Networks in Climate Policies – Characteristics, roles, and effects of stakeholders in Germany and the USA

Problem Statement

The Paris Agreement is the latest legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, France, on 12 December 2015. It entered into force on 4 November 2016. Its overarching goal is to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

However, in recent years, world leaders have stressed the need to limit global warming to 1.5°C by the end of this century. That’s because the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that crossing the 1.5°C threshold risks unleashing far more severe climate change impacts, including more frequent and severe droughts, heatwaves, and rainfall. To limit global warming to 1.5°C, greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline 43% by 2030. The Paris Agreement is a landmark in the multilateral climate change process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings all nations together to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. The upcoming international climate change conference is set for November and December of 2023. All policies that states have adopted so far will be measured according to what has been agreed upon in 2016.

This research was made possible through a fellowship at the American German Institute, at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC.

This project analyzes climate policies in Germany and the US from 2016 onwards. It aims at looking into consultations and hearings in federal ministries as well as the parliaments to get a grasp on the core questions of governance: who says what to whom, when and where and what is the result of this. More specifically, it will identify networks of actors, their roles in policymaking and the influence of societal actors, such as NGOs, or business representatives on the most recent policies tackling climate change.

Government consultations are a common and frequently used procedure in the legislative process (Herzmann, 2010; Fink & Ruffing, 2015; Döhler, 2020). Consultations are a problem-solving pattern and the link between actors and policy content. This is because when political and/or bureaucratic actors need information on specific policies that they cannot generate themselves, they resort to external actors. This happens in various formats, such as expert commissions, expert councils, or related to specific policy proposals, often through consultations. In the process, networks are established, defined as a mesh of relationships between individual and collective actors (Schmidt, 2004, 481): ministerial departments in particular know which actors they can draw on to obtain information: “As a rule, network relationships are interpreted as informal institutions that facilitate lasting exchange relationships in the form of expert information, political support, or other political influence resources in exchange for political control between private interest groups and state actors”(Henning & Wald, 2000, 648).

It is important to note that in the overall legislative process, consultations are only one piece of the puzzle among many.

Similar to consultations, hearings in committees of parliament are an important source of information for decision-makers. Empirical facts about lobbying in the German parliament are more and more present (Gaugler, 2009; Mause, 2009; Dhungel & Linhart, 2014; Eising & Spohr, 2017; Cross, Eising, Hermansson & Spohr, 2019), but missing data on lobbying activities is one of the main challenges. In the United States, the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (and the subsequent amendments through the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007) forces interest groups to report their lobbying activities regularly. Germany lacks comparable transparency provisions (Chari, Hogan & Murphy, 2012).

Consultations and hearings can be categorized as “inside lobbying,” in addition to participation in commissions, advisory bodies, or similar forums with direct contact to the working level of ministries (Eising, et al., 2017; De Bruycker & Beyers, 2019). Consultations and hearings should not be underestimated in their impact on the legislative process. Studies analyzing legislative change and the influence of interest groups consistently show that the earlier interest groups intervene, the greater the effect and opportunity to change the resulting law (Dür, Bernhagen & Marshall, 2015; Cross & Hermansson, 2017; Rasch, 2018; Cross, Eising, Hermansson & Spohr, 2019).


The US data on the involvement of stakeholders in policymaking is due to the strict transparency rules easy to obtain (Chari, Murphy & Hogan, 2007; Baumgartner, Berry, Hojnacki, Kimball & Leech, 2009; Baumgartner, Larsen-Price, Leech & Rutledge, 2009; Chari, Hogan & Murphy, 2012). Yet, the assessment of roles and influence is one of the biggest challenges in interest mediation research in general (Lowery, 2013), so in-depth interviews with policymakers are necessary.

In Germany, the parliament has its register and stakeholders that gave evidence in hearings are listed on the committees’ webpages. Since the legislative period of the nineteenth Bundestag (beginning in 2017), federal ministries have been required to publish their consultations conducted in accordance with section 47 of the GGO, too. This is to be seen in the context of a transparency initiative introduced under Chancellor Angela Merkel, which was also inspired by European transparency calls and likewise affects the legislative branch, i.e. the transparency register of the Bundestag.

This opens a new, previously unused opportunity for political scientists to explore data on the involvement of societal actors on one policy field (here climate policies) across two countries. Coding this information has proven to be a valuable source of data for analyzing democratic representation (Rasch, Spohr, Eising & Ress, 2020). Preliminary analyses on federal ministries, especially in the area of environmental policies, suggest a strong link between the content (policies) and the actors involved in the process (Rasch, 2022b).


In addition, we find many interesting differences among the represented stakeholders, as presented in table 1. In Germany, most actors are interest organizations, organized at the federal level. Out of these, the majority (79 percent) represents business interests. In the USA, we see that three types of stakeholders are dominating: companies, individual experts, and federal interest organizations.

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