Agendasetting

Solar Power Design Manual

Do It Yourself Solar Energy

Get Instant Access

Rahman and Roncerel (1994) argue that environmental NGOs enjoy a great deal of influence in national policy arenas, where policy responses develop first. Their argument is reinforced by a survey carried out by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, which discovered that most NGOs consider personal contact with politicians early in the policy process, to be the most effective channel of influence (ibid.).16 The lack of efficiency and effectiveness of international environmental institutions (see above) also means that groups show a preference for national-level lobbying, even after the issue has begun to be dealt with in international fora.

It is at this stage of the policy process - when the problem is defined, expertise sought and the need for international action discussed - that policy positions are developed. McCormick (1993) shows how governments often react to catalysts rather than adopt proactive positions, creating opportunities to define issues, shape responses and force the agenda. In order to encourage governments to act on an issue imbued with complexity and affecting a range of powerful interests, the generation of a public consensus in favour of action (or at least the perception of a public consensus) can be instrumental in helping to set political agendas (Benedick 1991a). Environmental pressure groups can play a pivotal role in the activation and vocalisation of this popular concern. One of the greatest impediments to the resolution of a complex political problem such as global warming is social inertia (Dubash and

15 The Natural Resources Defence Council has adopted a similar approach in its campaigning on climate change, employing scientists and lawyers to lobby for changes in US policies and to bring law suits. See Lashof (1993).

16 Boyer's (1997) work on NGOs and Swiss climate policy shows that the influence of NGOs such as Greenpeace and WWF-Switzerland is principally exercised through national level structures and processes, despite participating in international negotiating teams.

Oppenheimer 1992:278). The generation of focused demands, on the other hand, can smooth the passage of an issue from the political margins to political centre-stage.

Groups' ability to set the agenda also depends on their ability to raise an issue circulating within the scientific community to the status of a high profile political issue. NGOs are able to draw attention to reports and studies that have been 'conveniently neglected by governments' (Stairs and Taylor 1992:112).17 They are able to politicise an issue that was not previously considered political in an overt sense, and in so doing they 'play a critical role in minimising the time from recognising the problem to setting the agenda' (Breyman 1993:138). Environmental NGOs are therefore able to 'create' issues and to push them onto institutional agendas.18 Lashof argues more specifically that environmental NGOs are most effective through their ability to 'translate knowledge of what is going on to public outrage, that results in publicity at key times when decisions are being made'.19

In this sense NGOs can call to bear 'considerable if diffuse public support' (Hawkins 1993:222) for goals such as the negotiation of a climate convention. As a UK government representative at the climate negotiations, Philip Dykins, argues, 'You can't get politicians to take tough decisions without popular backing.'20 Weir supports this argument by noting that contact with diplomats at international meetings, lobbying at the national level and cooperation with corporate actors are 'only effective when backed by public pressure'.21 The ability of environmental NGOs to appeal to a broad constituency of support for their goals, in many ways appears to preclude their use of other channels of influence.22

Particularly during periods of rapid growth in group membership, pressure groups are able to emphasise the extent to which there is public concern about a particular issue and an institutional response is expected. Sebenius (1991:122), for example, attributes 'The significant number of industrial countries that unilaterally, or in small groups, had committed [themselves] by late 1990 to greenhouse gas stabilisation or reduction targets' to the 'high level of public concern about the greenhouse issue.' This function can also take the form of supporting moves within government to adopt a more forthright line. Lashof argues that there are often groups within government pushing for action, 'but their ability to move things forward depends on whether or not there is a constituency for doing that, and so the

17 Interview with Silberschmidt, 18 July 1996, Geneva.

18 This has resonance with the social movements literature, which finds that 'social movements bring up new issues, politicise them within civil society and prepare the grounds for the political system to integrate them' (Finger 1994:32). Litfin (1993:95) notes, moreover, that 'social movements have instigated virtually all existing international environmental agreements'.

Interview with Lashof, 18 July 1996, Geneva.

20 Interview with Dykins, 25 February 1994, London.

Questionnaire from Weir (1996).

22 It is clear that many groups regard demonstrating public concern as their most important function (telephone interview with Robertson, 28 April 1994) and generating public pressure as their most effective channel of influence. (Questionnaires from Sharma (1996), Stanford (1996), Weir (1996).

role of NGOs is doing things which the administration simply cannot'.23 Creating a substantial constituency of popular concern requires getting publicity for an issue, mobilising other NGOs and lobbying legislatures. This creates a supportive environment for governments to take a position that may otherwise be considered too risky.24

Following on from this, NGOs can also create a sense of public expectation about the sorts of policy response that are deemed desirable. Pressure on the US to be party to the Framework Convention from 1991 onwards can be seen in this light, as the expectation of positive participation by the US in the global climate negotiations was widespread (Brenton 1994).25 Flagging political will in 1991 on the part of the US administration was the target of a fierce NGO and media backlash, which was successful in bringing about a renewed government commitment to adopt a more proactive line. Lashof argues, 'in the run up to Rio, the pressure from around the country, but led by some of the national groups such as NRDC and EDF, certainly made a big difference in convincing President Bush that he had to go to Rio and he had to have a legally binding treaty'.26 More recently, CAN has also been working to shame Australia and New Zealand for their failure to support the negotiating position of their Pacific neighbours in the climate negotiations (Arts and Rudig 1995). Mintzer and Leonard (1994:36) note in this respect that NGOs can play a critical role in 'focusing public attention on outstanding issues or outrageous national positions at critical moments in the process'.27

By nurturing frames of interpretation supportive of their position, NGOs can have some influence on the terms of debate. When an issue explodes onto the political scene, as the issue of global warming did so suddenly in 1988 amid intense public concern about dramatic changes in the weather (Ungar 1992), governments are expected to react with a series of policy proposals. In a reactive and turbulent atmosphere such as this, NGOs are able to set the pace of political change and assert their preferred interpretations of what the issue means and what degree of action may be appropriate, whilst governments are deciphering their own preferences and interests in the debate. Princen et al. (1995:52) describe this as 'setting the conditions under which states will act or, maybe more precisely, react'. NGOs can serve as 'scientific advisers or information gatherers at the point at which risks are being defined or problems being diagnosed' (Susskind 1994:49), and thus influence how interests come to be understood in relation to the issue. When governments lack the required interpretive packages to respond to a new problem, environmental NGOs can perform the sort of agenda-setting function that Haas (1990a) attributes to knowledge-based epistemic communities. They do this by infusing a new issue

23 Interview with Lashof, 18 July 1996, Geneva.

24 Ibid.

25 Interview with Lashof, 18July 1996, Geneva.

26 ibid.

27 Interview with Sieghart, 16 July 1996, Geneva.

with meaning, scale and urgency in a way that resonates with existing popular concern.

In this context, NGOs riding a wave of popular concern are often able to extract promises of action, however tokenistic or incremental in nature. This can be seen in the US, for example, where the government's recognition of public alarm about the issue of climate change, together with popular concern about the lack of political action, encouraged the announcement of a $1 billion fund for climate research, a plan to plant a billion trees a year and the government's intention to host a White House Conference on climate change in the spring of 1990 (Brenton 1994).

Further evidence of agenda-setting by environmental groups was the organisation by the Stockholm Environment Institute of the Villach and Bellagio workshops in 1985, which set the pace of the climate change debate at the time, prompting governments to develop their own institutional response in order to ensure that they would have control over the future development of the issue (as opposed to being forced to respond to NGO initiatives). One such institutional response was the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide a scientific basis for the political negotiations on climate. By helping to nurture an embryonic consensus among scientists that action of a precautionary nature was desirable, NGOs were able to force states to respond to their initiatives and quicken the pace of political action on the issue. As William Nitze, former deputy assistant secretary for the environment in the US, acknowledged, 'the two workshops . . . indeed played a significant catalytic role in establishing the IPCC . . . governments could no longer permit . . . NGOs to drive the agenda on the emerging climate issue' (quoted in Dubash and Oppenheimer 1992:265).

