Pursuing the same strategy of forming links to like-minded elements within the business community, some groups have sought to work with the insurance industry, forging alliances with insurance companies and banks and encouraging them to shift their lending away from fossil fuels into renewables (Paterson 1999). The aim is to mobilise the finance sector to bring about the shifts in industry necessary to promote more sustainable and climate-benign forms of energy production. The political weight of the sector is not lost on those environmentalists seeking to engage it. As Greenpeace Business (1993: 4) notes, ‘the government is fully aware that the London insurance world is a major employer and contributes handsomely to the UK’s invisible earnings’. The insurance industry has a particular stake in promoting these changes given that it has suffered in the past and will continue to suffer huge losses from pay-outs following climate-related damage to properties that they have insured. For example, by 1995 ‘leading insurers from all the world’s main insurance centres had spoken of the threat of bankruptcy from unmanageable catastrophe losses’ (Jeremy Leggett cited in Paterson 1999: 25). This came on the back of hurricane Andrew in 1992, which cost the insurance industry $US20 billion in payouts on weather-related damage. The fragile alliance between environmentalists and sections of the financial community provides one example of the type of strategic political coalition that environmentalists are seeking to construct to advance a proactive agenda on climate change.

Agenda setting

Agenda-setting refers to the earliest stages of the policy, when a problem is being defined and policy makers contemplate appropriate and viable courses of action. It is in this context of uncertainty and political turbulence, particularly in the light of a (perceived) crisis or amid high expectations of a policy response, that an opportunity is created for well-thought-through and politically acceptable solutions. When interests are unclear, there is scope for well-organised groups to attempt to define the dimensions of a problem, reflecting of course their own preferences and agendas. They can generate demand for action when policy positions are being developed, when policy responses are being defined, expertise sought and the need for international action discussed. Besides drawing on research and policy advocacy to present scenarios and options and to build the case for a particular course of action, other strategies include drawing attention to work within the scientific community, and operating as knowledge brokers in its translation into popular and politically digestible and palatable forms by working through the media and engaging in popular education. Politically, an important strategy is to help build support for constituencies favouring action within government, where departments may look to other actors to bolster their bureaucratic negotiating position.

The international policy process

In order to understand the role of civil society groups in the international negotiations on climate change, a policy cycle is described, from agenda-setting to implementation and enforcement, each stage of which implies a different opportunity structure for NGOs to be able to exert influence. The key dynamic is between policy-making at the national and international levels, although the stages described in practice occur simultaneously and are rarely sequential.