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Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): U.S. Climate Change Diplomacy: From the Montreal Protocol to the Paris Agreement, 1981-2015

About this Collection

This collection is unrivaled in scope and in the richness of its primary sources on the vital topic of climate change. Covering 35 years of key developments and controversy, it details U.S. policymaking from the 1987 Montreal Protocol on protecting the ozone layer to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and 2015 Paris climate change treaty targeting global warming as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. The set features top-level White House, State Department, Treasury, and EPA records, CIA analyses, and U.N. reports on the key negotiations.

Research Value of This Collection

This set contains a unique and unprecedented collection of curated documents, both declassified and public, that provides unparalleled coverage of a highly relevant and significant topic. The newly declassified documents illuminate how each administration approached the looming threat of climate change, framed its goals for a series of major international negotiations, and navigated the complex interplay of diplomacy and domestic policy over almost a 35-year period. Painstakingly identified and obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and then expertly curated, the records feature detailed State Department cables offering a blow-by-blow take on the negotiations, confidential assessments of other governments’ positions, briefing materials highlighting internal debates, White House records that reveal how different administrations approached these issues, and additional internal government sources disclosing the perspectives of other key U.S. agencies, including the Treasury and Energy Departments, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency. The set features a particularly rich body of documents on the Clinton White House and its Climate Change Task Force. As noted below, these documents are supplemented by a selection of key U.N. documents reporting on the Montreal Protocol, UNFCCC COP, and IPCC meetings, providing useful context for the U.S. declassified materials.

A major theme throughout the collection is the effort to steer past the diplomatic and domestic political crosscurrents. These influences were driven by differing assessments of the scientific analyses and predictions of complex and harmful changes in the atmosphere, by consideration of possible tools to limit these changes, and by concerns over the economic costs involved. Documents from all of the presidential administrations covered by the set illuminate how each sought to carry out this intricate balancing act. For example, among the important documents on the Reagan White House’s deliberations are memoranda discussing the debate within the Domestic Policy Council and submitting for the president’s approval various options regarding the U.S. negotiating position leading to the Montreal Protocol. Internal memoranda reveal important developments and insights, including describing the split in the administration over the proposed ozone treaty. Other cables report on the national laws, regulations, and policies of other governments regarding protection of the ozone layer, which would need to be harmonized with the eventual protocol.

Beyond the principal focus on U.S. diplomacy surrounding the Montreal Protocol and negotiations on a climate change treaty, U.S. Climate Change Diplomacy contains highly useful material for those studying related fields. For example, scholars of science and technology policymaking will find a rich source of records dealing with how different administrations sought to integrate and reconcile the science surrounding climate change with the political and economic tools and challenges involved in deciding upon and implementing the GHG emissions cuts required to affect the future trajectory of global warming. The set also contains records from the Clinton White House that will be of interest to those studying bureaucratic politics and how the Oval Office can be organized to provide advice to the president, including the presentation of policy options and the consequences of policy choices.

Collection Time Periods

Time Period Number of Documents
1981-1988 304
1989-1992 367
1993-1997 705
1998-2000 872
2001-2008 136
2009-2016 156


More About The Collection

U.S. Climate Change Diplomacy: From the Montreal Protocol to the Paris Agreement, 1981-2015 covers nearly 35 years of U.S. involvement in two series of international negotiations to address the critical, long-term consequences of environmental changes in the atmosphere. As the documents show, U.S. leadership was (and remains) critical, often essential, for the success of these negotiations, while retreat from such leadership - driven by domestic politics - could create serious obstacles to this success. The milestone results of these negotiations were the Vienna Convention (1988) and Montreal Protocol (1989) for the protection of the ozone layer, and the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and Paris climate treaty (2015) that tackle the far more complex and potentially catastrophic issue of global climate change, or global warming, which is driven by the growing concentrations of man-made greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere. The negotiations to rein in global warming, which are the focus for the majority of the set’s documents, were at the center of U.S. climate change diplomacy from the George H.W. Bush through the Barack Obama administrations. Many of the documents in this collection are only accessible because of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed over nearly two decades by the U.S. Environmental Diplomacy Project at the National Security Archive.