Democracy and Earth System Governance

The concept of ecological democracy (or green, environmental democracy) revolves around how to make a commitment to environmental protection compatible with democracy. Questions on democracy and democratic legitimacy are central to the scholarship and practice of environmental politics and green political theory. Democratic values, such as representation, inclusion, participation, accountability, and transparency are central research themes in Earth System Governance. There has been a rise in mechanisms to increase participation and accountability on national levels, in global environmental summits and EU governance, such as multi-stakeholder dialogues, institutionalized representation of NGOs, and civil society deliberation. These represent democratic innovations, which have consolidated a model of “participatory” or “bottom up” environmental governance aimed to reduce the “democratic deficit”.

This aim of this working group is to critically explore the tensions and synergies between democracy and environmentalism on local, national and global levels. Eco-authoritarians are skeptical that democracy with its slow and cumbersome process can handle the scale and severity of the global environmental crisis while work on deliberative democracy and environmental citizenship reflects reconciliation between environmental politics and democracy. It will examine how practices of environmental politics relate to various models of democracy – deliberative, representative, stakeholder and participatory. The purpose of the working group is to explore relationships between democracy, expertise and environment, propelled by debates on a post-political turn to environmental politics.

Some key questions are: Can global environmental threats such as climate change be best handled within the institutions of democracy? Alternatively, are democratic polities too slow and cumbersome to handle accelerating global risks? Is direct or deliberative democracy better equipped to handle environmental problems than representative democracy? Do mechanisms to increase representation and participation of civil society and NGOs in international policy processes lead to a democratization of global environmental politics? Or conversely, how can NGOs increase democratic credentials if they are not democratic themselves? Does the de-politicization and scientization of environmental politics lead to post-democratic politics?

Join the Google Group of the Earth System Governance ecological democracy working group.

For more information please contact:

Karin Bäckstrand:

Professor in Environmental Social Science
Department of Political Science
Stockholm University, Sweden

karin.backstrand [at]

Jonathan Pickering :

Postdoctoral Fellow
Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance
University of Canberra, Australia

jonathan.pickering [at]

Thomas Hickmann :

Postdoctoral Researcher
Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development
Utrecht University, the Netherlands

t.hickmann [at]

More information on Green Democracy:

Baber, Walter, and Robert Bartlett (2005) Deliberative Environmental Politics. Democracy and Ecological Rationality. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Bernstein, Steven (2005) Legitimacy in Global Environmental Governance. Journal of International Law and International Relations 1(1-2), 139-66.

Barry, John and Marcel Wissenburg (eds.) (2001) Sustaining Liberal DemocracyBasingstoke: Palgrave.

Bäckstrand, Karin, Jamil Khan, Annica Kronsell, and Eva Lövbrand, (eds.) (2010) Environmental Politics and Deliberative Democracy. Examining the Promise of New Modes of Governance. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Bäckstrand, Karin (2006) Democratising Global Environmental Governance. Stakeholder Democracy after the World Summit on Sustainable Development, European Journal of International Relations 12(4): 467-498.

Doherty, Brian and Marius de Geus (1996) Democracy and Green Political Thought. London and New York: Routledge.

Dryzek, John and Hayley Stevenson (2011) Global Democracy and Earth System Governance, Ecological Economics, 70, 1865-1874.

Lafferty, William and James Meadowcroft (eds.) (1996) Democracy and the Environment. Problem and Prospects. Cheltenham; Edward Elgar.

Fischer, Frank (2000) Citizens, Experts and the Environment. The Politics of Local Knowledge. Durham, NC.Duke University Press.

Held, David and Angus Fane Hervey (2009) Democracy, Climate Change and Global Governance. Policy Network Paper.

Niemeyer, Simon (2014) A Defense of (Deliberative) Democracy in the Anthropocene. Ethical Perspectives 21(1):15-45.

Pickering, Jonathan, Karin Bäckstrand, and David Schlosberg (2020) Between environmental and ecological democracy: theory and practice at the democracy-environment nexus. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning 22 (1): 1-15.

Smith, Graham (2003) Deliberative Democracy and the Environment. London and New York: Routledge.

Stehr, Nico (2012) An Inconvenient Democracy: Knowledge and Climate Change, Social Science and Public Policy.

Stevenson, Hayley and John Dryzek (2014) Democratizing Global Climate Governance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.