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Working paper

The climate crisis and democracy: from democratic debilitation to innovation

Democratic reform Representative government and representation Climate change

This Policy Brief makes the following key points:

(a) The climate crisis is also a crisis for democracy. Democracies worldwide are failing to prevent dangerous climate change, as underlined by the latest report from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This failure constitutes a fundamental breach of a key obligation of legitimate government: to ensure the safety and survival of the people to whom democracies owe their allegiance. For some, ‘(d)emocracy is the planet’s biggest enemy’.

(b) There are four circumstances of democratic debilitation impeding democracies in effectively addressing climate change: short-termism; self-referring mechanisms (including elections); weak multilateralism; and capture by vested interests, particularly fossil-fuel interests.

(c) These factors indict a particular kind of democracy: one that is individualistic, nationalistic, works on truncated time horizons, and sanctions corporate dominance of politics.

(d) However, it is possible to renew and re-imagine democracy to achieve a more effective response to the climate crisis by building on existing features and advantages of democracy as a political system. This new vision should be based on four pillars: a planning state; a solidaristic ethos; an invigorated multilateralism; and fair and inclusive politics.

Publication Details
Access Rights Type:
Working Paper 75