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Policy Networks Around Climate Change

The field of action represents the behavior of actors – individuals, organizations, states – as they interact to promote or oppose change, often though policy. National policies interact with and help or hinder the formation of global regimes (Broadbent 2010). Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith's (1993) concept of the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) uses network structures in order to investigate action through policy processes. One of the original goals of the ACF was to investigate how actors mobilized within advocacy coalitions around scientific information to inform environmental policy (Weible et al. 2011). In order to do this, actors must identify allies with common objectives they are willing and able to enter into coalition with (Weible and Sabatier 2005). The prevailing evidence indicates that actors with similar beliefs about the implications of scientific knowledge tend to coordinate with each other on actions (Zafonte and Sabatier 1998). However, recent research by Baldassarri and Diani (2007) has shown that support networks connect diverse clusters of organizations with common general beliefs but distinct organizational identities and priorities. Di Gregorio (2012) terms this process 'macro-integration' – where robust support networks are formed by organizations which do not necessarily have collective identity or set of values but their distinct identities and value sets are compatible enough to form a coalition. In this instance, action is most effective when actors with a common purpose but diverse identities network.

The study of advocacy coalitions has traditionally framed coalition building and function within the context of political contention. In this case, advocacy coalitions fit within the field of action. The theory of the Treadmill of Production (Schnaiberg et al. 2003) contends that measures to protect the environment will be met with severe opposition from industrial and exploitative actors within society. In this scheme, the only way to bring about change to the environmentally destructive status quo is through massive social mobilization. This social mobilization can manifest itself through demonstrations, boycotts, electoral victories, the passing of regulatory legislation, or some combination of all of the above. However, advocacy coalitions can also be framed as instruments of influence and instruction. In this case, advocacy coalitions fit within the field of discourse. The theory of Ecological Modernization (Janicke 2002; Mol and Sonnenfeld 2000) maintains that protections to the environment can be brought about through more passive means. In this instance, behaviors that protect ecosystems are brought about through the dissemination of norms, the diffusion of new ideas, and a non-politicized learning process (Broadbent 2010). Here, advocacy coalitions bring about change through consensus rather than through contention. In the following sections, we will be examining advocacy coalitions within the framework of the action field.

The implication of social network analysis (SNA) around environmental advocacy coalitions is an increased understanding of what features of social networks are necessary precursors for successful advocacy around environmental policy in general, and climate change policy in particular (Bodin et al. 2006; Crona and Bodin 2006). Tompkins and Adger (2004) put forward that social networks with more ties between stakeholders and regulatory actors builds resilience and adaptive capacity to environmental change in societies. However, there has been little research into the relation between network structure and specific policy outcomes. Additionally, while social movements are well studied within the social sciences, advocacy coalitions are less so. It can be difficult to tease apart the differences between an advocacy coalition and a social movement, but there is a growing need to within the literature, as advocacy coalitions continue to engage an increasingly diverse set of stakeholders around issues as complex as climate change.

In order to change behavior at a social level, the initial bearers of claims and norms must expand networks: persuade an increasing circle of adherents until their number and activity reaches a critical mass (Broadbent 2010). In this process, knowledge must be operationalized and social learning must turn into social mobilization. In order to effect change in response to the knowledge they are claiming as legitimate, advocacy coalitions need to garner enough political support to enable them to pass and enforce regulations and laws that demand and enforce certain environmental standards. These policies can become manifest through legislation such as an emissions trading scheme (cap and trade law) or some other form of emissions regulation (i.e., a carbon tax). In order to do this, advocacy coalitions must form connections with a larger and more diverse set of actors within a society to achieve this critical mass. When a mobilized advocacy coalition garners enough support to form a majority government, or gains enough support to push a government on a particular piece of policy, it begins to exert power within the state, through the legislative and policy-making process. From that vantage point, the new regime can establish the legal and policy conditions to bring about society-wide change in behavioral norms (by education, persuasion, inducement, regulation, new institutions and other means) (Broadbent 2010).

