Accepted Paper:

Climate strategies as experiments in democracy: evidence from a mixed-method study of national politicians  


Rebecca Willis (Lancaster University)

Paper short abstract:

Radical reductions in emissions are required to meet internationally agreed climate targets, yet there is little public support for action. This paper presents data from a study of UK politicians to discuss experiments in democracy which may reconcile democratic government with action on climate.

Paper long abstract:

This paper frames action on climate change as an urgent and necessary 'experiment in democracy'. It presents data from a mixed-method study of members of the UK parliament, including corpus analysis of political speech and narrative interviews with over 20 MPs, investigating how politicians understand and respond to climate change. The study demonstrates a clear gap between the commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreement, and expressed public or voter support for action. Whilst many politicians understand the need for radical action on climate, they report no mandate from the electorate. Given this gap, politicians can be seen to experiment with ways of making a case for action on climate change, developing strategies that, they judge, will resonate with publics, build engagement and extend political support. This paper presents such strategies as 'experiments in democracy'. It draws on an interdisciplinary literature from political theory, STS and sociology to discuss ways in which politicians, activists and others may build a democratic case for action on climate change, moving from absent or passive support, to engagement in a low-carbon transition. Such strategies might include institutional reform, deliberative democratic processes, and building alliances with wider interests. The paper will critically assess existing strategies, and propose new approaches, with implications both for academic debate and for practitioners working in the field of policy and politics.

Panel E09
Experiments in democracy