Essential Background: The Global Environmental Regime
The confluence of global environmental policy, national innovations systems, and technological change leads to the remarkable development of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Unfccc). However the latters is predated by UNEP (United Nations Environment Program). Since the 1970s, a time when environmental issues and policies became global in nature, UNEP promulgated technological fixes for environmental externalities. An important first success for the Global Environmental Regime (GER) (Weizsäcker, 1994; Adams & Kutting, 1995) is the MARPOL treaty, signed in 1973. This developed a mechanism to encourage oil tankers to use new technology on ships. A precursor was OILPOL (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea) which began in the 1950s but was not very effective in forcing ships to switch technologies (de Coninck et al., 2008). MARPOL is unique because of the speed by which the technological fix was implemented, seen as in principle expedited by the U.S. The U.S. imposed domestic standards which effectively contributed to a global standard with eventually 119 countries involved (de Coninck et al., 2008).
Acid Rain constituted the next concerted GER effort. The scientific findings that lakes in Sweden and Norway were becoming more acidified in the 1960s and 1970s, linked to pollution mostly from coal power-plants in Germany, led to a more global focus on environmental issues crossing borders unchecked. This environmental issue was brought to the global forum in Stockholm 1972 (Adams & Kutting, 1995). Indeed, most studies examining technological response to environmental policy look at 1970s and 1980s (Kemp, 1997). Acid rain is by and large the result of burning of coal for electricity generation but the linear, “Newtonian”, scientific policy prescription to stymie the release of sulphur into the atmosphere mostly resulted in affixing coal power-plant scrubbers (Adams & Kutting, 1995). Such scrubbers are considered “end-of-pipe” technological innovations. Although the GER managed well acid rain, a somewhat alarming trend of policy-induced end-of-pipe innovations begins during this regime (Schot, 2011: 43).
Best available technology (BATs) is first mentioned in the Nitrogen Oxides Protocol (1979). Since 1970 no fewer than eight Protocols have been signed by the international community (Selin & Eckley, 2003: 23). In this regard, BAT precipitated in end-of-pipe technological “fixes” rather than diagnosing the real environmental-economic issue at source, namely the burning of fossil fuels (Daly, 1992; Adams & Kutting, 1995). During this time science played a central role in identifying causes of environmental problems (Berkhout, 2003) and therefore the techno-scientific end-of-pipe fix seemed appropriate. At the Villach Conference (1985) renowned scientists pointedly declared GHG emissions as a serious global environmental threat, perhaps twice as harmful as previously thought. This marks somewhat of an inflection point between the GER and the Global Climate Regime. Thus in 1986 we witnessed the first Emissions Trading Policy, seen as a move away from command-and-control regime (Praetorius et al., 2009: 167).
Importantly the Villach Conference warned emissions of other gases aside from carbon were largely overlooked but probably just as critical. This type of agenda-setting and crystallizing expert opinion on options to avert climate disaster marks a trend towards a new Global Climate Regime (GCR) which would evolve in 1992. An upper limit for emissions was discussed leading to the creation of an advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases and setting the stage for IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) creation in 1988. Also in the 1980s, but stemming from the previous GER era to stymie acid rain, is the Montreal Protocol (1987). The Montreal Protocol effectively halved global production of CFCs (HFCs will persist until at least 2040). Tews (2005) investigates innovative activities in environmental technologies following important global environment conferences including Stockholm (1972) and the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992). He finds that, indeed, environmental technology innovation experiences a surge after these two UN conferences. This supports the theory the UN is a highly capable agender-setter for inducing innovation in climate technologies. (For a schematic of the Global Environmental Regime Timeline (pre-Kyoto) click link).
The Emerging Global Climate Regime
Ozone hole depletion and global climate change are intrinsically different global environmental issues. Policies and induced innovation effects of each must therefore be examined independently. While the ozone hole required eliminating or seriously reducing (HFCs, So2, Nox, VOC), mainly produced by only twenty companies worldwide (Kemp, 1997), climate change policy involves eventually eliminating all GHGs (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone) from thousands of energy producing, manufacturing, and other industrial companies.
Therefore I make an important distinction here between the GER and the GCR. The GER encompasses the GCR and of course to a certain extent there is a high degree of “regime interaction” (Gehring & Oberthur, 2004); the former is related more to UNEP while the latter is why the Unfccc and IPCC are created. Although the GER during the 1970s and 1980s now appears short-sighted and weak in terms of inducing point-of-source innovations, “The most consistent finding to emerge from all these [climate technology] modeling studies was that technology mattered” (Grubb et al., 2006: 4). It appears the GCR focuses more on technological improvements over time, especially for energy technologies (Gallagher et al., 2012; IPCC, 2012; Ockwell & Mallett, 2012; Williams et al., 2012).
Technology therefore becomes a point of focus for the agenda-setting within the Unfccc (Botcheva & Martin, 2001). However uncertainty in climate scenarios continued to prevail in the early 1990s leading “policymakers to follow a precautionary approach and to explore a set of ‘safe’ stabilisation targets” (Bosetti et la., 2014: 25). Thus early political maneuvering of the Unfccc is constricted by conservative, momentum-building, discursive action. Even still technology figures as a central point of action.
From the very beginning the role of technology is of principal concern to the Unfccc. Their explicit exaltation of technology is unambiguous. Three different documents reveal the underlying importance of technological innovation: (1) The IPCC: “Achieving the Unfccc goal of stabilizing GHGs [...] will require technological innovation and rapid and widespread transfer and implementation of technologies; (2) Article 1.9 of the Unfccc (1992): “A subsidiary body for scientific and technological advice [...] to identify innovative, efficient and state-of-the-art technologies and know-how and advise on the ways and means of promoting development and/or transferring such technology”; and, Agenda-21: “Governments [...] should provide economic or regulatory incentives, where appropriate, to stimulate industrial innovation towards cleaner production methods.” It is evident from the beginning the Unfccc intends to support the development of technology and innovation for clean energy technologies. (For a schematic of the Global Climate Regime Timeline (post-Kyoto) follow link). (See also: Technology Mechanism under Unfccc).