Room for Climate Advocates in a Coal-Focused Economy? NGO Influence on Australian Climate Policy

By Hall, Nina L.; Taplin, Ros | Australian Journal of Social Issues, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Room for Climate Advocates in a Coal-Focused Economy? NGO Influence on Australian Climate Policy


Hall, Nina L., Taplin, Ros, Australian Journal of Social Issues


Introduction

This research seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of non-government organization (NGO) campaigns on climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the principal international scientific authority on climate change:

   global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane
   and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of
   human activities since 1750 ... [and mean that] ... warming
   of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from
   observations of increases in global average air and ocean
   temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising
   global mean sea level (IPCC 2007: 2-4).

The Australian Government considers that Australia's total contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions of 1.6 percent is 'too small for Australia to make a difference on its own' (DPMC 2004: 24). However, the nation's annual emissions of 27 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per capita are the highest in the developing world (CSIRO 2005). This is attributed to availability of cheap electricity, a relative decline in use of renewable energy, a high level of land clearing, and a strong reliance on brown and black coal (Kent and Mercer 2006).

Australian environmental NGOs have undertaken climate change-focused campaigns that seek a government response since at least 1990 (Hutton and Connors 1999). These campaigns have been undertaken within in a context shaped by the predominance of fossil fuel exports in the Australian economy. Seven Australian NGOs that represented varying levels of political access and politicisation, financial resources, organisational and membership size, and international connections were selected as case studies for this research. (2) They jointly stated in 2005 that Australian policy and community concern on climate change were 'inadequate' (CANA 2005), and extrapolated that this inadequacy reflected a lack of success of their campaigns. However, determination of success or effectiveness involves complex and subjective judgment employing a variety of criteria, as described and debated by many observers (see Guigni 1999; Kelly 2002). This paper explores three methods for assessing effectiveness, and applies this to climate campaigns by the selected NGOs.

Determination of the specific influence of NGO campaigns is made particularly difficult as there are many internal and external pressure groups active on this issue which are all 'competing ... for the attention of the democratic state' (Hamilton 2001; Doyle and Kellow 1995: 172). The involvement of many pressure groups focused on climate change invites consideration of pluralist theory, which maintains that power is 'relatively dispersed and that decision making institutions are open to influence by a variety of interest groups' (Marsh 2002: 353). This theory is considered in the practice of pressure groups on Government climate policy by both the fossil fuel industry and environmental NGOs.

This research undertakes an analysis of the effectiveness of NGO campaigns using three approaches: Moyer's Movement Action Plan (2001), Schumaker's Assessment of Political Effectiveness (1975), and a document analysis of the influence of NGO submissions to climate policy processes. These methods are supported by perspectives gathered through semi-structured interviews with ten campaigners from the case study NGOs and with nineteen experts from sectors that seek to influence, and are influenced by, climate policies. These experts were purposefully selected for their expert knowledge of, and extensive experience in, climate change policy and related issues from the energy industry, Government bureaucracy, and politics. These sectors were identified by the NGO campaigners as being the intended 'audience' of their campaigns (see Hall and Star 2007). (3) While the experts' perspectives and insights are not necessarily representative of their sector, this qualitative interview approach obtains a rich, in-depth experiential account of an issue, with greater breadth than other more structured and representative forms of interviewing (Fontana and Frey 2005). …

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