In some cases, however, NGOs merely react to government initiatives on climate change. This was the case in Germany for example, where NGOs were initially reluctant to take up the global warming issue for fear of playing into the hands of the nuclear industry, whose agenda they strongly opposed.28 Similarly, the governments of many Southern countries claim to have sought the involvement of NGOs in climate policy development, but found them to be unresponsive.29

One key determinant of the degree of influence that an NGO is able to exert over policy is the closeness of its relationship to principal decision-making bodies and actors. Some groups have been centrally involved in the evolution of climate policy at the national level. EDF helped to draft the US government's Carbon Dioxide Offsets Policy Efficiency Act of 1991. Many NGOs have a high degree of access in the form of direct consultative meetings with governments and regular meetings with senior civil servants.30 CAN-UK members, for example, enjoyed frequent meetings with the UK negotiating team to the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) and with the Secretary of State for the Environment, before major

28 For more on German environmental NGOs and the issue ofglobal warming see Cavender and Jaeger (1993) and Hatch (1995).

29 Interviews in Geneva with Ratnasiri on 16 July 1996 and Rahman on 19 July 1996.

30 Questionnaires from Spencer (1996), Stanford (1996), Kinrade (1996).

negotiating sessions at the international level, including INC meetings and meetings of the EU Council of Ministers.31 NGOs, particularly those with a more strictly research orientation, are requested to contribute to and comment on the preparation of government positions. In the US, World Resources Institute (WRI), NRDC, EDF, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Woods Hole Research Center and the Audubon Society all worked closely with US policy-makers and UN agencies in formulating policy options on climate change.32 In the South, the Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI)33 and the Centre for Science and the Environment (CSE) developed policy options for India. The CSE and TERI are said to have exerted a 'crucial influence' on the initial policy-making of the Indian government in 1990-2. 'Typically the two organisations would analyse the latest aspects of the international negotiations and their importance in a briefing to the MoEF (Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests). The ministry simply came to use TERI and CSE as their expert information units and crucial discussion partners in the shaping of a position on climate change' (Jakobsen 1997:8). Ravi Sharma, associate director of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in India, argues that through direct consultative meetings with government they have obtained a high degree of access.34

The Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) has played a key role in developing their governments' climate policy.35 Huq describes BCAS as having a high degree of access to government through direct consultative meetings and participation in policy committees, and the overall influence of BCAS in this respect as 'great'.36 According to Rahman and Roncerel (1994) and Reazzudin, deputy director of the Environment Department in Bangladesh, work by BCAS on sea-level rise helped to convince the Bangladeshi government of the threat that climate change poses to coastal populations.37 BCAS is represented on the inter-ministerial committee that formulates policy on climate change. Reazzudin says of the relationship between BCAS and the Bangladeshi government, 'we are partners'.38 In Africa, Environment and Development Third World (ENDA) played a 'pioneering role' in developing emissions inventories (Rahman and Roncerel 1994). Given the gaps in LDC governments' expertise on the issue of climate change and their consequent need to rely on the expertise of NGOs, Rahman argues that 'we [the NGOs] are the government in 90 percent of cases'.39

These examples reinforce Banuri's (1993) point that NGOs' ability to influence their governments depends on the governments' access to other sources of research

31 Questionnaire from Weir (1996).

For more on these groups, loosely defined as part of the 'Big 10' US groups, see Mitchell (1991).

33 See Achanta (1993) and Pachauri and Bhanari (undated).

Questionnaire from Sharma (1996).

35 Interview with Rahman, 19 July 1996, Geneva.

Questionnaire from Huq (1996).

37 Interview with Reazuddin, 17 July 1996, Geneva.

38 Ibid.

39 Interview with Rahman, 19 July 1996, Geneva.

and information, and, in broader terms, whether NGOs have assets that governments think they can make use of. Hence, by way of counterbalance to the notion that NGOs can set frames of reference, project interpretations and trade their expertise for access to governments, it should be acknowledged that the nature of the relationship between pressure groups and governments and the scope for NGO input is highly dependent upon the willingness, or otherwise, of governments to open up the policy development process to their participation. However, where NGO research is used by governments, NGO frames of reference are imported into government decision-making, thereby extending the influence of these groups.

