Climate Change and American Foreign Policy: An Introduction

  • Paul G. Harris


Climate change, sometimes labeled global warming or the enhanced “greenhouse effect,” is the extraordinary warming of the Earth from increased concentrations of “greenhouse gases” (GHGs) and the climatic consequences of that warming. Many of those consequences are likely to be harmful to humans and to the natural environment. Over the last decade, governments have negotiated international agreements to address climate change, most notably the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). American foreign policy has become intimately involved in the politics of climate change. This policy is explained by a myriad of factors, ranging from concerns for American national interests and the pluralism of American domestic politics, to the influence of ideas and international norms on foreign policymakers.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Energy Information Administration, Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 1996 (Washington, DC: Energy Information Administration, 1997);Google Scholar
  2. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review 1996 (Washington, DC: Energy Information Administration, 1997).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    For the definitive work up to 1996, see the IPCC’s second assessment report on the science of climate change: J. J. Houghton et al., eds., Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climate Change (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  4. The most recent report of global temperature, which confirms the warming trend, is National Research Council, Reconciling Observations of Global Temperature Change (Washington, DC: National Research Council, 2000), <>.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Ibid. Impacts based on the IPCC scientific conclusions are described in R. T. Watson, M. C. Zinyowera, and R. H. Moss, eds., Climate Change 1995: Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific-Technical Analyses (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    World Resources Institute, World Resources 1998–99: Environmental Change and Human Health (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998): 174–75.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    This summary of impacts is distilled from R. T Watson, M. C. Zinyowera, and R. H. Moss, eds., The Regional Impacts of Climate Change: An Assessment of Vulnerability, IPCC Working Group II Special Report (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). The 1997 regional impact report is a metaanalysis of state-of-the art information. It is based on the IPCC’s 1995 second assessment report and subsequent peer-reviewed literature. The “assessment is necessarily qualitative” due to uncertainties and sometimes incompatible data sets and therefore its findings “are best interpreted as illustrative of the potential character and approximate magnitudes of impacts….” IPCC, “The Regional Impacts of Climate Change: An Assessment of Vulnerability,” Summary for Policymakers (November 1997), section 3, <>. Like the 1995 report, most results were based on a carbon dioxide doubling scenario and usually exclude aerosol effects. See also World Resources 1998–99. Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    A.J. Michael et al., eds., Climate Change and Human Health (Geneva: World Health Organization, 1996).Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    For a more detailed discussion of the role of science in the context of climate change politics, see Sheila Jasenoff and Brian Wynne, “Science and Decisionmaking,” in Human Choice and Climate Change: The Societal Framework, edited by Steve Rayner and Elizabeth L. Malone (Columbus: Battelle Press, 1998): 1–87.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    Ute Collier and Ragnar E. Lofstedt, “Think Globally, Act Locally? Local Climate Change and Energy Policies in Sweden and the UK,” Global Environmental Change 7, 1 (1997): 25–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 21.
    Peter Hart, Democratic Party pollster, quoted in Walter A. Rosenbaum, Environmental Politics and Policy (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 1998): 334.Google Scholar
  12. 23.
    World Climate Conference, World Climate Conference: A Conference of Experts on Climate and Mankind—Declaration and Supporting Statements (Geneva: World Meteorological Association, 1979).Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    The call for a “framework” convention was based on the success of the framework Vienna Convention on ozone depletion that resulted in the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. See Richard E. Benedick, Ozone Diplomacy, enlarged edition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  14. 33.
    See the chapters that follow and Paul G. Harris, Understanding America’s Climate Change Policy: Realpolitik, Pluralism, and Ethical Norms (Oxford: Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics and Society, 1998).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Paul G. Harris 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul G. Harris

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations