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How to win the argument on climate change: a five point plan (Part 3 and final)


We are working through my five-step programme for winning the argument on climate change. This is Part 3. Remember, here are the five steps:

  1. Find a simple way to tell the story;
  2. Create a positive message on the transformational benefits of taking action;
  3. Craft a policy package which aids transition and helps losers;
  4. Build a leadership group which will deliver long-term consensus; and
  5. Focus relentlessly on implementation

We have dealt with steps 1 and 2. Time to knock off the rest.

Craft a policy package which aids transition and helps losers

There are lavish literatures on the technicalities of climate change policy in developing countries: international, national and local; fiscal and administrative; climate specific or more general. There is no shortage of guidance on how to design a cap and trade regime, or an energy policy which favours renewables, or a package to strengthen resilience to climate shocks. CDKN has published many policy briefs and 'inside stories' which deal with these topics. Geothermal in Kenya is a good story. Solar power in India is another. Disaster management in Bangladesh a third.

However, we have seen in previous sections that policy is often contested and sometimes, as a direct result, reversed. This fact serves as a reminder that understanding the technicalities is not enough: the politics also matter. There turn out to be lavish literatures on this topic also, in anthropology, sociology and political science. ODI, to take one example, has a valuable work programme on Power, Politics and Evidence Use. The World Bank has a source book on political, social and institutional analysis of policy reform, which covers similar ground. Merilee Grindle at Harvard is another who has worked extensively on this topic. She focuses on the interests of different groups and the resources they bring to bear, in favour of or against a particular policy. The groups can be formal (the Minister of Finance, Parliament, business associations) as well as informal (the 'rust-belt', the unskilled working class . . .).

Of course, these ideas are not new. When I worked at IDSInstitute for Development Studies, Sussex in the 1970s and 1980s, the question most frequently asked, the question we thought almost defined IDS, was 'Who gains? Who loses?'.  In fact, it was interesting to tell that story in Colombia, and have a former minister say that when he used to go to see the President about a new policy, armed with reams of analysis, the President would only ask one question: 'Who gains? Who loses?'. IDSInstitute for Development Studies, Sussex has trained many people who went on to positions of power, but I don't think this particular President was one of them!

I remember from IDSInstitute for Development Studies, Sussex that the question of who gains and who loses led to many important debates about how to roll out and sequence policies in such a way as to manage the politics and protect the losers. Adjustment with a Human Face, published in 1987 in response to the rigours of structural adjustment, was just one of many examples.

It should not be surprising, then, that there are good examples of this approach being applied also in the climate field. The World Bank Green Growth paper has some good cases, for example tackling the problem of energy subsidies in Morocco (costing 5.5% of GDP), first by educating the public about the cost, and then making sure that losers from the elimination of subsidies could be compensated through a social programme. Globe, the parliamentary alliance on climate change, has a climate legislation initiative and has published a directory of climate legislation in 33 countries. It is worth trawling for other examples.

Just as one illustration of a programme sensitive to political pressures, and to winners and losers, the Australian case is worth reporting, even though the new Government has since threatened to reverse (parts of) the policy. I am drawing here on a presentation at the Globe Climate Legislation Summit in January 2013 by Mike Rann, the Australian High Commissioner in London, but formerly Premier of South Australia. His powerpoint is here.  Some key points:

  • A staged implementation of a carbon price, beginning with emissions reporting, and moving gradually, by 2018, to a fully flexible emissions trading scheme, linked to the EUEuropean Union Emissions Trading Scheme.
  • Pollution caps, announced in advance to provide five years' worth of certainty.
  • Assistance to emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries, in the form of free permit allocations, but on a declining basis, and targeted grant programmes, both designed to provide incentives to improve emissions intensity.
  • Assistance to households, in the form of tax cuts and increased payments to pensioners and welfare recipients, paid for by directing 50% of all revenues raised from carbon pricing to households.
  • Regular reviews by the Climate Change Authority and the Productivity Commission.

In January, this presentation was warmly received, as representing world leadership in crafting politically and socially sensitive policy. Only a few cynics observed that it was easier to buy off the losers in a booming economy like Australia, than it was in a cash-strapped European context! All the more interesting, then, even alarming, that policy is moving backwards. Time to deploy Merilee Grindle, I think. The powerpoint of hers that I linked to above talks about the measures needed to sustain reform.

Build a leadership group which will deliver long-term consensus

One answer to sustaining reform is to take climate change policy out of the political arena – or at least to create such a strong consensus across parties and political positions that long-term policy can be guaranteed. This was the theme of two books I reviewed back in 2009: Anthony Giddens's The Politics of Climate Change and Colin Challen's Too Little, Too Late (subtitled the politics of climate change).

As I reported in the review

'Giddens suggests many innovations, among them the idea of "political transcendence" in which "climate not a left-right issue", but one for which "a cross-party framework of some kind has to be forged to develop a politics of the long-term". Giddens argues for a consensus-based "radicalism of the centre" involving a suspension of hostilities between rival parties, and for a "concordat" on climate.

Colin Challen, is well aware of the pressures exerted by a competitive political system, and argues that "to break out of this padded cell requires courage. It may, indeed probably will, mean abandoning tribal loyalties, and risking the approbation of one's political kin...".'