Some governments have been more positive than others in encouraging NGO participation in policy formulation. Bill Hare, climate campaigner at Greenpeace International and formerly of the Australian Conservation Foundation, praised the 'unusually comprehensive' approach adopted by the Australian government, which allowed NGO representatives open access to the Greenhouse Coordinating Group during the development of its Ecologically Sustainable Development Strategy, in which action on climate featured highly (ECO, issue 6, Geneva 1991; Russell 1994).40

Participation in policy deliberations does not mean that groups' concerns are necessarily acted upon, however. The US provides a useful example. Despite having one of the more open greenhouse policy development processes, in which environmental pressure groups have participated extensively, US policy towards global warming remains one of the most backward of all the OECD countries. The influence of the fossil fuel lobby groups (see Chapter 5) and the presence of White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, are among the factors that explain why the US government has been able to stall on more stringent action to combat climate change, and to smother calls for further action by environmental pressure groups. The hostility of the White House Chief of Staff to environmentalists was made clear by the way in which he dismissed their concern about global warming as part of a hidden agenda to prevent growth in the US economy. He is quoted as saying, 'Some people are less concerned about climate change than establishing an anti-growth policy' (ECO, issue 4, Nairobi 1991).41

Other states have actively tried to reduce, if not marginalise altogether, the degree of NGO input into policy debates. Egypt, for instance, suggested the elimination of any reference in the convention text to cooperation with NGOs in policy debates (ECO, issue 6, New York 1992), while Saudi Arabia, Argentina and Mexico expressed concern about French proposals to increase the degree of consideration given to NGO information by the Conference of the Parties (ECO, issue 3, Geneva 1991). The very different attitudes of states towards NGO participation undoubtedly condition the ability of NGOs to influence their own government's position at

40 Questionnaire from Kinrade (1996).

41 McCormick (1991:46) shows how, despite regular contacts with ministers and government departments, environmental groups in the UK have 'not been able to translate numerical power into appreciable and consistent direct political influence of the kind enjoyed by economic interests.'

the national (as well as the international) level. The degree to which there are democratic channels within governments for NGO pressure, is a further important factor. Singh notes, for example, that the greatest obstacle to CANSEA influencing the position of the Indonesian government is the 'limited democratic space in which we can work'.42

The relationship between groups and the administration they are seeking to influence is also, of course, in a continual state of flux, with different governments being more or less sensitive to the demands made of them by environmentalists. While the Bush and Reagan governments in the US were hostile to action on climate change, close ties between government departments and US environmental groups in the 1970s under the Carter administration allowed for the funding of pioneering climate change research (Bramble and Porter 1992:321; Mitchell 1984).43 The Clinton administration is also regarded as being more sympathetic to the views of environmentalists on the issue.44 The presence of political parties such as Die Grunen in Germany (in government in this case) can also allow for more cooperative relations to develop between the government and NGOs, where parties are more receptive towards NGOs' concerns. As Dubash and Oppenheimer (1992:271-2) note, 'the current strong position of the German government (relative to the US for instance) on . . . global warming bear witness to . . . the success of the electorally partisan approach in the European context'. Hence whilst North American NGOs may have been successful in influencing particular policies on an issue-by-issue basis, they lack the political base that is afforded to some European environmental campaigners.45

NGO influence is contingent upon groups' relationships not only with particular governments or parties, but also with particular government departments, and how influential those departments are in the overall policy process.46 Peter Kinrade of the Australian Conservation Foundation argues that 'some ministries (e.g. environment) are very accessible. Others in key programme areas (e.g. energy and transport) less so.'47 Japanese climate campaigner Masatabe Uezono argues in a similar vein, that 'MITI [Ministry of International Trade and Industry] and industry groups are very close and that is the biggest obstacle for groups like CASA' (Citizen's Alliance for Saving the Atmosphere and Earth).48 Hence, whilst NGOs

42 Interview with Singh, 17 July 1996, Geneva. See Potter (1996b) for more on the way in which democratic structures can affect NGOs' influence.

