Southern civil society shaping climate policy - report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 21 May 2012 17:04 GMT
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LONDON (AlertNet) - Development and environment groups in southern countries are having a growing influence on government policy to tackle climate change, and are helping get the concerns of the poorest and most vulnerable people heard at national level, according to a new report from a coalition of non-governmental organisations.

Released at the U.N. climate talks in Bonn on Monday, it contains examples from more than 20 climate networks in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific, showing how civil society is holding governments to account on their climate change commitments and pushing for new laws, strategies and processes to bring about action.

In a foreword, Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), which supported the production of the report along with CARE, noted that national and regional NGO networks in the south have become more organised around climate change and development issues since the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.

They are now much better at speaking for themselves on climate change, whereas in the past the debate was often dominated by large international charities focusing mainly on environmental issues, Huq observed.

"At the national level, many of these (southern) networks have been able to shift government policy, raise awareness among civil society at large, and, importantly, make the connection between climate change and local-level development issues," he wrote. "They provide a crucial link between government policy-making and practice, people suffering on the ground, and international climate change policy and negotiations."

In Zimbabwe, the Climate Change Working Group, a civil-society coalition, has successfully lobbied for a new national climate change strategy now being developed, the report said. And thanks to advocacy by the Cook Islands Climate Action Network, a climate change unit has been established in the prime minister's office to ensure the issue features on the agenda of top officials.

As well as working with governments, other groups have used the media and their own campaigns to raise public awareness about climate change, its impacts and the need to adapt to it in countries from Bangladesh to Vietnam and Ethiopia, case studies show.

"Many of even the world's poorest countries now have active civil society coalitions that work on climate change, and they are increasingly influential," report editor Hannah Reid of IIED said in a statement.


Civil society advocacy efforts also have had some impact on international processes, donors and multilateral organisations like the World Bank, and to a lesser extent the private sector, the report noted.

But they still face barriers. Some lack the skills and resources needed to meet their objectives - including adequate access to the internet. And they have been excluded from policy making where relations between government and civil society are weak, or have struggled where climate change is a low political priority, the report said.

"The challenges southern networks face in responding to climate change are immense," Huq wrote. "Despite these challenges, the energy, creativity and passion shown by networks in the South to date are clear." 

IIED's Reid said the report would help the organisations learn from each other as many operate in isolation.

"It is interesting for us to see how colleagues in countries as distant as Vietnam work with vulnerable communities as they adapt to climate change and strive to ensure their government can address these people’s concerns," said William Chadza from Malawi's Civil Society Network on Climate Change, in the report.