Activists growing more sophisticated with time | Statesman Journal | statesmanjournal.com
Nongovernment organizations "are playing a very important role" in the negotiations, says Connie Hedegaard, the European Union's climate action commissioner and the former Danish minister who organized the Copenhagen climate summit two years ago.
Not only are the NGOs "very knowledgeable people," but they are well-coordinated and have made alliances with businesses, giving them maximum leverage on negotiators, she told The Associated Press.
Critics accuse the NGOs of "cherry picking" science to promote their causes, of issuing alarmist and unbalanced reports to gain attention, and of losing their roots in social action as they grow into corporate-like entities, some of them — like Greenpeace — having budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
But they have served a vital, if controversial, function for treaty negotiators, who often are professional diplomats or civil servants with neither a scientific background nor deep understanding of the technical aspects of global warming.
"There's a need for somebody to translate the science and help decision makers understand what science has to say about the decisions that they're making. And NGOs have often stepped in to fill that role," said Michele Betsill, a political science professor at Colorado State University.
The problem is that advocates are not neutral, as scientists are supposed to be. "Science becomes linked to particular positions, and this gets to the whole politicization of science," said Betsill, author of the book "NGO Diplomacy: The Influence of Nongovernmental Organizations in International Environmental Negotiations."
In a subject as complex as climate change, it is often the NGOs who compile the necessary research.