Ready for Copenhagen!

Posted on 08 December 2009

By Sherine Jayawickrama

A couple of months ago, I blogged about how much NGOs have changed in terms of their readiness and their capacity to engage in the policy arena.  In that post, I cited NGO advocacy and campaigning at the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh as an example.  The climate change summit that began today in Copenhagen is an even better example. 

First, the combination of analysis, campaigning, marketing and social networking that NGOs are advancing reflects a savvy, confident approach.  Oxfam America’s Climate Action Hub is an excellent example.  Other NGOs have considered how climate change affects their core issue and underscored the case for why climate change needs to be addressed.  For example, Save the Children recently published Feeling the Heat: Child Survival in a Changing Climate, a report describing how children will be affected by climate-induced disasters and diseases.   

Second, in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit, advocacy coalitions and alliance-based campaigns have come brought diverse NGOs together to join forces and maximize public reach.  The Global Campaign for Climate Action’s Tck Tck Tck campaign is an exciting reflection of this.  By its own description, the campaign is “made up of leading international, national and local organizations addressing environment, development, poverty, human rights, health and humanitarian issues – it represents faith-based groups, youth groups, trade unions and individuals…”  Last time I looked, more than 10.5 million people had signed the campaign’s I Am Ready pledge, urging world leaders to make a bold climate deal in Copenhagen.  The campaign ran an open letter to world leaders in the Financial Times and International Herald Tribune today.

Finally, NGOs are drawing their credibility from their presence in communities already affected by climate change and are beginning to understand that their program strategies will need to be reshaped to address and take into account climate change.  InterAction, the coalition of U.S.-based international NGOs, recently embarked on an effort to develop NGO-wide principles for effective climate change adaptation.   Oxfam’s report on People-Centered Resilience explores the challenge of building farmers’ resilience to climate change.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of NGO staff are in Copenhagen now and the sheer size of their presence reflects a shift in the role of non-governmental and civil society groups in multilateral policy processes.  These groups are still not at the center of these gatherings and they have little official clout.  But it is clear that their positions and their capacity to mobilize concerted public action (a la the spectacular campaign which inspired 5200 events in 181 countries on October 24) cannot be cast aside. 

NGOs and civil society groups are becoming increasingly formidable players in the multilateral policy arena – and policy makers ignore them at their own peril.

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