- Climate-resilient development is built on societal choices that go beyond the formal decision-making of politicians and policymakers.
- Being inclusive and empowering in all forms of decision-making has been shown to lead to better and more just climate outcomes.
- Currently, the “inclusive” decision-making being done is insufficient to meet the needs of either action or justice.
Choices affecting the future of the globe’s climate are being made all around us. Decisions are taken every day in town halls and voting booths, corporate boardrooms, government offices, private homes, community meetings and on the streets. However, not everyone’s voice is equitably represented, and we can no longer afford to pretend otherwise. Pervasive injustices in decision-making – highlighted in recent research – perpetuate exclusionary practices across sectors and contexts in both mitigation and adaptation. These dynamics amplify unequal outcomes. Climate risks become increasingly unevenly distributed, historical injustices become more entrenched, mitigation strategies are deployed that exacerbate rather than ameliorate unequal impacts, and the vulnerabilities of disadvantaged communities and groups are compounded.
Inclusive and empowering governance is therefore critical to enabling climate-resilient development. It was identified as a foundational concept in the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report (IPCC AR6 WGII, 2022), which highlights the importance of mitigation and adaptation actions that advance sustainable development from local to global levels. Yet, despite the manifold benefits, inclusive and enabling climate change decision-making and action are still rare, as revealed by, for example, the continued exclusion of Indigenous and traditional knowledge and a lack of intergenerational inclusiveness.
Many may point out that inclusion and participation in public decision-making is already a commonplace policy provision. But in reality, procedural inclusion is typically no more than a technocratic checklist exercise demanded by funders or regulators that usually consists of “counting people in” with little consideration of who, how, why and to what effect different voices are accounted for, or of relinquishing any power by those with this privilege to those who should be included. Such processes can actually restrict opportunities for meaningful involvement, since they entrench socioeconomic inequalities, exclusion and political and ecological injustices, while also imposing a false narrative of uniform voice, knowledge and ability to access decision-making opportunities, even suggesting that consensus is always possible. Moreover, inclusion alone does not ensure that divergent worldviews, ideologies, values, interests and needs necessarily inform societal choices about climate change.
Transformative change towards inclusive and empowering climate decision-making is needed – in both formal and informal institutional settings – that reflects the cumulative and emergent decisions by individuals, communities and society. Consequently, this would enable a better understanding of divergent views, needs and experiences of climate change and would help prevent generalised, one-size-fits-all solutions. For example, lands managed using Indigenous-led conservation methods have been shown to significantly reduce deforestation, though not always. These processes will look different depending on the scale, geography and culture, but coordination that spans the globe is critical.
Concepts of ‘decentred’1 decision-making need to be at the core of emerging policy discussions around GHG mitigation, maladaptation, climate action trade-offs, relocation and limits to adaptation, among others. Decentring can help carve new opportunities for realising climate-resilient development, while being mindful of historical decisions and actions, such as colonisation and contemporary inequitable and unjust geopolitics, policies and practices. But all these efforts need to be rapidly and dramatically scaled up in the face of observed climate impacts and projected climate risks. Too many inclusive measures are either too far from the wider public sphere or insufficiently entwined with formal decision-making processes and other more established initiatives to have much impact.
In bringing about the required changes, the strategic and operational implications for all actors should not be underestimated – especially those for governments but also for the private sector and civil society, Indigenous peoples, media and scientific institutions, from the local to global levels across both adaptation and mitigation domains. Inclusive and empowering societal choices for climate-resilient development confront prevailing unsustainable practices and the underlying dominant ideologies and structures, and the powerful interests that drive them.
Eco-villages – a model for inclusive and empowering governance
Novel approaches to climate resilience are being explored and tested. Eco-villages, being community-led initiatives of an alternative form of living based on local knowledge, sustainability values, circular economy, social empowerment and political participation, are one example. These are, so far, of small scale, but have the potential to increase participation in local politics, and to foster partnerships between society and government. Utopian experiments such as eco-villages promote the interconnectedness of life, and experiment with collaborative, direct democratic and horizontal forms of organisation and decision-making processes. Eco-villages and other integrative and community-led initiatives can help decentre historical foci of power. They may also “open up” knowledge by making opportunities, spaces or arenas of engagement inclusive and empowering Indigenous peoples, vulnerable communities, youth, marginalised ethnic/racial groups, gender/sexual minorities, migrants and displaced peoples.
Implications & Recommendations
At a global level, it is suggested that parties at COP27:
- Establish decentred decision-making processes for climate action that genuinely transfer unequal power to those with less power, and incorporate divergent worldviews, ideologies, values, interests and needs.
- Coordinate the granular, multi-scalar and decentred decision-making processes both for learnings of effective processes and achievement of broader climate-resilient development.
At the national and local level, policymakers must:
- Pursue climate-resilient development through inclusive and empowering climate decision-making and action of all types.
- Support the development, assessment and scaling up of novel approaches through community-led initiatives.