Democratising sustainability transformations: Assessing the transformative potential of democratic practices in environmental governance

Jonathan Pickering, Thomas Hickmann, Karin Bäckstrand, Agni Kalfagianni, Michael J Bloomfield, Ayşem Mert, Hedda Ransan-Cooper, Alex Lo

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Abstract

Many democracies find it difficult to act swiftly on problems such as climate change and biodiversity loss. This is reflected in long-standing debates in research and policy about whether democratic practices are capable of fostering timely, large-scale transformations towards sustainability. Drawing on an integrative review of scholarly literature from 2011 to early 2021 on sustainability transformations and the democracy-environment nexus, this article synthesises existing research on prospects and pitfalls for democratising sustainability transformations. We advance a new typology for understanding various combinations of democratic/authoritarian practices and of transformations towards/away from sustainability. We then explore the role of democratic practices in accelerating or obstructing five key dimensions of sustainability transformations: institutional, social, economic, technological, and epistemic. Across all dimensions we find substantial evidence that democratic practices can foster transformations towards sustainability, and we conclude by outlining a set of associated policy recommendations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100131
JournalEarth System Governance
Volume11
Early online date17 Jan 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2022

Keywords

  • Earth system governance
  • Ecological democracy
  • Environmental democracy
  • Environmental governance
  • Sustainability transformations
  • Transformative governance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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