Using the EU Common Fisheries Policy reform as a case, researchers analyze how competition between economic and environmental interest group and coalition building sometimes delays or prevents resource collapses, even when competing interests have unequal resources and influence. Photo: European Parliament

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COALITION BUILDING AND CRISES

In some cases, a push and pull between interests can prevent unsustainable outcomes

How resource management can benefit from competition between interest groups

Story highlights

  • Non-state actors play an increasingly important role in shaping environmental policy
  • The authors analyze an agent-based model inspired by EU Common Fisheries Policy to understand how competition between economic and environmental interest group coalitions sometimes delays or prevents resource collapses
  • Timing is critical too. A late coalitional response to an emerging crisis may be ineffective to reverse a declining ecological trend

THE LOBBYING GAME: Competition between interests is not always a fair game. Industry or other groups representing an economic interest can have a substantial advantage over other interests in resources and capabilities.

Policymaking typically involves a wide range of participants, from elected representatives and public officials to non-state actors such as scientists, businesses, and interest groups.

They may not always agree.

When it comes to environmental policy, non-state actors play an increasingly important role. In fact, lobbying by powerful influence groups is considered to be the root cause of policy stagnation and increased environmental degradation.

Delaying or preventing collapses

Surprisingly, competition between economic and environmental interest groups and the formation of interest group coalitions in response to crises, may also help avoid undesirable policy outcomes.

This is one of the main findings in a study by centre researchers Kirill Orach and Maja Schlüter together with Andreas Duit from Stockholm University.

Published in Nature Human Behaviour, the authors analyze how competition between economic and environmental interest group and coalition building sometimes delays or prevents resource collapses, even when competing interests have unequal resources and influence.

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Competition and, particularly, coalition formation may under some conditions serve as a mechanism for sustainable resource use despite dominance of industry interests.

Kirill Orach, lead author

In their study, the authors developed a stylized, agent-based model of interest group influence informed by a case study of EU Common Fisheries Policy reform.

By combining in-depth empirical cases with agent-based modelling Orach and his colleagues could explore the role of coalition-building mechanism within broader dynamics of the policy process, and identify conditions under which it could have an effect on resource management outcomes.

Timing is everything

In some cases, when a coalition of interests succeeds in influencing policy, opposing groups mobilize in response, leading to a “tug of war” battle for policy influence. The authors find that this tug of war between interest coalitions may have a surprising effect on resource management outcomes.

For example, a significant increase of fishing quota due to industry lobby could lead to a counter-mobilization by environmental coalition interests. This coalition gives them a better chance to push for a decrease in fish quota.

However, the model also showed that timing of such coalition response is critical. A late response to an emerging crisis may be ineffective to reverse a declining ecological trend.

Methodology

The authors develop an agent-based model (PoliSEA) of a policy process embedded in the dynamics of a fishery. The model is grounded in empirical analysis of the success of environmental interest groups in attaining their policy preferences in the 2013 European Union Common Fisheries Policy reform. These empirical insights are combined with theory about the attributes and lobbying behaviour of interest groups and literature on interest groups in general, and EU interest groups in particular. Through this model, the authors explicitly focus on how the dynamics of the policy process interact with the dynamics of the social-ecological system.

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Citation

Orach, K., Duit, A., Schlüter, M. 2020. Sustainable natural resource governance under interest group competition in policy-making. Nat Hum Behav (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0885-y

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Kirill Orach research focuses on complex dynamics of the policy process that influence failures and successes of environmental governance.

Maja Schlüter’s research focuses on social-ecological interactions and mechanisms that can explain various cases of social-ecological interactions.

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