World History 2 268 - 15.2.3 The Global Response to Climate Change

Countries from around the world have regularly tried to address environmental problems together. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 was a global agreement to ban and phase out specific chemicals in industrial and consumer products in the expectation that natural processes would restore the Earth’s ozone layer. The accord went into effect almost immediately, and the ozone layer has been steadily recovering ever since. Scientists anticipate that it will be fully healed by 2070, if not earlier.

At the United Nations in 1989, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom gave an urgent warning about the environment and especially climate change. She called for the world to embrace nuclear power as a substitute for coal-burning power plants, but she acknowledged that the increasingly influential green party movement remained firmly committed to preventing the proliferation of nuclear technology.

Thatcher’s speech marked a global acknowledgment that warming and climate change were pressing problems requiring international solutions. Given the success of the Montreal Protocol, she suggested a similar solution to climate change, but it met with resistance from the United States. President Reagan and Thatcher had both risen to power by embracing neoliberal economic policies, which call for market-oriented approaches and a rollback of regulation. Reagan remained largely unmoved even as Dr. James Hansen, an atmospheric scientist working for the U.S. government, testified in Congress that global warming was a real and dangerous threat (Figure 15.14).

A picture is shown of a man sitting at a table in front of two silver microphones with his mouth partially open. There is a stack of papers in front of him. He is wearing a blue suit jacket, white shirt, and red tie. He has brown hair. His right hand is open and he is holding it above the table and there is a nameplate in front of the microphones with “Dr. Hansen” written on it. Behind him there is a blue wall and a head of a man and a woman can be seen as well as another man’s shoulders.
Figure 15.14 On June 23, 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen testified to the U.S. Congress about the danger of global warming resulting from the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. (credit: “James Hansen Crop1” by NASA/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Despite U.S. resistance, the larger international community proceeded apace. In 1988, the United Nations was able to establish the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Created in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the UNFCCC convenes annually for negotiations among member countries. Notable meetings have occurred in Kyoto (1997), Copenhagen (2009), Paris (2015), and Edinburgh (2021). The UNFCCC Paris Agreement of 2015 took into account how much each member country is able to pay for a major transition away from fossil fuels. On a five-year cycle, the agreement asks each country to make a contribution proportionate to its own needs and its ability to pay for new energy infrastructure, though it has no enforcement mechanism. The goal of the Paris Agreement is total warming of less than 2°C (3.6°F) above levels from the time of industrialization, around the year 1750. While some have called the agreement successful in helping approach this goal, others feel many countries are not fulfilling the promises they made.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax