Demanding Policy Change, Taking Direct Action, or Promoting Alternatives: Explaining Differences and Overlaps in Strategic Preferences within the Climate Change Movement

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:45
Location: Elise Richter Saal (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Joost DE MOOR, University of Antwerp, Belgium
Over the last decade, the climate change movement has known a strong diversification of its strategies for mobilizing around UN climate summits (COPs). Especially since the failed Copenhagen summit a central point of debate within the movement has become how actions should relate to the international policy process. While parts of the movement continue to believe that making claims towards government leaders at the COP can bring about sufficient solutions to the climate crisis, others have lost faith in the process and believe that any strategy that relies on the outcome of the COP is doomed to lead to disappointment. The latter still aim to use the momentum created by the COP, but propose two main alternative strategies: direct action against the perceived ‘culprits’ of climate change, and the promotion of concrete solutions to the climate crisis. Although these different strategies do not necessarily contradict, different segments of the movement still compete for resources, and through that competition, differences in strategic preferences become salient. In some cases, these differences even lead to conflict.

This paper aims to explain how such strategic differences ultimately drive the internationally coordinated mobilization of the climate movement for COP21 (Paris, 2015). It combines 14 months of observations from meetings and actions with more than 40 qualitative interviews. As a theoretical framework, the paper starts from a political opportunity structure approach, assuming that variations in these strategic preferences can to an important extent be explained by variations in organizers’ perception of contextual opportunities. Nevertheless, other factors, like activist traditions, resources and decision making processes are taken into account as well. The paper aims to make a strong contribution to our understanding of strategic variations within the climate change movement, the development of transnational mobilizations, and the role of POSs in these processes.