Academic journal article Environmental Values

Managing Climate Change: Shifting Roles for NGOs in the Climate Negotiations

Academic journal article Environmental Values

Managing Climate Change: Shifting Roles for NGOs in the Climate Negotiations

Article excerpt


Non-governmental organisations have been playing a significant role in the formation and implementation of global climate change policies. The incremental participation of non-governmental organisations in climate change negotiations is significant for two reasons: 1) they provide governments with expertise and information; and 2) they help to bridge the lack of democracy and legitimacy in global environmental governance. The fulfilment of these two functions, however, is surrounded by doubts, as very little progress has been made so far in combating climate change. Many non-governmental organisations themselves lack democratic legitimacy in their formation and structures, and international climate change agreements are often fragile, not because the negotiators lack information but because they lack political will. This paper examines and outlines the areas for identifying how non-governmental organisations could contribute more to produce effective climate policies, in order to mitigate and manage climate change in the absence of more democratic international climate-change policy-making processes.


Non-governmental organisations, Kyoto protocol, Copenhagen accord, climate change, negotiations, global environmental governance, grassroots, social movements.


Managing climate change is not only complex but extensive, because humanity has never embarked on such a huge challenge of global scope, one which began in the past and will remain into the future (Pandey, 2012a). Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) (1) can influence international conferences, monitor the implementation of agreements by states and raise public awareness (Vogler, 2011). The access of NGOs, as observers at United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conferences, has been open and wide, enabling non-state actors to play various significant roles at international climate change negotiations. As observers, NGOs are not necessarily passive during the negotiation processes; the participation of NGOs at international conferences ensures transparency during negotiations. NGOs exert indirect pressures on government delegates to be accountable to their constituencies (Karns and Mingst, 2010). They share information on international issues such as climate change, and help set the agenda; they share their knowledge and expertise to combat climate change. The participation of NGOs in global governance, as they work with government participants on a particular issue, provides greater legitimacy to the overall process because NGOs are representatives of global civil society (Annan, 2003; UN, 2004). The inclusion of NGOs as the representatives of global civil society provides the capacity to address the democratic deficits in international decision making.

Yet, for making international climate change agreements more effective in meeting the demands of mainstream climate science, NGO contributions have not been successful. Little progress has been achieved so far (Helm, 2009; Chasek et al., 2010; Depledge and Yamin, 2009; Ghosh and Woods, 2009; Elliot, 2004). Climate change is a very complex issue to address, and the responses required to limit climate change go to the heart of states' political and industrial structures (Paterson and Grubb, 1992). Serious and sustained responses are needed to address uncertainties over the impacts and consequences of climate change (Pandey, 2012b), but the political will of state agents is not up to the challenge. Non-state actors, including NGOs, can calibrate approaches to build up the political will of these agents, through imparting climate justice communications and building public trust by letting them lay claim to climate challenges.

The questions which arise are: when and how can environmental NGOs enhance their effectiveness in making ambitious climate change policy? Does the record support the claim that granting NGOs formal recognition as observers, and great roles in all stages of negotiations, would improve the process and outcome? …

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