, instead favoring adaption.[citation needed] All European countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and all have supported strong reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

In the United States, a February 2007 survey found that 95% of the 41 Congressional Democrats surveyed agreed "it's been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming because of man-made problems" while only 13% of the 31 Republicans surveyed agreed.[7]

Global warming skepticism has been promoted by newspapers associated with the right such as The Australian, the Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom and the National Post in Canada. [8]


Asia and Oceania

  • Australia has now officially signed the Kyoto ratification, after the new Labor government came into power on December 3, 2007. The previous Coalition government had long objected to ratifying the treaty, arguing it would unduly impact on Australian jobs, especially when countries such as China, India and the U.S. were not party to it.
  • Japan is preparing to force industry to make big cuts in greenhouse gases, taking the lead in a country struggling to meet its Kyoto Protocol obligations.[9]


  • Canada's Liberal Government during the 1990s had agreed to Kyoto but oversaw the increase of greenhouse gas emissions during their terms in office and did little to meet Kyoto's targets. Canada's current Conservative Government has claimed that, due to increased emissions since 1990, it is realistically impossible to meet their Kyoto targets and attempting to do so would be disastrous for the Canadian economy. Current Prime Minister Stephen Harper has come under fire for being adamant in leaving Kyoto and working on a different climate plan. Consequently, this issue has become something of an Achilles Heel for the Government in recent months. The current Liberal Party has been quick in their condemnation of the Government but has also been accused of using Global Warming for political purposes as seen in the naming of leader Stéphane Dion's dog 'Kyoto'.


  • Russia signed the Kyoto Protocol in November 2004, after a deal with the European Union over WTO membership. Russia's ratification completed the requirements of the treaty to come into force, based on nations totaling 55% of world greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The UK government-commissioned Stern Review into the economic effects of climate change was published in October 2006. Tony Blair's assessment was that it showed that scientific evidence of global warming was "overwhelming" and its consequences "disastrous". He added, "We can't wait the five years it took to negotiate Kyoto — we simply don't have the time. We accept we have to go further [than Kyoto]."[10]
  • Britain's government launched an official calculator in the week of June 18, 2007 that enables every person in the country to work out how much carbon dioxide they produce and how to cut it.[11]. Tory group sets out plans for Green Revolution.[12]

United States

The politics of global warming is played out at a state and federal level in the United States. Attempts to draw up climate change policy are being made at a state level to a greater extent than at a federal level.


Pope Benedict XVI told up to half a million people, over a hillside near the Adriatic city of Loreto on the day Catholic Church marks its annual Save Creation Day, that world leaders must make courageous decisions to save the planet "before it is too late" [13].

Positions of the energy industries

One of the biggest opponents of action on global warming has been the fossil fuels energy industry, and particularly the oil industry, such as ExxonMobil, which regularly publishes papers minimizing the threat of global warming. In 1998, the company started providing financial support to organizations and individuals who disagreed with the scientific consensus that human activities were contributing to climate change. One of the groups that received funds from the company was the Competitive Enterprise Institute. ExxonMobil also helped create the "Global Climate Science Team" whose members were active climate contrarians. According to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, between 1998 and 2005, ExxonMobil dispersed roughly $16 million to organizations that were challenging the scientific consensus view. [2] After heavy criticism from the press and environmental groups in late 2006 and early 2007, ExxonMobil began distancing itself from these organizations.[14][15]

In 2005, the oil giant opposed a shareholders' resolution to explain the science behind its denial of global warming. In recent years, other companies have increasingly come to accept the existence and consequences of global warming; for example, the Chairman of BP, John Browne, declared a need for action in 2002. Lord Oxburgh, non-executive chairman of Shell, said in a speech at the 2005 Hay-on-Wye Festival: "We have 45 years, and if we start now, not in 10 or 15 years' time, we have a chance of hitting those targets. But we've got to start now. We have no time to lose." [3]

One sector of the energy industry that has no problem with the greenhouse gas arguments is the nuclear industry. Margret Thatcher was one of the first major political figures to suggest that the nuclear power was a "green" solution. This was largely regarded with derision at the time but it is the ultimate goal of Tony Blair's solution to tomorrow's energy needs and probably explains his enthusiasm for CO2 emission controls.

Indeed as many countries move towards legally binding engagements to Kyoto targets, including fines for failing to achieve them, many governments may find this a convenient excuse for otherwise unpopular expansions of their nuclear programs.

As pointed out on Counter Punch [4] the nuclear power industry is not slow to present itself as the "green" solution :

only realistic way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels in the next ten years is to bring on-line at least an additional 50 reactors. "Nuclear energy has been the largest single contributor to reduced air pollution in the world over the past 20 years", the NEI's Kyoto global warming book boasts.

Nuclear power produces fewer CO2 emissions than fossil fuel plants; the exact level remains somewhat controversial; Greenpeace assert that nuclear power produces about one third of the CO2 emissions as equivalent fossil fuels energy over the lifetime of an installation. [5]

Environmental groups

Thousands of protesters marched on the international day of action on December 3, 2005, which coincided with the first meeting of the Parties in Montreal. The planned demonstrations were endorsed by the Assembly of Movements of the World Social Forum.

Christian environmental groups are also increasingly active on climate change, such as The Evangelical Climate Initiative.

