Among the many strategiesthat climate activists, corporate accountability advocates, rightsholders, and other stakeholders are deploying to combat the climate crisis and promote a just transition — including insofar as the corporate capture of the State is concerned — is a mix of advocacy, strategic engagement, and ground-truthing.

If legislation, regulation, litigation, multi-stakeholderism, and voluntary measures are half of an advocate’s toolkit, then speaking truth to power through participatory measures —community organizing, campaigning, direct action, and public communication— rounds out the rest. What follows are a range of examples that illustrate the power of these approaches (we do not pretend to encompass even a sliver of all possible tactics):

  • Collective organizing:The most effective strategies are those that harness the collective strength of organized people. While, perhaps for some, “advocacy, ground-truthing, and popular measures” are euphemisms for NGO-led initiatives featuring North-North dialogues, Empower’s intent in including this topic is quite the opposite. These strategies work best when backed up by a collective voice, a horizontal accountability mechanism that can hold powerful actors accountable if they renege on their commitments. In the social sector our access to money and political power does not compare to the wealth or influence of businesses and governments; however, we do have access to organized people or, in other words, numbers.These voices are critical inputs into any and all advocacy processes as well as public- and private-facing mechanisms.

  • Ground-truthing:The act of people directly affected by climate change and the energy transition speaking truth to power is arguably the fulcrum of change. When done poorly, Global North CSOs and other stakeholders act as gatekeepers to ostensibly facilitate an outlet for Global South people to communicate with decision makers in the boardrooms and halls of power, while actually using their power as gatekeepers to further their narrow philanthropic, advocacy, or private interests, an act which is ultimately disempowering and alienating to communities and advocates in the South.When done well, ground-truthing is a horizontal process among equals whereby groups in the Global South and North, for example, establish a genuine transnational collaboration that recognizes the privileges and power dynamics within and agrees how to best speak truth to power. In this example, the group in the Global North is merely a gate-opener that walks with — not instead of — Global South communities in accompaniment of their advocacy.

TheInitiative for Transnational Justice(ITJ) in Mexico is an organization expressly designed for this purpose. Other examples include Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research(PODER), theBusiness and Human Rights Resource Centre(BHRRC), and Friends of the Earth,which strive to open gates and build collective power. A particular example of an organization that facilitates channels of communication between civil society and investors is the Investor Alliance for Human Rights, based in the U.S.

  • Campaigning:While a huge area to cover, we include this strategy to refer to the public advocacy and communication efforts of groups that seek to create reputational risks for companies, investors, and regulators that contribute to the climate crisis. Often this type of campaign is called “naming and shaming,” but that moniker does a disservice to organizations whose objective is not to create shame but to achieve justice and remedy for affected peoples. For illustrative purposes we include three examples, as follows:
    • Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR):Through its Corporate Capture Project, CCR “[defends] progressive political movements from attacks their opponents wage using the law. Corporate entities like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have used political influence to pass a series of laws that result in attacks against our allies. (…) In recent years, [CCR] has defended several movements facing repressive laws that are affiliated with ALEC, such as (…) water protectors that resist oil and gas infrastructure development targeted by Critical Infrastructure laws… In the wake of these fights, [CCR] has teamed up with our movement allies to focus on the source of some of these laws while we continue to defend our allies from the attacks directed at them. This work has involved litigating to demand that ALEC no longer meets with lawmakers in private to draft legislation; publishing research into ALEC’s activities; and supporting communities affected by ALEC to connect with each other for joint advocacy efforts when ALEC meets. (…) [CCR’s] Corporate Capture Project will develop additional litigation and political advocacy activities in the coming years to address the corporate control of law and policy making, which is a root cause of corporate human rights abuses.”
    • Corporate Accountability International (CAI):According toBobby Ramakant,a CAI board member, “[its] climate campaigning and justice movement is top notch. That kind of analysis is really important. If you want to understand the climate issue, speak to them. That kind of organizing has been important in terms of corporate accountability. They also worked on and were involved in the tobacco industry since before the global tobacco treaty was formed. They push governments to adopt article 5.3 about the industry’s conflict of interests vis-a-vis public health. They also advocate for article 19 about corporate accountability. There is an opportunity for people power to replicate this advocacy against the tobacco industry and within the tobacco treaty and push for preventing corporations from crossing the line. [CAI] is pushing for new accountability systems in both the climate and tobacco arenas.”
    • Kick Big Polluters Out:This initiative is akin to a social movement that brings together individuals and organizations to remove Big Polluters from international climate change agreements, especially the COP. Its main demands are:
      • No more writing the rules.Big Polluters must not be granted access to climate policymaking. This allows them to continue to unduly influence, weaken, and undermine the global response to climate change, and it’s why we are on the brink of extinction. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change must urgently establish an Accountability Framework to end this corporate capture. As an immediate next step, all participants must be required to publicly disclose and declare their interests. People deserve to know who is at the policymaking table, and what their real agenda is.
      • No more bankrolling climate action.No Big Polluter partnership or sponsorships of climate talks or climate action. Not now. Not ever. Major polluters must not be allowed to greenwash themselves and literally buy their way out of culpability for a crisis they have caused. Already, two major polluters have been named as COP27 partners- Coca-Cola, the  world’s largest plastics polluter and a major political blocker of action; and Microsoft, the world’s largest tech partner to the oil and gas industry. The UNFCCC will always fail to deliver so long as this is deemed acceptable.
      • Polluters Out — People In.While civil society has always participated in the COP process, governments have made it more difficult each time for NGOs and climate justice movements to have their voices heard. We need equitable, meaningful inclusion. Climate action must center the leadership and lived experience of the people, especially those on the frontlines of the climate crisis. With frontline communities in the lead, we must end the funding and validation of dangerous distractions and false solutions that promote Big Polluters’ profits, enable their abuses, and guarantee decades more of fossil fuel use.
      • Reset the system.Capitalism is destroying life as we know it. It’s time to build a new way of living and collaborating that works for people, not polluters, and that restores, rather than destroys, nature. We need real, just, accountable, gender responsive, community-led, nature-restoring, and proven and transformative solutions to be implemented rapidly and justly. We need a total and equitable transition off of fossil fuels. We need real solutions that center the rights of Indigenous peoples, local communities and the protection of those speaking up for justice. We need an end to the impunity of corporate abuses.”
  • Climate strikes:In addition to the Sunrise Movementin the U.S., young people in Europe — and increasingly across the world — have organized themselves through Fridays for Future, “a youth-led and -organised global climate strike movement that started in August 2018, when 15-year-old Greta Thunberg began a school strike for climate.” Its demands are: “Keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C compared to pre-industrial levels; Ensure climate justice and equity; and Listen to the best united science currently available.”
  • Popular consultations:The use of popular consultations, referendums, and other votes has become more commonplace in Latin America, for example, where Chile, Ecuador, and Mexico have all put important questions to the public over the past few years. For example, in August 2023, Ecuadorians voted in a popular consultation to ban oil drilling in the Yasuní National Park, in the Amazon rainforest. Approximately 60% of voters rejected oil drilling. While the Government of Ecuador has said it will respect the vote, the country recently elected a new president who has indicated he may not abide by the outcome.

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