Building a Social Mandate for Climate Action: Lessons from COVID-19

Candice Howarth, Peter Bryant, Adam Corner, Sam Fankhauser, Andy Gouldson, Lorraine Whitmarsh, Rebecca Willis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Citations (SciVal)


The COVID-19 imposed lockdown has led to a number of temporary environmental side effects (reduced global emissions, cleaner air, less noise), that the climate community has aspired to achieve over a number of decades. However, these benefits have been achieved at a massive cost to welfare and the economy. This commentary draws lessons from the COVID-19 crisis for climate change. It discusses whether there are more sustainable ways of achieving these benefits, as part of a more desirable, low carbon resilient future, in a more planned, inclusive and less disruptive way. In order to achieve this, we argue for a clearer social contract between citizens and the state. We discuss how COVID-19 has demonstrated that behaviours can change abruptly, that these changes come at a cost, that we need a ‘social mandate’ to ensure these changes remain in the long-term, and that science plays an important role in informing this process. We suggest that deliberative engagement mechanisms, such as citizens’ assemblies and juries, could be a powerful way to build a social mandate for climate action post-COVID-19. This would enable behaviour changes to become more accepted, embedded and bearable in the long-term and provide the basis for future climate action.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1107-1115
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental and Resource Economics
Issue number4
Early online date8 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2020


  • Behaviour change
  • Climate change
  • COVID-19
  • Deliberative governance
  • Social mandate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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