Canadian Enthusiasm: Remembering Toronto ‘88

Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.

Changing Atmosphere Conference Statement, Toronto, 30 June, 1988.

With the Greenhouse scare turning thirty this month, we remember the conference that launched it onto the global stage as the flagship cause of the Sustainable Development movement. 

Before Paris there was Kyoto, but before Kyoto there was Toronto. Most climate activists today would be too young to recall where it all began thirty years ago this month. It was at the Changing Atmosphere conference, Toronto, 27-30 June 1988, that ‘greenhouse’ warming exploded onto the global stage, with demands for an immediate policy response. So successful was this event that the ‘Toronto Target’ remained the benchmark for any government response to the climate emergency until the ‘protocol’ finally agreed in Kyoto, 1997.

The Guardian, 28 June 1988

A report from the opening of the Toronto conference in The Guardian, 28 June 1988

In the old days before the warming scare, convention deemed that local weather observations could not pronounce on local climate until the ledgers ran down a continuous 30 years. And perhaps this could be our measure of global climate scares. Compare the cooling scare: launched in 1972, it was all over by the end of the decade. That was pretty much when the build-up to the warming scare began. But this one stuck around. It grew and prospered while the promised signs of catastrophe remained ever deferred.

If some sceptics are now sounding its death knells, then we do well to remember their premature ringing many times before. This horseman may be riding for an apocalyptic fall, but ride on he does; and with tremendous institutional inertia in the science, the science funding and energy policy. That this scare continues to evolve is all too evident when we consider that there has never been a greater impact on energy policy for major economic players like Germany, Britain and Australia. And this impact is in direct opposition to what would be our agreed economic, political and security interests if there were no scare. Make no mistake, this is a major social phenomenon, the full power of which we are only coming to appreciate as it arises stronger from every successive blow to its credibility. Continue reading

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Enter the Economists Part II

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Enter the Economists: Part IPart IIPart III
Summary and Discussion at Bishop Hill

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Continuing our look at the Price of Life Controversy, we find how the global sustainability movement influences the IPCC and especially through the re-constituted Working Group III.

But first, here is a brief chronology to guide the reader:
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1987 Our Common Future published by the United Nations
1988 The Changing Atmosphere Conference in Toronto (also: Hansen’s Congressional Testimony; Margaret Thatcher gets involved; the IPCC formed)
1990 The IPCC First Assessment Report published
1992 Rio Earth Summit in June introduces the UN FCCC which defers to the IPCC for its scientific assessment. At its 8th meeting (11-13 Nov) the IPCC re-directs its Working Group III to the ‘Economic and Social Dimensions of Climate Change’ for the 2nd Assessment.
1993 The inaugural plenary of the re-constituted WG III (4-7 May) proposes a work plan orientated to the sustainable development goals of the Earth Summit. This is approved by the 9th IPCC meeting (29-30 June) and the selection of lead authors begin.
1994 Four WG III workshops (Jan-July) in Japan, Brazil, Italy and Kenya involving a broader community of experts. A first draft of the Report is circulated for expert review. A revised draft is prepared and circulated for governmental and NGO review and then a final draft is produced before the year is out.
1995 The Price of Life Controversy: with the final draft of the chapters in hand, a lead author’ meeting (Paris 22-24 Mar) prepares a draft of the Policymaker’s Summary for the intergovernmental Plenary and its line-by-line approval process. At the same time, and days before delegates depart for the first Conference of Parties to the FCCC (April, Berlin), India sends a letter [Kamal Nath, 24mar95] to other poor country delegates raising concerns about the damage assessment in Chapter 6. The campaign during CoP1 includes strong words in the India’s delegations official address [Kamal Nath, 6Apr95]. Three months later, the WG III Plenary in Geneva (25-28 July) fails to agree on the Summary nor ‘accept’ the underlying Report. The Plenary reconvenes in Montreal (11-13 Oct) where the Report is accepted and the Summary approved. However, this is only after the Chapter 6 authors have their dissent from a number of points recorded in the minutes. The Controversy continues in the science press with both sides now calling for the removal of the Chapter from the Report before its final submission to the 11th meeting of the IPCC (11-15 Dec). The controversy dies when this meeting accepts the Report and Summary with a minimum of fuss. The Chapter 6 authors never accept the Summary, claiming that its Part 7 contains distortions and interpolations of their findings.

(For the larger context see this Timeline.)

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Channeling Sustainability Enthusiasm

Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India, addresses the UN Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm, 1972

1972: UN Stockholm Conference: Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, links environmental protection with development goals.

The global environment movement bursts onto the world stage in 1972 with the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. It is here that the seeds of sustainable development enthusiasm are planted and the UN Environment Programme is born. 

But the great manifesto of sustainable development does not arrive until 1987 with the UN Report, Our Common Future.

The vision encapsulated in the ‘Brundtland Report’ is to bring together the apparent conflict between economic development and environmental protection as the twin goals in a new global project.  Across the world the successive public hearings of the Brundtland Commission attempt to give voice to those previously voiceless in the inter-governmental discourse. Aid workers and environmental activists are actively sought, as are the views of the poor and illiterate living close to nature. Indeed, such folk as Amazonian rubber tappers take to the microphone, and sound bites of their contributions remain preserved in the Report.  But ‘equity’ has two dimensions in sustainable development—not only across the globe but also forward through time: Our Common Future also invokes the voiceless voice of future generations so as to ensure that today’s prosperity does not spoil the natural and economic inheritance of those yet to be born.

Our Common Future, UN, 1997, Front cover

1987: The Brundtland Report, the sustainable development manifesto

Riding a wave of enthusiasm generated by the Report, Gro Brundtland headlines a charismatic and prophetic billing for perhaps the most evangelical Climate Conference of all time. The International Conference on the Changing Atmosphere issues from Toronto into that baking North American summer of 1988 a concluding statement that famously begins:

Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.

The Conference Statement [pdf] is primarily concerned with the ‘implications for global security’ of atmospheric damage, and, most alarmingly, the damage caused by greenhouse gases. But the ensuing ‘Call for Action’ is much broader and includes a call for the reversal of the current net transfer of resources from developing countries.

Much to the consternation of the American political right, Climate Change Alarmism has always been much more than about fixing the climate. Even before Rio, the movement for action on global warming has already emerged the great hope and channel for all the aspirations of the global ‘sustainability’ movement—including the aspiration for global economic justice.

Continue reading