Climate Change

Action on climate change: Environmental activism or citizen lobby?

Scientific evidences alone cannot suffice, public policy decisions on climate must be made after careful assessments of economic costs and benefits

By Dhanapal G
Last Updated: Saturday 12 October 2019
Greta Thunberg leading a protest in Stockholm, Sweden.Credit: Ulrica Loeb/Flickr
Greta Thunberg leading a protest in Stockholm, Sweden.Credit: Ulrica Loeb/Flickr Greta Thunberg leading a protest in Stockholm, Sweden.Credit: Ulrica Loeb/Flickr

Greta Thunberg’s global campaign for climate is gaining momentum and could turn into a successful environmental movement.

Environmental movements and increased awareness among citizens have been, in the past, successful in making the governments commit to international treaties and abide by them, one such is the Montreal Protocol.

Signed in 1987, the Montreal Protocol, is a global agreement to protect the stratospheric ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances.

In an article published in the international journal Ambio, in 1990, the author Elizabeth Cook credits the agrrement’s success to global environmental advocacy by environmentalists and citizen’s lobbies with scientific arguments. Such advocacy can influence international agreements and its implementation to combat global environmental problems.

The scientific evidence on climate change and its impact is increasing and has come a long way since Alexandor Van Humboldt, a Prussian naturalist, first showed the human influence on climate and environment about 200 years ago. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been updating its assessment reports and has also been summarising its findings for policy makers.

Yet, global leaders are ignoring the scientific warnings and they are unlikely to yield to environmental activism.

The United States President Donald Trump has been a skeptic on climate change and has already pulled the country from the Paris Agreement. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been opening Amazon forests, which is dubbed as world’s lungs, for mining and industrial expansion to promote gross domestic product (GDP) and employment growth.

One of the challenges that confront policy makers is on ways to take actions on climate change without losing GDP growth and employment. And this is particularly complex for countries with federal government structure, where the revenue losses are likely to be borne by state governments.

In India, many state governments have almost abandoned their state action plans on climate change for deficit of funds. Further, mitigation measures such as the implementation of Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) and use of solar energy has not given consistent results for making bold policy decisions.

While BRTS was a hit in Ahmedabad, it failed in Delhi and solar rooftop projects are struggling to take off.

Scientific evidences on impacts alone cannot suffice for making climate actions, public policy decisions on climate actions need to be made after careful assessments of economic costs and benefits.

However, environmentalists and citizens can still lobby for mitigation measures that has high co-benefits particularly in sectors like transport, energy and solid waste management. Citizen groups should pressurise the urban local bodies to promote public transport, mandate energy efficiency in building bylaws and recycle solid waste.

And at national level, lobbying for policies like ban on importing palm oil or timber that is produced from deforested areas, renewable energy subsidies and so on could create massive steps to combat climate change globally.

The Citizens Climate Lobby, an environmental group, in the US and Canada has been effective in advocating climate actions using scientific evidence and cost-benefit analysis that can convince policy makers.

The lobby was successful in introducing carbon tax in British Columbia in 2008 and passing the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, 2019, in the US congress.

In India, forums like WRI Connect Karo, provide opportunities for civil society organisations to take scientific evidences that can help in lobbying with the government for better climate actions.

The role of citizen groups and environmentalists must be to go a step beyond environmental activism and work on advocacy and lobbying with policy makers with scientific evidences and public policy analysis. For climate actions, it is important to think globally but also act locally.

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