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Climate change governance is in a state of enormous flux. New and more dynamic forms of governing are appearing around the international climate regime centred on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They appear to be emerging spontaneously from the bottom up, producing a more dispersed pattern of governing, which Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom famously described as 'polycentric'. This book brings together contributions from some of the world's foremost experts to provide the first systematic test of the ability of polycentric thinking to explain and enhance societal attempts to govern climate change. It is ideal for researchers in public policy, international relations, environmental science, environmental management, politics, law and public administration. It will also be useful on advanced courses in climate policy and governance, and for practitioners seeking incisive summaries of developments in particular sub-areas and sectors. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.
Introduction: climate change enters the political mainstream
In recent years, climate change has shifted from being a marginal political issue to one that has – depending on one's point of view – potentially transformative and/or calamitous consequences for virtually all policy areas. The change in its political status has been remarkably rapid but also substantial. So when the global economy slipped into a deep recession in the late 2000s, climate change remained alongside economic growth, employment and crime as a key political issue in the majority of industrialised states. As part of this political transformation, new actors have entered the debate. Whereas before, climate change had mainly preoccupied environmental ministries and their associated policy networks, it now attracts the sustained attention of political core executives: prime ministers, presidents and their inner cabinets. Since 2005, climate change has been a standing item at all G8 summits, and has been regularly debated at United Nations (UN) General Assembly sessions and in countless European Council meetings comprising the Heads of State of the European Union (EU). The issue of climate change has, in short, entered the political mainstream.
Having struggled for years to persuade politicians to take the issue seriously, environmental actors are now finding themselves under intense pressure to deliver policy solutions that are sufficiently coordinated with their counterparts in ‘non-’ environmental sectors such as energy, transport and agriculture.
[I]f you study the history of political decisions about the environment … you find that there are no New Jerusalems at the end of [the] road …. Each political decision implants a choice into our system of social values; this imperceptibly changes the system of values, and this in turn affects the next choice
(Ashby 1978: 78).
In his 1978 book, Reconciling Man with the Environment, Eric Ashby sought to address what he considered to be one of the most critical issues of his time: the protection of the environment. He believed that by continually making difficult policy choices and confronting the associated dilemmas, humans would gradually arrive at a fuller understanding of their environment and thus a more anticipatory approach to managing it. This reconciliation, he contended, would be achieved not by ‘heroic long-term megadecisions’ but by ‘the cumulative effect of wise medium-term microdecisions, each … clarifying the shape of the decision that needs to follow’ (Ashby 1978: 87).
Ashby was one of those rare individuals in public life who somehow managed to combine a lifelong career as a scientist (he was, among other things, President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and a Fellow of the Royal Society), with equally important roles in policy making. This sensitised him to the realpolitik of decision making.