Politicisation of Climate Change

Politicisation of Climate Change

From a paper by : Alex Evans and David Steven, 2007
The London Accord and Centre of International Cooperation, 
Climate change: the state of the debate

The politicisation of climate change: green NGOs and the Global Climate Coalition

The 1988 surge of awareness had one other lasting legacy: more than ever, climate change was framed as a “green” or environmental issue. Large NGOs like the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund or the Natural Resources Defense Council began to make global warming one of their top campaign priorities. Over the next few years, activists and campaigners from more radical NGOs like Greenpeace and from the nascent anti-corporate anti-globalisation movement would join them.

Unsurprisingly, there was an equally determined push back against the emerging climate consensus, with well-organised and funded lobby groups taking on the task. They too had been galvanised by Carson’s Silent Spring, which had been attacked by the chemical industry even before its publication. “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson,” warned an industry spokesman, “we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.”xxvii

The late 1980s saw the emergence of the formidable Global Climate Coalition, a grouping of car, oil and other industrial companies that operated from a base at the US National Association of Manufacturers. The coalition claimed to represent 6 million businesses and described itself as “a leading voice for business, both domestically and internationally.” Critics accused it of disruptive and underhand tactics, claiming that its main purpose was to discredit climate change science, to sow doubt about the necessity of reducing emissions, and to stoke fears about the likely cost of corrective action. The coalition’s opposition to the Kyoto Protocol was based on three arguments: that American economic prospects would be damaged, that consumers would suffer from ‘skyrocketing’ energy prices, and that large developing countries would benefit at the US’s expense.xxviii

But the coalition found it hard to maintain unity in the face of growing evidence marshalled through the IPCC, which published its first three assessment reports in 1990, 1995 and 2001. In each of them, the consensus that humans were causing climate change, and that the consequences of this would be serious, steadily hardened. BP was the first company publicly to break ranks shortly before the Kyoto Protocol was agreed in December 1997. Its Chief Executive, John Browne, in a widely reported speech at Stanford University, argued that: “The time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is conclusively proven, but when the possibility cannot be discounted and is taken seriously by the society of which we are part. We in BP have reached that point.” xxix

By the end of 1998, Shell too had left the coalition, followed by Ford in 1999 and then Texaco, GM and DaimlerChrysler in 2000. By 2001, following the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report, business opinion was moving towards an endorsement of the reality of climate change. The GCCC was disbanded in early 2002. This is a brief overview of the politicisation of climate change, the next page looks at intergovernmental policy.

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xxvii Dorothy McLaughlin, Silent Spring Revisited, from Fooling with Nature, Frontline, available at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/nature/disrupt/sspring.html
xxviii Global Climate Coalition, available at http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Global_Climate_Coalition
xxix Ibid.