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Climate Political Economy

Just when the harrowing effects of climate change are becoming all too apparent, public disillusionment toward democracy is spreading, particularly among young people. But climate justice ultimately demands that the liberal-democratic, capitalist model be salvaged.

BRUSSELS – Climate change poses vexing questions concerning not just what rich, high-emitting countries may owe to poor, under-developed ones, but also what those in positions of power today owe to future generations. How should we navigate perceived tradeoffs between pollution and the right to pursue economic development, or between current and future gains? And more to the point, what system of governance is best suited to the challenge?

For those of us who would like to see a much stronger response to climate change, it is easy to enumerate all the ways that democracy is falling short. Consider the United States, one of the largest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions historically. According to a June 2020 Pew Research Center report, two-thirds of Americans say they are concerned about climate change and would like the federal government to do more to address the problem. And later that year, the American people elected a Democratic president with a strong climate-policy platform.

Yet, owing to resistance by one conservative-leaning Democratic senator, it took a year and a half of grueling negotiations to deliver any climate legislation at all, and some of the gains could soon be jeopardized if climate-conscious Democrats suffer significant losses in this year’s midterm elections.