New methodologies

A recent trend in global civil society has been the growth of budget analysis, which aims generally to make government conduct more transparent and accountable. It is particularly relevant to economic and social rights because the Covenant and other legal texts oblige states to take steps to fulfil these rights ‘to the maximum of their available resources’. Where that maximum lies in a particular context is of course contested, but budget analysis can be a powerful political tool demonstrating a government’s commitment to a particular right, or lack thereof. An analysis of the Mexican budget over four years from the point of view of the right to health found that resource allocation for the control and prevention of disease was declining; a disproportionate share of the health budget went to those employed in the formal sector, and more ‘pro-poor’ spending of the federal budget went to the better-off rather than the poorest states. This pioneering project was published in book form in 2004 (Centro de Analisis e Investigacion et al. 2004). A handful of other such projects are under way, and in March 2005 Dignity International organised a first ‘linking and learning’ programme for human rights activists and budget analysis groups (ESCR-Net URL). Rights-based budget analysis is bound to be further refined and become a more widely used tool in coming years.

State implementation of the right to food remains lacklustre and even the Court’s commissioners are still routinely denied access to relevant documents. However, while the initial petition was brought only by a small group of lawyers from the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), the Supreme Court’s proactive stance has galvanised a much wider campaign. Besides public interest litigation, the Right to Food Campaign organises marches, rallies and fasts, initiates public hearings, conducts research, and engages in media advocacy and lobbying. Provision of midday meals to schoolchildren has been a particularly effective campaign target. On 9 April 2002, the campaign coordinated a national day of action for midday meals. Across some 100 districts in nine states, activists organised a host of activities – schoolchildren lined roads with empty plates in hand, copies of the Supreme Court’s order were distributed, and local communities, NGOs and people’s organisations fed children in public places in order to embarrass the government for not doing so. Some members of the campaign have since expanded their work to include the right to employment, in particular in relation to cash-for-work or food-for-work schemes. The campaign remains largely a volunteer effort, which accepts only individual donations in rupees with no strings attached (Right to Food Campaign URL; Interview Patnaik).

One strategy adopted by groups at the national level to force mandates for government action involves filing legal suits. Twelve US states, several cities and over a dozen environmental groups joined forces to challenge an administrative ruling denying the EPA authority to control greenhouse gases on the grounds that these gases do not meet the Clean Air Act’s definition of ‘pollutant’ (ICTA 2003). The plaintiffs challenged the EPA decision in the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the International Center for Technology Assessment, said of the case:

The Bush administration can try to ignore the science behind the causes of global warming, but it can’t hide from the law. If it takes lawsuit after lawsuit to force the Bush administration to accept its responsibilities and pursue good public policy on this issue, then that’s what it will face. (ICTA 2003)

A key rationale behind the use of legal suits is that they help to focus public attention on a particular instance of government inaction. Yet it should be noted that many of the strategies of awareness-raising and public education that are adopted at earlier stages of the policy process have less traction at this stage. Put bluntly, ‘the questions of verification and monitoring are extremely complex and boring for the media and the public’ (Gulbrandsen and Andresen 2004: 70).

Enforcement-implementation

The vagueness of commitments agreed at the international level leaves enormous scope for national discretion in priority-setting and policy-making. NGOs rely once again on nationally-oriented strategies and networks of influence described above in the subsection on agenda-setting. At this stage of the process they can bear witness to governments’ commitments, engage in whistle-blowing when commitments are being violated and engage in ‘naming and shaming’ strategies to expose those most guilty of failing to implement their commitments. One recent strategy in this respect has centred on shaming parties that buy ‘hot air’ quotas from Russia and other Central and East European countries in order to meet their commitments under Kyoto (Gulbrandsen and Andresen 2004: 70). To dissuade parties from exploiting these loopholes, Greenpeace developed a computer ‘loophole analysis’ which highlights the country-specific consequences of exploiting the loopholes. As noted below, however, despite the efforts of groups such as SinksWatch and CDM Watch, monitoring the multiplicity of private transactions that may be undertaken under the purview of the Clean Development Mechanism and its associated mechanisms presents a formidable task for groups wanting to assess the extent of countries’ commitments to genuine emissions reductions.

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.