Org Theory at the Paris Climate Talks

The British government is being accused of hypocrisy for its strong rhetoric to address carbon emissions paired with its policy changes at home that might increase emissions. The government’s words and actions appear at odds.

One way we can understand why an organization’s words and actions contradict one another is by using the organization theory concept of decoupling. Decoupling occurs when an organization–in this case the majority coalition of the British government, represented by Prime Minister David Cameron–faces pressure to conform to social expectations for its behavior. In this case, the social pressure comes from the environmental movement that has made addressing climate change an important requirement for many governments. Decoupling occurs when the organization facing such pressure conforms in its statements but takes actions contradicting the statements. Words become decoupled from actions.

Decoupling allows an organization to satisfy the demands of external groups while simultaneously continuing to act in ways it deems important for its own performance. In this case, the British government satisfies environmentalists by appearing to rhetorically push for strong action on emissions while it also satisfies British voters who are wary of emissions policy that might increase their energy bills.

Previous policy sought to find a balance between keeping the lights on, bills low and emissions down – but the Financial Times newspaper reports a Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) contact saying affordability had now taken precedence over emissions.

[…]

A spokesman for the DECC said: “We are fully committed to getting a global deal to tackle climate change in Paris.

“However, our priority at home is to keep bills as low as possible for hard-working families and businesses, while reducing our emissions in the most cost-effective way.

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