Mobilising Civil Society: Can the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement Achieve Transformational Social Change?

The divestment movement is at the forefront of civil society initiatives to raise public consciousness about climate change. This paper shows how the movement has harnessed grassroots activists, engaged in innovative and disruptive forms of activism and invoked symbolic politics to persuade the public of the importance and legitimacy of its claims. It also shows how the interconnections between the divestment movement and a cluster of others within a ‘governance triangle’ have amplified its effectiveness.

Looking ahead, what else would the movement and its allies need to do to nurture a new norm (go ‘fossil-free’) and prompt a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy? Going beyond the Paris Climate Change Agreement, what would it take to reach a ‘tipping point’ at which, driven by escalating civil society action, pressure from investors and a shift in public opinion, important states begin in earnest to decarbonise their economies?

About the speaker

Professor Neil Gunningham is a lawyer and social scientist working principally in the areas of environmental regulation and governance. He is a Professor in the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), and formerly in the Fenner School, at the ANU. His books include Smart Regulation: Designing Environmental Policy, and Shades of Green: Business, Regulation and Environment.