Climate lobbies under scrutiny


A CNRS research team has just launched a crowdsourcing platform to assess the weight of lobbies in European climate decisions. This initiative is part of the will to produce, thanks to information technologies, tools that help citizens to reappropriate the political process.
Por the mathematician Antoine Mandel, one of the project leaders, interviewed by the CNRS Journalthis platform is good." a technological project, not a political one, but its field of application is public life, the tools of operation of a democratic society. I believe that technological developments can open up a new public space for discussion and contribute to a better understanding of political and social issues. ".
It is true that the definition of Europe's climate policy is under massive pressure from several hundred organisations, from NGOs to large multinational corporations. Lobbying takes place in various forms throughout the law-making process. And many want to make their voices heard in order to influence the decision-making process and protect their interests. Most of the time these interventions and pressures are discreet or even opaque. All the more so in the area of climate policy in the run-up to COP21, where states and organisations will have to agree to make efforts that will directly affect their industrial and economic interests.
Shedding light on opaque processes
To shed a little more light on these underground movements that impact political choices, the CNRS team has created a platform that makes extensive use of crowdsourcing, i.e. mobilizing citizens to participate in deciphering millions of documents and highlighting the collusion of interests and the influences of one another.
The web-based platform provides an opportunity for all participants to conduct an analysis of one of the texts emanating from the European Commission's public consultation, during the preparation of the Climate and Energy Framework Programme 2030. Indeed, when preparing an important piece of legislation, the European Commission offers stakeholders the opportunity to give their views in writing on the proposals it makes in a Green Paper. It is this set of documents that is the subject of this participatory study. Antoine Mandel specifies that " More than 550 organisations, including NGOs (WWF, Greenpeace...), industrial groups (BASF, ThyssenKrupp...), electricity companies (such as EDF), institutions (local councils, parliaments...), etc., have given their opinions on the flagship measures of European climate policy (greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, share of renewable energy, energy efficiency, etc.). These opinions can push energy policy in one direction or another ".
Crowdsourcing as a factor in the democratisation of decisions
Platform participants will be able to access and filter these documents through a questionnaire developed by the researchers. This questionnaire is designed to identify, according to a standardised methodology, the positions (for/against/without opinion) of the various stakeholders on fifteen key measures likely to be the subject of debate or influence. In order to minimise possible misinterpretation, each text is read and filtered by at least ten people.
On arrival, the teams of researchers will have three elements at their disposal: the Commission's initial proposals, the opinions of the stakeholders and the decision of the Council of Europe on the subject. The computer processing of these elements will reveal a network of links between the actors and the decisions. It will thus be possible to understand which opinions were listened to most and which therefore had the greatest influence on the legislative process.
The idea for this platform and the use of crowdsourcing came about by examining the process of influence during the discussion on the draft law on the processing of private data in the digital economy in the European Parliament: as the site LobbyplagThe amendments that have been tabled by parliamentarians are a carbon copy of the texts written by Google, Facebook or Microsoft.
With this project, there is no doubt that new forms of citizen engagement will be able to be expressed and allow the citizens of the European Union to have their say in a system whose institutions seem both very distant and excessively centralised.However, this is still an embryonic approach, which is certainly promising, but which must prove its worth. It is also expected that this platform will be able to issue conclusions and alerts during the legislative process and not afterwards, once the damage has been done. 
The research team of the project : Unit CNRS/Univ. Paris-I Panthéon Sorbonne/ENS Cachan. The research team also includes Tomas Balint from the University of Paris-I Panthéon Sorbonne, Franziska Schütze from the Global Climate Forum and Stefano Battiston from the University of Zurich.

Source : CNRS Journal

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