Coalitions and policy framing: introduction

Most countries face huge political challenges to decarbonise their economies while addressing structural and societal drivers of vulnerability. Increasingly visible climate impacts may open windows of political opportunity, but the brief timeframe within which to operate intensifies the challenge. Effective responses will require building new coalitions and strengthening existing ones to take on incumbent fossil fuel interests as well as those that hinder effective allocation of adaptation finance. Constituencies will likely need to be diverse, given the complexity of the issue and its impacts, and also to be more politically salient to a wider range of decision-makers.

The first set of political and governance challenges will be breaking or avoiding path dependency on high-carbon sources while ensuring adaptation finance is mobilised, planned for and allocated effectively. In the years to come the political battles may shift ‒ Meadowcroft notes there are likely to be repeated cycles of interactions, and we must understand:

… how political actors (understood broadly) can construct linkages between economic, social, and environmental reform agendas; how sustainability transitions can exploit the ups and downs of the economic cycle; which strategies are most successful for building impetus for reform in specific societal subsystems; what forms of political alliance are most conducive to encouraging sustainability transitions, which kinds of reform create positive feedbacks driving further reform; what resistance strategies are most popular with transition opponents…how they may countered by proponents (Meadowcroft, 2011: 73).

Kenya’s Climate Change Act appears to provide a solid legal foundation to implement its climate change response strategy, but it is still critical to understand the interests and relationships of those involved and what this may mean for the law’s implementation. A PEA by Newell and Phillips (2016) of Kenya’s low-carbon energy transition to date concludes that decisions about how this transition occurs have mostly benefited entrenched energy interests, and are shaped by donor interests and state elites; the interests of the energy-poor are not as clearly represented. While energy transitions are taking place, the interests of transnational energy companies, state elites and external actors obscure the interests of Kenyans lacking a reliable electricity supply.

Schmitz (2016) claims that national transformations to a low-carbon economy require multiple groups of actors across government, business and civil society and that each sector will have proponents and opponents to the change. Reviewing political science scholarship, he finds a well-founded body of evidence that coalitions, particularly multi-sectoral ones, can be effective in addressing collective action problems. A 2008 World Bank evaluation of its own work emphasises the importance of broad coalitions as one of its key takeaways in understanding the political economy of policy reform.