US Catholic Bishops also have recognized the urgency of addressing global warming in a 2001 statement from the US Congress of Catholic Bishops Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good

In New Zealand, the Climaction Coalition has blockaded the main thoroughfares of Auckland City on two occasions, calling for Free and Frequent Public Transport to reduce the city's dependency on cars. They argue that such a measure would also help reduce global warming if repeated in other cities throughout the world. [6]


There are a large number of academic contributions specifically to the politics of global warming. The following are a small subset of these works:

  • G8 science academies' statements [7]
  • Monograph by Dessler and Parson entitled The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change: a Guide to the Debate, emphasizing the complexity of the issue.
  • Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom cautions against using single governmental units at the global level to coordinate work against global warming. Partly, this is due to the complexity of such top-level negotiations, and partly it is due to the diversity of actors that would have to be involved. Her proposal is that of a polycentric approach, where key management decisions should be made as close to the scene of events and the actors involved as possible.[16]


The politics of global warming was raised to a considerably higher profile when former Vice President Al Gore was given an Academy Award for his documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth. Gore has made a considerable number of public appearances to promote the film and the subject-matter within it.

Other major media treatments of the politics of global warming:


Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Pioneer of the political treatment of the Greenhouse Effect
  • 1969, on Initiative of US President Richard Nixon, NATO tried to establish a third civil column and planned to establish itself as a hub of research and initiatives in the civil region, especially on environmental topics [1]. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nixons NATO delegate for the topic[1] named Acid Rain and the Greenhouse effect as suitable international challenges to be dealt by NATO. NATO had suitable expertise in the field, experience with international research coordination and a direct access to governments[1]. After an enthusiastic start on authority level, the German government reacted sceptical[1]. The initiative was seen as an American attempt[1] to regain international terrain after the lost Vietnam War. The topics and the internal coordination and preparation effort however gained momentum in civil conferences and institutions in Germany and beyond during the Brandt government[1].
  • 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment[1], leading role of Nobel Prize winner Willy Brandt and Olof Palme[17], Germany saw enhanced international research cooperation on the Greenhouse topic as necessary[1]
  • 1978 Brandt Report, the greenhouse effect dealt with in the energy section[18]
  • 1979: First World Climate Conference [8]
  • 1987: Brundtland Report[18]
  • 1987: Montreal Protocol on restricting ozone layer-damaging CFCs demonstrates the possibility of coordinated international action on global environmental issues
  • 1988: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set up to coordinate scientific research, by two United Nations organizations, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to assess the "risk of human-induced climate change".
  • 1992: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, entering into force 21 March 1994
  • 1996: European Union adopts target of a maximum 2°C rise in average global temperature
  • 25 June 1997: U.S. Senate passes Byrd-Hagel Resolution rejecting Kyoto without more commitments from developing countries [9]
  • 1997: Kyoto Protocol agreed
  • 2001: George W. Bush withdraws from the Kyoto negotiations
  • 16 February 2005: Kyoto Protocol comes into force (not including the US or Australia)
  • 2005: first carbon emissions trading scheme (EU) implemented
  • July 2005: 31st G8 summit has climate change on the agenda, but makes relatively little concrete progress
  • November/December 2005: United Nations Climate Change Conference; the first meeting of the Parties of the Kyoto Protocol, alongside the 11th Conference of the Parties (COP11), to plan further measures for 2008-2012 and beyond.
  • July 19, 2006: In California, Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed forming the Climate Action Board, a new, centralized authority under his direct control that would be responsible for implementing one of the nation's most far-reaching initiatives to curb global warming. California ranks 12th in the world in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, however its regulatory actions tend to have far-reaching effects throughout the U.S.[19]
  • October 30, 2006: The Stern Review is published. It is the first comprehensive contribution to the global warming debate by an economist and its conclusions lead to the promise of urgent action by the UK government to further curb Europe's CO2 emissions and engage other countries to do so. It discusses the consequences of climate change, mitigation measures to prevent it, possible adaptation measures to deal with its consequences, and prospects for international cooperation.
  • June 26, 2009: U.S. House of Representatives passes the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the "first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change."[20]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Die Frühgeschichte der globalen Umweltkrise und die Formierung der deutschen Umweltpolitik(1950-1973) (Early history of the environmental crisis and the setup of German environmental policy 1950-1973), Kai F. Hünemörder, Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004 ISBN 3515081887
  2. ^ Murray, Iain (2003-09-17). "Fixing the Game:Kyoto rules". National Review Online. Retrieved 2010-01-20. 
  3. ^ Purvis, Andrew (2007-10-17). "Angela Merkel - Heroes of the Environment". Time Magazine.,28804,1663317_1663319_1669897,00.html. Retrieved 2010-01-30. 
  4. ^ Rudd ratifies Kyoto - National -
  5. ^ Hood, Marlowe (2009-10-08). "Climate: What's to become of the Kyoto Protocol?". AFP. Retrieved 2009-10-10. 
  6. ^ Climate change concerns championed by Cameron's Conservatives
  7. ^ Base page
  8. ^ "Climate change: The Deniers". CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.. 2007-06-20. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  9. ^ World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)
  10. ^ BBC News: Climate change fight 'can't wait'
  11. ^ calculator to help save the planet
  12. ^ Planet Ark : Tory Group Sets Out Plans for Green Revolution
  13. ^ Planet Ark : Save The Planet Before It's Too Late, Pope Urges
  14. ^ Exxon cuts ties to global warming skeptics, MSNBC
  15. ^ Reuters
  16. ^ Vedeld, Trond: A New Global Game – And How Best to Play It. The NIBR International Blog, 12.02.2010
  17. ^ A "scandinavian connection" was alleged by Nils-Axel Mörner who saw an early friendship of Palme and Bert Bolin as reasons for Bolin then being promoted as environmental steward in the swedish government and later as first head of the IPCC
  18. ^ a b [1] The Brandt Proposals: A Report Card, Energy and the Environment
  19. ^ Cut CO2 - You Can Help Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions
  20. ^ Broder, John (2009-06-26). "House Passes Bill to Address Threat of Climate Change". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-27. 

Further reading

External links

Environmental groups



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