43 See also McCormick (1991) on the importance of different governments in terms of their openness to dialogue with environmental pressure groups in the context of the UK.

Interview with Reinstein, 18 July 1996, Geneva.

45 A case can be made, however, that the existence of a Green party is not always a strengthening factor. Chatterjee and Finger (1994:67) note that 'the success of Green parties has substantially weakened most other environmental agents in Western Europe'. See also Hatch (1995).

46 Interviews with Robertson on 28 April 1994 (telephone), Hlobil on 19 July 1996, Geneva, and Supertran on 16 July 1996, Geneva.

Questionnaire from Kinrade (1996).

48 Interview with Uezono, 19 July 1996, Geneva.

may be able to nurture positive relations with Environment Departments, the overall influence of this department compared with Trade and Industry Ministries, for example, may be limited. NGO imprints upon early policy formulated by Environment Ministries can be diluted or countered by government departments representing industrial interests, once they enter into the debate.

In many states, separate Environment Ministries do not exist and environmentalists are 'still kept well away from decision-making' (ECO, issue 5, Chantilly 1991). Even where new departments are in existence, they are not conferred authority and political clout (McCormick 1989), and whilst public concern about the environment may be strong, there are few mechanisms for channelling it into the system (Fisher 1995). Moreover, many environmental NGOs either have not mobilised at all on the climate issue49 or have adopted a strategy that places wider pollution concerns above climate change.50 The main regional institution supporting Central and East European NGOs, the Environment Centre in Budapest, does not provide funds for campaigns dealing with global environmental problems, offering a strong disincentive to engage with the climate issue (ECO, issue 1, New York 1993). One of the key purposes of the CAN network has therefore been to encourage NGOs to be more active on the climate change issue.

One response of environmental NGOs to these limits has been to forge closer alliances with more influential groups in the policy process. As well as more conservative groups such as EDF and NRDC collaborating with business on climate issues to further their own aims (Eikeland 1993c), one channel that Greenpeace has been pursuing is encouraging financial investors to divert investment capital away from fossil fuel energy and into renewable energy production systems (Baird 1996; Leggett 1995a, 1995b). By focusing on the insurance industry, which is especially vulnerable to increased claims from climate-related damage, Greenpeace has attempted to mobilise influential strategic partners in its campaign for precautionary action on climate change; actors who are more likely to receive a sympathetic ear from government than are environmental activists, and whose choice of investment matters a great deal to states. As Greenpeace Business (1993a:4) notes, 'the government is fully aware that the London insurance world is a major employer and contributes handsomely to the UK's invisible earnings'. Greenpeace has also been lobbying for the financial industry to organise a presence at the international climate talks in order to have their interests represented, and this occurred for the first time at COP1 (the first Conference of the Parties to the Convention) in Berlin in March 1995.

Greenpeace has also been able to foster an alliance with a number of influential clean energy companies and trade associations, such as The European Association for the Conservation of Energy (EUROACE) and the European Wind Energy Association, in calling for more action on climate change (Greenpeace Business 1993b). Climate Network Europe has close relations with COGEN, the corporate umbrella group promoting the interests of the cogeneration energy industries, and

49 Interviews with Kranjc, 15 July 1996, Geneva, and Nyirabu, 17 July 1996, Geneva.

50 Interview with Hlobil, 19 July 1996, Geneva.

has supported their efforts to promote this form of energy at EU level and in the international climate negotiations.51 Alliances with corporate lobbies open up new avenues of influence upon government policy and by tilting the balance towards those in favour ofaction, they are considered by some NGOs as their most effective channel of influence (Leggett 1996).

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Surefire Negotiation Tactics

Surefire Negotiation Tactics

Shockingly Simple But Powerful Negotiation Strategies Save The Ordinary Joe Thousands Of Dollars Of Foreseen Expenses. Discover How You Too Can Save More, Keep Under Your Budget, And Make More Money With These Simple Negotiation Tactics You Can Apply In Any Business!

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment