Our targets will not be taken seriously by the poorer countries until the richer countries are meeting them. The biggest responsibilities falls on those countries with the biggest emissions
Michael Mann’s submersion into climate research coincided with a global groundswell. In 1993, he set about trying to establish when the global temperatures had last risen so high or so rapidly.
Two years later, in December 1995, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) completed its second major report and published it during the first weeks of the following year.
Bert Bolin, the IPCC chairman, used his foreword to express his increasing frustration at the allegations being flung at the IPCC by climate sceptics and to defend its laborious and painstaking processes, rather than setting out the findings and implications for governments around the world.
The free market, oil funded climate deniers had already forced Bolin onto the defensive. “The reader may note that the IPCC is a fully intergovernmental, scientific-technical body,” he explained.
The IPCC was extremely cautious and - five years after its first report - would only record that the signal of global warming, amid the natural chaos of weather, was only just emerging.
Despite no strong signal emerging from the climate science community, the late Professor Stephen Schneider, a Stanford University climatologist, well understood that the latest report was “fraught with political significance”.
He believed that President Bill Clinton was about to announce that America would finally agree to binding emissions cuts.
Tony Blair was elected Britain’s prime minister in May 1997 and followed in Conservative John Major’s climate footsteps.
During his first month in office, he flew to the G8 Summit of world leaders in Denver, as well as an environmental conference in New York, where he met Vice President Al Gore and used a keynote address to attack climate polluters.
Referring to agreements made at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, he said Britain was among only three countries to stabilise its carbon emissions.
“Some other countries cannot say the same, including some of the great industrialised nations,” he said. “To them I say this: our targets will not be taken seriously by the poorer countries until the richer countries are meeting them. The biggest responsibilities falls on those countries with the biggest emissions.”
Professor Bob Watson, a cheerful grey-bearded British atmospheric chemist, was made chairman of the IPCC in 1997.
A dynamic leader
Watson had impeccable scientific credentials, and, even more remarkably, combined these with a commanding and believable media presence.
He had been chief scientist for the Office of Mission to Planet Earth at NASA before being hired by the president to advise at the White House.
He was described by the New York Times as an “outspoken advocate of the idea that human actions – mainly burning coal and oil – are contributing to global warming and must be changed to avert environmental upheavals.”
His clear scientific analysis and managerial aptitude ensured that the IPCC would resist the snipe fire from their sceptic adversaries.
The leaders of the two nations that had historically produced the most carbon emissions were poised to take radical action, while the scientific body that informed such action itself had a new, dynamic leader.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist, founder of Request Initiative and co-author of Impact of Market Forces on Addictive Substances and Behaviours: The web of influence of addictive industries (Oxford University Press). He tweets at @EcoMontague. This article first appeared at Desmog.uk.