Deliberative Democracy and the Climate Crisis

Willis, Rebecca and Curato, Nicole and Smith, Graham (2022) Deliberative Democracy and the Climate Crisis. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 13 (2). ISSN 1757-7780

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No democratic state has yet implemented a climate plan strong enough to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This has led some to argue that democracy cannot cope with a challenge of this magnitude. In this paper, we argue instead that a more deliberative democratic system can strengthen our ability to respond effectively to the climate crisis. The most visible development in this direction is the recent citizens’ assemblies on climate change in Ireland, France and the UK. We begin our analysis of the promise of deliberative democracy with a recognition of the difficulties that democracies face in tackling climate change, including short-termism; the ways in which scientific and expert evidence are used; the influence of powerful political interests; and the relationship between people and the politicians that represent them. We then introduce the theoretical tradition of deliberative democracy, comparing it to the dominant understanding of democratic politics as competitive elitism and suggesting how it might ameliorate the challenges democracies face in responding to the climate crisis. We evaluate the contribution of deliberative mini-publics, such as citizens’ assemblies and juries, and look beyond these formal processes to examine how deliberation can be embedded in political and social systems. We conclude that deliberation-based reforms to democratic systems, including but not limited to deliberative mini-publics, are a necessary and potentially transformative ingredient in climate action.

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Journal Article
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Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
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23 Feb 2022 10:30
Last Modified:
04 Feb 2023 01:33