International Negotiations and Climate Change Policy: Explaining the United States' Hesitancy to Act
Unger, Joseph I. (Joe)
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This paper examines the brief history of international climate change negotiations beginning with the Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in 1988, the first international meeting of scientists to discuss the threat of climate change. This first conference led to the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The IPCC has been critical in establishing unequivocal evidence of the dangers posed by human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, and the UNFCCC has provided a series of international conferences and negotiations aiming to bring the international community together to reduce emissions. The history of these negotiations is discussed in this paper, centering on the conspicuous failure of the United States to commit to emissions reductions. A combination of factors in the U.S., including the Republican-controlled Congress during key negotiations in the 1990s, a reliance on the market system to solve all problems, and economic concerns, have prevented the United States from taking action at the federal level. At the state level, however, there has been significant progress on climate policy, and the case of California is used to exemplify this. The analytical section of this paper will show why California-and Japan-have both committed to making climate change a priority. In California, the threat of rising seas and drought has brought about a sense of urgency not shared by the U.S. federal government. In Japan, political factors not applicable to the U.S. have enabled Japan to take leadership on environmental issues in the international community.