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Democracy and Climate Change: What Can Deliberative Democracy Contribute?



This paper argues that deliberative democracy is best placed to meet the challenge that climate change poses to systems of governance, although the task of implementing it is challenging. Deliberative democracy extends on the basic idea of democracy by emphasising the way in which citizens engage with issues, requiring reflection on all relevant dimensions. Where climate change is easily crowded-out in the prevailing nature of political debate, deliberation helps to make salient less tangible and complex dimensions associated with the issue. Evidence is presented in support of the capacities of citizens to deliberate on climate change, with evidence drawn from a mini-public in the Australian Capital Region. The possibilities for “scaling up” these benefits of deliberation to the polity as a whole are then discussed. Although it is not straightforward, specific mechanisms for engendering deliberation among the wider public are suggested. If successful, deliberation not only promises to transform the possibilities for action on climate change, but also to build the capacity to respond by improving the underlying conditions for environmental governance.