Concretely, Giddens and Challen between them offered a series of options:

  • Use all-party parliamentary groups to foster discussion and consensus-building;
  • Aim for consensus on long-term objectives, without focusing at all on detail - as in Britain's Climate Change Act (2008), which mandates cuts in overall carbon-emissions without specifying how they are to be achieved;
  • Set up independent bodies - such as the Committee on Climate Change, created by the Climate Change Act - to monitor progress in achieving targets and to advise on (but not yet mandate) the measures;
  • Require such bodies to help build consensus, for example by consulting all political parties;
  • Seek ways to increase the costs of "defection" from the consensus; and
  • Encourage mass movements and civil-society action-groups to agitate for change.

Four years later, we can add to this list.

  • Build on the ideas of deliberative democracy and involve ordinary people in wide-ranging debate. The STEPS centre at the University of Sussex works in this general area. In the UK, the NGONon-governmental organisation Involve is putting the ideas into practice.
  • Set up an inclusive and multi-stakeholder policy process, as was done for the South Africa project on Long Term Mitigation Scenarios (see Stef Raubenheimer's book giving an account of the process), and as is now being rolled out in other developing countries through the MAPS project. Collaborative scenario planning is a key feature of this approach.
  • Or, finally, my own particular interest, use national and regional think-tanks to help build an epistemic community of researchers, policy-makers, parliamentarians and activists (overlapping categories, I know), who share ideas and together build consensus. As an example, just before I left ODIOverseas Development Institute (London) in 2009, we organised a series of public meetings in parliament, bringing top speakers and the above interest groups together, to debate climate change. The series was organised by Natasha Grist, and was jointly sponsored by the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Development and Climate Change. It is really hard to evaluate the long-term impact of this kind of activity, but we like to think it helps to build momentum.

Focus relentlessly on implementation

I was triggered to write this last section by meeting someone recently who proudly gave me a copy of a new strategy her team had produced, nicely printed in full colour. 'Brilliant', I said, 'that looks very interesting. When does implementation start?'. 'Oh', she replied, 'that is someone else's job. We just do the strategy'. I wonder: is that a common phenomenon?

Tony Blair certainly thought it was. During the time he was Prime Minister, the difficulty of achieving change was a constant refrain. Remember the row about his speech complaining about 'scars on my back' from trying to reform the public sector? Blair established a delivery unit at No 10 to focus on implementation, headed by Sir Michael Barber, who wrote a book pointedly called 'Instruction to Deliver: Fighting to Transform Britain's Public Services'. Some of his ministers have picked up the theme: I like Andrew Adonis' book on education, 'Education, Education, Education: Reforming England's Schools'. I've commented before on his very practical lessons about leadership, and getting things done. For the record, they are

  1. Address the big problems
  2. Seek the truth and fail to succeed
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Be bold, but go with the grain as far as possible
  5. 5. Lead and explain, lead and explain
  6. Build a team
  7. Build coalitions, not tabernacles
  8. Champion consumers not producers
  9. On important issues, micro-manage constantly
  10. Keep calm and carry on
  11. Reform is a marathon not a sprint
  12. Always have a plan for the future

This is not just a UK problem, of course. For the US, I often cite the contrast between Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the visionary on the one hand and the practical politician on the other: it was Johnson, not Kennedy, who pushed civil rights legislation through the Congress. Robert Caro's biography of Johnson is a must-read. Watch out for the advice about how to lock people in an iron grip and not let go till they agree with you!

For developing countries, and Africa specifically, I can't do better than end by citing Tony Blair, in a piece for his African Governance Initiative, published by the Centre for Global Development:

'My argument is threefold.

First, leadership is fundamentally about getting things done. No two coun­tries are alike, but what I have learned from my own time in office and from speaking to leaders across the world is that the challenges of government are—perhaps surprisingly—similar whether you are in London, Delhi or Accra. You need a vision for where you want to take the country, rooted in people's aspirations for themselves and their families. You need to be willing to make tough choices and be disciplined about what you focus on, which is politically difficult. But the really hard part is putting in place the machinery that will make it happen. Government is a race between expectations and capability. As a leader, you either reform government fast enough to deliver what people expect of it, or you lose the support to govern. I know from my own experi­ence how demanding this can be.

Second, good leadership is therefore not merely a function of good intentions but of the capacity of the institutions that support leaders to turn those inten­tions into practical results. As I found during my ten years as Prime Minister, that capacity is often under-developed, even in a country like the UK. When I was first elected, I thought it was the leader's job to set the vision and let the system get on with implementing it. What I came to realise was that if I waited for the system to do what I was asking of it, I would never be around long enough to see it. I complained at the time of having 'scars on my back' from the frustratingly slow pace of reform. And if that was true for me run­ning the government of one of the world's richest countries, imagine what it is like for the leaders of the world's poorest.

Third, this means that the development community needs to do more to sup­port, not just exhort, leaders to do the right thing. Keeping leaders honest is essential: no leader deserves a blank cheque. I support the spread of democracy because the best judges of what the people want are the people themselves. I support the fight on corruption because it is a cancer that eats away at the bonds of trust and reciprocity on which all societies depend. But I believe that effective governance requires the presence of capacity, not just the absence of corruption. And I believe that, in the long run, real democracy requires cred­ible political alternatives, and that the ability of people to choose governments on the basis of policy platforms and their competence in delivering them is central to both development and democracy. '

(A revised and consolidated version of these three essays has been published by CDKN and can be found here.)

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