Global warming and environmental pressure groups

The issue of global climate change presents environmental NGOs with a particularly difficult set of obstacles and challenges. Besides the very many scientific uncertainties associated with global warming, which make it harder to develop a consensus on appropriate policy action (Skolnikoff 1990), there are also the economic costs that are perceived to be involved, and the scale of economic restructuring (in terms of energy production and consumption) that may be implied by efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The interests that will be affected by such change are amongst the most powerful in the global economy (see Chapter 5). In this respect, Conca (1995:454) argues that environmental NGOs' 'resources and access to political power pale in comparison to the forces driving environmental destruction'. It comes as no surprise, then, that environmental NGOs consider that the strength of the interests working to roll back the gains they are campaigning for inhibits their ability to advance their agenda on global warming.4 There is also a long time lag between the point at which action is taken to reduce the onset of global warming and the observable effects of such action. This disinclines governments to take potentially very costly action, the benefits of which will be not be seen for many decades and for which they will not receive credit.

The relative absence of convenient 'techno-fixes' with which to combat the problem, closes further potential channels of influence in terms of group advocacy of simple solutions to the problem.5 It is easy to contrast this scenario with the case of ozone depletion, where consumer boycotts have been an effective in hastening the elimination of CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) production (Bramble and Porter 1992; Litfin 1994; Rowlands 1995) and calls for the abolition of ozone-damaging chemicals were realistic. In relation to ozone, the issue was replacement and substitution. With regard to climate change, the issue is arguably 'dissipating' business and not 'different' business (Rowlands 1995:137). Hence, besides trying to 'highlight the commercial opportunities for innovative technologies that will emerge within the framework of an international convention' (Dubash and Oppenheimer 1992:276), environmentalists have to lobby for tough policy choices that will affect status quo stakeholders.

Making connections between distant global processes and the effect of everyday actions, which is problematic for any group campaigning on global environmental issues, is particularly difficult in the case of global climate change, where the effects are uncertain and the sources of the problem so disparate. Exploiting the mass media in making these connections has also been regarded as difficult by many environmental NGOs (see Chapter 4). NGOs believe that a great deal of their influence depends on positive media coverage, which they feel has not been forthcoming on climate change.6 This may relate to the fact that, unlike many other international environmental issues, global warming is less easily presented in terms of convenient and strategically useful oppositions of 'right' and 'wrong', in a way that debates on whaling or acid rain can be. With these latter issues, victims and perpetrators are more readily identified than is the case with global warming, where responsibility for causing the problem is more clouded and diffuse. The fact that those states which contribute most to climate change are not the states that are likely to be most

4 Questionnaires from Weir (1996), Spencer (1996), Leggett (1996), Kinrade (1996).

5 This is not to say that groups have not attempted to emphasise the use ofclimate-benign and energy-efficient technologies. Greenpeace, for example, has exposed those retail stores that have not accepted its climate-friendly 'Greenfreeze' refrigeration system (Greenpeace Business 1994b).

6 Questionnaires from Weir (1996) and Kinrade (1996).

affected by its impacts, makes it harder to convince governments to take responsibility for their actions as few immediate gains will accrue to them directly.

Moreover the very different agendas that pressure groups from North and South bring to the issue of climate change, complicates the formation of North-South NGO alliances that might improve the prospect of international action. Related to this is the fact that thorny issues of equity, consumption and rights to development feature highly in the global warming debate, making it harder for environmental pressure groups to bring about change when hugely conflictual and divergent state agendas are at play.

These factors help to explain why environmental NGOs believe that most governments, particularly the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, have shown a lack of political will to act on the issue of climate change. As Weir notes, 'very few governments are prepared to take any but small incremental steps towards solving the pro-blem'.7 It needs to be acknowledged at the outset, therefore, that global warming brings its own set of unique and particularly perplexing challenges to environmental NGOs seeking to encourage international action. The question of how far the problem structure of global warming inhibits significant NGO influence will be returned to at the end of the chapter.

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Responses

  • sarama
    What are global warming pressure groups?
    8 years ago
  • katherine reid
    How environmental pressure such as global warming?
    8 years ago
  • maxine molina
    What are 2 environmental pressures for global warming?
    8 years ago

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