Framework agreement on climate change: a scientific and policy history

Authors Introduction

In the introduction to his new book,The Agenda, Washington Post Editor and writer, Bob Woodward, described the book as something between newspaper journalism and history. Woodward notes that “in the information cycle, the newspapers, television and magazines prove the first waves of explanation of events in the days or weeks after they occur. Then, generally after a long interlude, insiders memoirs or histories appear.”The Agenda, according to Woodward, “is a hybrid combining the thoroughness of history with the contemporaneity of journalism.”

This paper is also a mixture of journalism and history. It is journalistic in the sense of providing an annotated chronology of key events and publications since 1970 that ultimately led to the signing of the Framework Agreement on Climate Change (herein referred to as the ‘Convention’). It is also history in that we share our insight on these events and offer our perspective of how science and policy-making interacted.

After the signing of the Climate Convention at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (June, 1992), the authors began to think about the many events that led to this historic agreement. When did the process really begin? What were the seminal scientific papers? When did climate change become a policy issue? What lessons do we learn for the future?

We began to review the history and soon recognized there was no clear beginning to either the science or policy story. Both aspects evolved, with science and policy decisions affecting each other. The resulting history is decidedly a U.S. perspective. While there will no doubt be arguments over the significance of all the events cited as well as the omission of others, we have for the first time synthesized the major themes that led to the climate convention.

Our discussion is organized into three periods of time: 1970–1980 (ending with the first World Climate Conference), 1980–1987 (ending with the U.S. presidential election), and 1988–1992 (signing of the Convention). For each period there is an overall summary and analysis followed by a chronology of selected events.

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Alan D. Hecht is the Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of International Activities and Dennis Tirpak is the Director of the Global Change Division, Office of Policy and Planning, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 401 M Street, SW, Washington, DC 20460.

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Hecht, A.D., Tirpak, D. Framework agreement on climate change: a scientific and policy history. Climatic Change 29, 371–402 (1995).

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  • Climate Change
  • Policy Decision
  • Major Theme
  • Policy Issue
  • Scientific Paper