Unresolved issues

Through the categorisation of obligations, the identification of a minimum core content, and the violations approach, the nature of the obligations exacted by economic and social rights had become much more clear by the end of the 1990s than they had been even ten years earlier. Since then, new networks, synergies and methodologies have emerged that begin to enable global civil society to push for implementation. Nonetheless, some complex questions remain that cannot be resolved simply by calling either for more legal-academic clarification or for more political activism. They require urgent answers from global civil society actors if they are to make any progress in exacting universal enjoyment of economic and social rights.

However, most organisations have not confined their commitment to human rights purely to rhetoric. The majority have reached Uvin’s second level of adoption, having begun to institute some human rights programmes. International organisations such as UNDP, the bilateral development agencies of Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and NGOs including Save the Children Fund and Care all fall into this category (Darrow and Tomas 2005: 480; Piron 2005). Typically, this adoption translates simply into financial support for projects of local and international human rights organisations, which sometimes include new specialised economic and social rights organisations or hybrids between traditional fields.

But the UN is only one arena for this transnational gun activism. Like IANSA, the NRA scours the world for gun–related issues to use in its fundraising and policymaking efforts. In this integrated global struggle, everything from a school shooting in Pennsylvania, and a paramilitary massacre in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, to the Holocaust is likely to turn up in the contending networks’ campaigns. Reciprocally, local groups facing gun control threats at home regularly seek NRA and WFSA aid, just as those suffering gun violence often turn to IANSA. The Brazilian referendum was only a recent example of a pattern visible also in places as far–flung as South Africa, Japan, and Great Britain.

At this stage of the process in general, environmental NGOs find it harder to bring the weight of public pressure to bear on governments, as such pressure is more easily dissipated by the lethargy and complexity of bureaucracy and by the realisation of the costs associated with policy options designed to meet international obligations. Frustration with the slow pace of implementation has led some groups to pressure local councils to set their own greenhouse gas reduction targets. In persuading local authorities to make commitments, NGOs have played a facilitating role in exchanging information about how other towns and cities have managed to reduce emissions. For example, some 850 local authorities in Europe are now jointly implementing local climate protection initiatives, while in Japan more than 50 municipalities are setting local environmental targets. The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) has brought together more than 400 municipalities to reduce emissions in cities in central and eastern Europe (ICLEI 2004).


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.