From hierarchies to networks

A fourth shift stimulated by the events of the 1970s is in the way that organisations operate. If globalisation has changed the nature of international inequalities, it is also frequently described through changing forms of organisations. Business, governments, NGOs and others have all undergone shifts in the ways they work, both on their own and with others, both as cause and consequence of globalisation. These changes can be characterised as shifts from clear bureaucratic hierarchies, organised through rules and clear procedures, towards much more fluid forms such as networks and partnerships. Boundaries between different parts of companies, between different companies, and between companies, governments and NGOs, are broken down as actors seek new ways of solving problems. For companies, this is a response to the perceived competitiveness pressures of globalisation.

especially in diplomatic contexts where the two groups face each other often in sharp confrontation. Alternative terms like 'developed' (or 'industrialised') and 'developing' are also common ways to express this distinction. In the climate change negotiations, another layer of jargon is added, with Annex I (in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) and Annex B (in the Kyoto Protocol) both referring to 'northern' or 'industrialised, countries. We stick to North and South for continuity and simplicity.

18 J. Stiglitz, Globalisation and Its Discontents (London: Penguin, 2003).

19 World Bank, Climate Investment Funds (Washington DC: World Bank, 2008). Available at:; World Bank, Development And Climate Change: A Strategic Framework For The World Bank Group, Report to the Development Committee (Washington DC: World Bank, 2008).

Neoliberalism and climate politics 23

But it also serves as a means to globalise their operations, as they build partnerships with other companies globally in the search for novel sources of economic advantage.

For governments, meanwhile, traditional regulatory and bureaucratic solutions are increasingly seen as ill adapted to the accelerated pace of economic life or to the resolution of problems of ever-greater complexity, of which environmental problems are the perfect example. The notion of 'governance' is in large part an attempt to reorganise government in line with these 'new times'. According to this logic, governments can no longer effectively pursue their goals through simple bureaucratic fiat. They are forced to reorganise themselves internally as well as build partnerships with companies and other social actors to achieve their goals.

We see this in the plethora of public-private partnerships and other similar arrangements. They appear not only at national levels, but also in the UN's Global Compact which sought to make the business community a partner in efforts to advance the goals of UN treaties on labour and human rights and of course environmental protection.

These changes in governmental practice may well be regarded as an extension of neoliberal politics, notably the revived power of business. Certainly, the language of partnerships often serves to obscure the lack of will on the part of governments to regulate powerful corporations. Indeed, self-regulation is often a convenient way for governments to lighten their regulatory load and outsource responsibilities to the private sector.

Whatever their merits, partnership approaches have been influential in the way that actors have responded to climate change as we will see below. And this is not only because they fit with the dominant neoliberal logic. Climate change itself exemplifies the sorts of new complex problem which require novel sorts of organisation focused more on 'problem-solving', 'puzzling through', or 'learning by doing' than the rule-setting that is the focus of more traditional organisations.

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