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"The Development of an International Agenda for Climate Change: Connecting Science to Policy"

Discussion Paper E-97-07, Harvard Kennedy School

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Environment and Natural Resources; Global Environmental Assessment Project



The observation has been made that the climate change issue broke onto the international policy making agenda in the mid 1980s, between 1985 and 1988. The issue moved from the realm of science to the realm of politics. As such, this period provides fertile ground for exploration of the relationship between science, knowledge, and action on international environmental issues. This relationship is the emphasis of this study, as it provides an account of the transition of climate change to the international policy agenda. This study explores the often made claim that it was the development of a scientific consensus, a reframing of the climate debate, and attention from an international group of scientists that pushed the issue into the international political spotlight by the late 1980s. The Villach 1985 conference is often cited as the source for these claims. This study contends that the 1985 Villach conference did not represent a significant change in scientific conclusions about the problems of climate change. Rather, a new emphasis on certain scientific facts, the unique quality of the international group of scientists, and new perceptions of the opportunity for action on international environmental problems led the Villach group to reach a new set of political and policy conclusions which emphasized the urgency of action. Several policy and science entrepreneurs advocated action to address problems of global environmental change. Their conclusions coincided with a number of other developments, including extreme weather in the United States and the successful negotiation of an international agreement to protect the ozone layer, which pressed in the direction of further international attention to environmental problems. By 1988, a variety of international players were involved in shaping the debate about responses to climate change.


For more information about this publication please contact the ENRP Program Coordinator at 617-495-1351.

For Academic Citation:

Franz, Wendy E. "The Development of an International Agenda for Climate Change: Connecting Science to Policy." Discussion Paper E-97-07, Harvard Kennedy School, August 1997.

Document Length: 34 pp.

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