Academic journal article Global Governance

The Power of Strategy: Environmental NGO Influence in International Climate Negotiations

Academic journal article Global Governance

The Power of Strategy: Environmental NGO Influence in International Climate Negotiations

Article excerpt

Surprisingly little is known about how government representatives pay attention to the input of nongovernmental organizations in international negotiations. This article presents an analytical framework and illustrates, with findings from the climate change negotiations 2009-2012, the conditions under which government representatives pay attention to the input from transnational advocacy networks like the Climate Action Network. Demonstrations and lobbying attempts on the international level are frequently ignored, given that negotiation mandates with little leeway are agreed on beforehand. This requires a longer-term perspective toward changing government positions for the next round of negotiations following high media attention. Governments value NGO involvement because they grant legitimacy and signal public support. Successful lobbying requires policy entrepreneurial strategies, close networks, and early input on the domestic level.

Keywords: NGOs, influence, international negotiations, activism, climate change.

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International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have become important actors in international relations. (1) Much research has been conducted on strategies of NGOs. (2) We know that NGOs participate in large numbers in international negotiations, (3) that they seek to influence the negotiation outcome according to their objectives, and that they matter somehow in global governance. (4) A gap remains in the literature toward a better understanding of when and how NGOs contribute to more effective and democratic global governance (5)--and, in particular, when government representatives pay attention to these NGO contributions as a prerequisite for influencing international negotiations.

This is important, given that NGOs representing civil society have no formal role in negotiations within the United Nations, which are dominated by nation-states as the sole legitimate decisionmakers with voting rights. To have a chance at influencing the negotiations, NGOs need to communicate their demands and positions to government representatives. These in turn need to receive the information, reflect on it, and incorporate it into their own negotiation position (6) to push for agreement on the NGOs' behalf.

Nonstate actors pursue different strategies to attract the attention of government representatives. These can be differentiated along their roles as activists, lobbyists, or experts. (7) They can organize protests and demonstrations as activists to raise public pressure on governments via the media, (8) or they can lobby government representatives by presenting their requests to them during meetings at the negotiations or in the capitals. Other activities include formal speech interventions and provision of information at side events or exhibits as well as observing the negotiations. (9) In this article, I focus on environmental NGOs as one of the largest and most diverse groups of nonstate actors influencing international negotiations. These are increasingly interlinked in regime complexes. (10) The role of local governments and cities, indigenous peoples, corporations, and epistemic communities has been discussed in other contributions. (11)

While most literature focuses on one specific role, I take a cross-cutting perspective and analyze under what conditions (i.e., strategies used by NGOs) government representatives pay attention to NGO input as a prerequisite for NGO influence on the negotiations. My article contributes to theory by examining how input from NGOs as independent variable prompts government delegates to reflect on the input as dependent variable via a two-level analytical framework. This question of government representatives' perception of NGO input is highly relevant for NGOs because it can contribute to efficient use of scarce civil society resources to more effectively influence governmental decisionmaking on large-scale complex challenges of the twenty-first century such as climate change. …

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