The political strength of advocacy coalitions in taking action to push for climate change legislation appears to vary depending on the cultural milieu of the society in question. In Sweden, where social corporatism is the norm within the political culture, there is a diverse representation of actors within the advocacy coalitions centered around climate change legislation. This included incorporation of a large number of environmental NGOs within the Swedish policy sphere. Within the US, the political culture is one of pluralism. Ironically, this leads actors to compete with one another for dominance within the policy sphere, with the wealthier business entities (often opposed to climate change legislation) exerting more influence. This can lead to more environmental NGOs being left outside the political process.

Organizational actors who work in tandem within an advocacy coalition on the political stage are central players within the study of social networks. Such networks often build upon longer existing relationships, such as the long-term exchange of mutual aid (reciprocity). These networks suffuse societies in different densities and patterns, helping give rise to different policy making processes. For instance, the reciprocity network penetrates the full Japanese field of labor politics very thoroughly, but in the US is only present among labor unions (Broadbent 2001, 2008). In the Japanese case, the presence of reciprocity networks increased the likelihood that the so-connected actors would transfer political support.

Broadbent (2005) notes that in Japan's action phase, advocacy coalitions have played a weak role in influencing national climate change policy. Frames concerning national prosperity and energy sufficiency formulated by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry have dominated debates about climate change, rather than fears about the future disasters that climate change will bring such as presented by the Environment Ministry. The close alliance between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the corporatistic business sector led by the JFEO (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations or Keidanren) have further buttressed a weak political posture toward climate change insisting on voluntary action by business and no carbon tax on consumption rather than the imposition of regulations by government.

On the other hand, in New Zealand advocacy coalitions have played a vital role in passing domestic climate change legislation. In terms of scope, coverage, and speed of implementation, New Zealand's national emissions trading scheme (ETS) is arguably one of the world's most ambitious climate policies. Passed by the outgoing Labour government in late 2008, the ETS covers all six greenhouse gases (GHGs) listed within the Kyoto Protocol. The current incarnations of the European Union's ETS, as well as the Swiss and Norwegian ETS, cover only the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). By regulating methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) under the scheme, New Zealand opened up sectors of economic activity to emissions regulation, such as agriculture, forestry, and land use change, which had typically been ignored in Europe (Moyes 2008). What is remarkable about this is that New Zealand is by and large an agricultural export economy, unique within Annex I nations, with a large share of its greenhouse gas emissions coming from agriculture and forestry. The average proportion of GHG emissions from post-industrial nations are 83.2 % CO2, 9.5 % CH4, and 5.9 % N2O (UNFCCC 2007). At the time the ETS was drafted, New Zealand's GHG emissions were 46.5 % CO2, 35.2 % CH4, and 17.2 % N2O, with HFCs, PFCs, and SF6 together accounting for the remaining 1.1 % of total GHG emissions (Ministry for the Environment 2007).

While New Zealand's policy instrument of choice for dealing with climate change generated substantial debate within both parliament and the press, a large proportion of organizational actors within New Zealand society accepted the frame that climate change was a long-term threat to the nation and that a policy approach was an appropriate response. A number of the ministries within the Labour government, three of the nation's major political parties, that nation's alternative energy companies, the airline industry, and a slew of businesses and environmental NGOs supported the creation of a comprehensive ETS. A coalition of agricultural and industrial business lobbying groups, and two of the nation's smaller political parties opposed the passage of the ETS. The opposition National Party conditionally supported the ETS, but later took up opposition against it as they objected to the speed at which it would be implemented across all sectors of the economy. Despite losing support from the National Party at the last minute, the Labour Government was able to cobble together support for climate change legislation that it was able to pass the ETS in 2008.

The social networks in focus here are advocacy coalitions which mobilized either for or against the ETS within New Zealand civil society in the lead up to the nation's Kyoto commitment period. The advocacy coalition around creating a domestic emissions trading scheme within New Zealand is characterized by a high degree of connectivity between actors within the network. Clark's Labour Government created the cabinet position of Minister of Climate Change and this actor holds a high degree of centrality within the network along with Ministry for the Environment and the Labour Party itself. While modularity is observable within the network (especially around the cluster of environmental NGOs), the degree of betweenness among all of the actors is relatively low, suggesting the network is relatively robust. Because the network is characterized by high measures of connectivity and low levels of betweenness, the centrally located Labour government actors were able to assert control within the network and direct the form carbon regulation would take.

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