How can policy entrepreneurs and problem framing help tackle climate change?

Climate change is a problem that can and should be fought in multiple ways and at many different levels, argue policy researchers Michael Mintrom (ANZSOG) and Joannah Luetjens (Utrecht University) in their recent journal article. Policy entrepreneurs actively work with others in and around policymaking venues to promote policy change. They play – and will continue to play – an important role in efforts to address climate change.

Although climate change has been often thought of as a global problem requiring a global response, Mintrom and Luetjens agree with political economist Elinor Ostrom that a polycentric approach is required. This is the idea that multiple people, in multiple locations, at multiple levels of government need to work to address climate change, rather than only at a national level. It allows for policy entrepreneurs to be catalysts of initiatives addressing climate change. 

The authors use two examples of policy entrepreneurs who took actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without relying on national or global leadership. Instead, they successfully framed the climate change problem to promote action.

C40: reducing greenhouse gases in megacities

In the first example, policy entrepreneur (and then-Mayor of London) Ken Livingstone formed the C40 Cities Climate Change Leadership Group, for mayors of megacities around the world who are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their jurisdictions.

Livingstone reframed the problem by proposing that cities, rather than nations, could be central agents in responding to climate change. He did this by pointing out that cities are responsible for more than 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and that 75% of urban settlements are vulnerable to rising sea levels. Livingstone believed the group would be able to learn from each other. Together, they started to frame the problems cities are facing (e.g. population growth, infrastructure provision) as an opportunity to lower the carbon footprint through planning and infrastructure. 

Through Livingstone’s actions and his successful policy framing, the C40 has doubled its membership from the original 18 participants in 2005. Today it partners with organisations such as the World Resources Institute and the Local Governments for Sustainability. Together they have produced a global guide for accounting and reporting community-scale greenhouse gas emissions. This is the first guide of its kind to be accepted internationally.

CDP: transparency leads to behaviour change

Their second example is the Carbon Disclosure Project, formed in 2000 by policy entrepreneurs Paul Dickinson and Tessa Tennant. This organisation collects and reports on greenhouse gas emissions from businesses, on the basis that documenting behaviour will help lead to behavioural change. Dickinson and Tennant framed climate change as a risk that businesses should care about, which allowed them to create non-coercive partnerships and build a large disclosure database. The Carbon Disclosure Project’s first survey received approximately 235 responses. In 2016 it received over 5500. Also, over 4000 publicly listed companies have produced reports on climate change risk since the Carbon Disclosure Project established its survey. 

In 2010, the Carbon Disclosure Project partnered with the C40 to prompt policy changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, providing a platform for cities around the world to report greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related policy initiatives.

Although it is unclear what impact the Carbon Disclosure Project has had on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, this case illustrates how environmental issues are now becoming issues of strategic engagement, rather than issues of legal compliance. 

Livingston, Dickinson and Tennant embody policy entrepreneurs because they had catalysing effects. They constructed problem frames by engaging with specific contexts and being alert to opportunities. They were then able to establish partnerships and show leadership.

Mintrom and Luetjens anticipate that much creative problem framing will be necessary in the coming years as policy entrepreneurs work to promote effective means of responding to climate change.

Reference: Mintrom, M., & Luetjens, J. (2017). Policy entrepreneurs and problem framing: The case of climate changeEnvironment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 2399654417708440.