News analysis: Discord threatens green umbrella

Organisers of Stop Climate Chaos face uphill task in uniting climate change groups. Anita Pati reports.

Last week saw the birth of a campaign that its organisers hope will be the climate change equivalent of Make Poverty History. This is no small ambition - at the last count, MPH had 460 organisations on its membership list and you'd be hard pushed to find anyone in the UK that isn't aware of it.

But if the Stop Climate Chaos campaign is to have anything like as much impact on the national psyche, it needs to become the umbrella under which all the green groups stand - just as the aid and development agencies managed to set aside their differences in order to line up behind MPH.

This won't be easy. In recent years, critics have mauled environmental groups for showing poor collective leadership and placing too much faith in New Labour's early policies. Single-issue green campaigns have mushroomed across the country in the absence of one overarching theme.

Stop Climate Chaos attempts to bring a range of voices together to open a space for political debate. From the Women's Institute to the RSPB, diverse member organisations hope that by working together they will force the Government to address the issue far better.

Might of the NGOs

Ashok Sinha, director of the campaign, says the aim is to make it the "predominant campaign on climate change" by harnessing the might of the biggest NGOs. The roll call of 18 member groups includes Oxfam, WWF, Friends of the Earth and Christian Aid. But the continuing existence of many satellite climate change campaigns threatens to splinter the message. Although all welcome each other, few seem to collaborate.

Last week saw the launch of Manchester is My Planet, a climate change initiative "to make Manchester the coolest, greenest city on the planet".

Supported by environment minister Elliot Morley and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), it boasts a coalition of more than 50 regional organisations including Manchester City FC, ITV Granada, the Co-operative Bank and Friends of the Earth Manchester. Individuals can make pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; 50,000 have been collected already. Although it is totally unconnected to Stop Climate Chaos, the Manchester group has the same target of cutting emissions by 20 per cent by 2010.

"There are too many disparate voices around climate change, which is why we are trying to make this local and relevant to people," says Steve Connor, organiser of the campaign.

"We're not in conflict with Stop Campaign Chaos, but they are likely to mobilise a known activist base. What we're doing is using civic pride and local relevance to mobilise a much bigger local population."

Nor is his organisation formally collaborating with the Campaign Against Climate Change, whose International Day of Protest is on 3 December. CACC has been active for five years, largely organising street demonstrations internationally. Its honorary president is journalist and campaigner George Monbiot and honorary vice-presidents include MP Michael Meacher.

Phil Thornhill, co-ordinator of CACC, asked Stop Climate Chaos two months ago if it would support his group, but is still awaiting a response. He wants to know if CACC can affiliate to Stop Climate Chaos because he wants to co-ordinate their messages.

Thornhill says the campaigns complement each other, but it would be unrealistic to think Stop Climate Chaos would not impinge on CACC: "Stop Climate Chaos has already managed to knock up a lot of the funding available for climate change-related things."

Lurking around the edges are several other movements. The Climate Group, founded in 2003 by environmental physicist Dr Steve Howard, is an international coalition of non-profit organisations that seeks to build a coalition of corporations that commit to reducing their emissions. The International Climate Change Taskforce, set up to produce a communique for the G8, is currently dormant but will regroup to address climate change issues as required.

Then there is the ad hoc lobbying coalition of NGOs and MPs organised by Friends of the Earth and WWF, which is trying to make sure the Climate Change Bill is passed effectively.

Indeed, Friends of the Earth has green fingers in lots of pies. As well as partnerships, it runs its own campaigns under The Big Ask banner. But chief executive Tony Juniper denies this muddies the issue. "It's all going in the same direction," he says.

Sinha agrees, insisting that Stop Climate Change welcomes a diverse range of voices. "We can't guarantee that every voice on climate change will be identical," he says. "We're not trying to stifle people, but we've got a very clear set of headline objectives."

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