Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance Seminar

Upcoming: Democracy and power in Earth system governance: progress, paralysis and potential

Tue 15 October 2019Speaker: Jonathan Pickering, University of Canberra / 11:00am - 12:00pmVenue: The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


Confidence in the ability of democracies to respond to global environmental problems has been shaken by recent shifts in political power – including the rise of anti-environmental populism across a range of countries – as well as by collective failures to slow dangerous climate change and biodiversity loss. This paper aims to chart new directions for research on democracy and power in Earth system governance along four dimensions. First, we assess the implications of the Anthropocene for democracy and power. Despite calls for technocratic or authoritarian responses to characteristic problems of the Anthropocene such as climate change, we argue that democracy takes on renewed importance as democratic interactions prove crucial for the societal rethinking needed to change unsustainable practices. Second, we address the transformations needed to respond to the earth system risks that societies face in the Anthropocene. We critically review the role of democratic processes in recent literature and practice on sustainability transformations, and outline the associated implications of technological change (e.g. mobilising social movements for and against action on climate change) for democratic legitimacy and sustainability. Third, we explore the role of economic and power inequalities in impeding or accelerating democratic transformations towards sustainability, focusing on populist movements (often driven by real or perceived inequalities), including leaders in the United States and Brazil, as well as the gilets jaunes movement in France. Finally, we address diversity: we show how different visions of democracy – e.g. the Indian concept of ‘ecological swaraj’ – and diverse knowledge systems can enrich Earth system governance, while acknowledging the need to agree on how to mobilise collective responses to Earth system risks. Across each of these dimensions we survey scholarly literature and policy innovations during the period since 2010. Whereas previous work focused on democracy at the global level, our paper spans intersecting democratic processes from the local to the global, as well as foregrounding the nexus between democracy and power.


Jonathan Pickering is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Canberra, Australia, based at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance. His research focuses on democracy, reflexivity and justice in global environmental governance, and he is currently working on an Australian Research Council Laureate project on ‘Deliberative Worlds’ led by Professor John Dryzek. His research has been published in a range of journals including Climate Policy, Environmental Politics, Global Environmental Politics, and International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics. He has co-authored with John Dryzek a book on The Politics of the Anthropocene (Oxford University Press, 2019).

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