ACTS at the 14th Nordic Environmental Social Science Conference

We presented two work in progress papers at the 14th Nordic Environmental Social Science (NESS) Conference in Lulea. Fruitful discussions and almost never-ending daylight made it a very positive experience for us. NESS was hosted by the Division of Social Sciences at Luleå University of Technology 10-12 June 2019, and we presented the following two pieces of work:

Democracy beyond the state: Non-state actors and the legitimacy of climate governance

Since the climate change agenda under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is increasingly linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we take the post-Paris climate governance landscape as an opportunity to speak about the relationship between democracy and sustainability. More precisely, we explore how non-state and sub-state actors, such as civil society organizations, cities, indigenous groups or the business sector, shape the democratic legitimacy of climate politics in a complex multi-level governance context. While scholars have long discussed the role of non-state actors, in particular in global and transnational climate governance arrangements, the Paris Agreement with its focus on states’ voluntary climate plans – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – further blurs the lines between global commitments and national contexts. Non-state actors accompany climate policy formulation and implementation not only at the global level but also within national contexts, making the NDCs a primary target for democratic debate and contestation. At the same time, the Paris Agreement’s call to strengthen non-state actor engagement across multiple governance levels also triggers questions about democratic legitimacy. Discussing the NDC’s entry points for non-state intervention, this chapter asks if and how non-state actors can enhance the democratic legitimacy of climate politics in a multi-level governance setting. To do so, we first revisit the post-Paris climate governance landscape and the different roles associated with non-state actors. Based on earlier work dealing with the legitimacy of non-state actors in climate governance, we conceptualize democratic legitimacy along the five values of participation, representation, accountability, transparency, and deliberation. We discuss how non-state actors succeed or fail to deliver these democratic norms. In conclusion, the post-Paris climate governance landscape holds the potential to enhance, but also undermine the democratic legitimacy of political decisions through the integration of non-state actors which can be cooperative, confrontational or co-opted by state-driven agendas.

Between cooperation and confrontation: Non-state actors in post-Paris climate governance

At latest since the Paris Agreement on climate change, sub- and non-state actors are expected to play a crucial role in implementing climate politics. While scholars, particularly in International Relation, have done substantial work to conceptualize non-state intervention in climate governance, they pay little tribute to the competing narratives and underlying assumptions related to non-state action. Bringing together insights from a variety of research communities with fundamentally different ontologies, we propose a more critical perspective towards non-state action in climate governance that takes into account multiple interpretations of their potential role in a post-Paris context. To do so, we recapitulate how non-state actor involvement is conceptualized in relation to three fundamental themes of contestation: the relation between non-state actors and the state, their ambition in society, and the authority of knowledge claims. These contesting themes are then linked to grand ontological disputes between objectivist and constructivist approaches. Three idealized role-models for non-state action in climate governance (namely cooperative, confrontational, and co-opted) are developed to guide critical social science research in the future. We conclude that various research communities offer multiple answers to the question of what role non-state actors play, due to competing ontologies and epistemological assumptions. To avoid a depoliticized and overly technical understanding of non-state action detached from deeper societal meanings and conflicts we argue that climate governance research should not limit itself to the mechanisms of effective non-state action in (global) climate governance. Instead, there is a need to ask how an inclusive climate regime can respond to competing perspectives on the state, societal change and knowledge making. While we juxtapose, but also integrate different streams of literature we foster a critical and reflexive debate across these communities.


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