By John Rountree, University of Houston-Downtown, USA

This thematic collection brings together research in this journal on the intersection of climate change and deliberative democracy. 

Climate change is an exigent subject for deliberative democracy scholarship and practice. It is a complex, multi-faceted issue that raises challenges for democratic governance such as ensuring equitable and inclusive decision processes in the face of climate injustice, coordinating among multiple state and civil society actors within a system of "networked governance” (Stevenson & Dryzek, 2014), integrating climate science research into public decision making, and recognizing the rights of non-human agents. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the issue has received substantial attention from deliberative scholars and that deliberative innovations, such as citizens’ assemblies, are increasingly being used to address the issue. The Knowledge Network on Climate Assemblies (KNOCA) has been particularly active in cultivating knowledge and providing guidance to improve the use of citizens’ assemblies in climate governance. 

A worthy challenge for climate change deliberation is developing effective ways to facilitate citizen input within transnational and global governance structures. One method that has received some examination is the World Wide Views on Global Warming that took place in 2009 in the leadup to the COP15 United Nations (UN) negotiations on climate change in Copenhagen. Organizers across 38 countries involved roughly 4,000 citizens in one-day consultative deliberations and voting. Each participating country had a process with about 100 participants. Jade Herriman, Alison Atherton, and Lorien Vecellio (2011) offer a detailed look at the World Wide Views consultation that took place in Australia with lessons learned from adapting the World Wide Views framework to their event. Edna F. Einsiedel (2013) interviews project managers from 12 of the countries involved, revealing several tensions in organizing deliberations in a transnational context, such as the tension between standardizing processes across countries and adapting to local contexts. 

The media have a vital role to play in bridging divides between international governance and citizens on climate change. Diógenes Lycarião and Antal Wozniak (2017) examine Brazilian mass media coverage of the COP15 negotiations. They contend that the media help address two structural deficits in the deliberative system of international governance on climate change: publicity and intelligibility. Specifically, they position the mass media as a prism that translates international governance discourses for heterogenous public audiences, provides an information gateway for active citizens to search for more specific content, and makes the backstage of governance more publicly visible. 

Robust evaluation also needs to be integrated into climate change deliberations to understand the deliberative quality of the processes and the outcomes that result. Peter B. Edwards et al. (2008) develop a comprehensive three-stage evaluation model to assess the quality of inputs, process, and outputs from deliberations. In detail, they illustrate this model by evaluating the Ethos Foundation's “Courageous Conversation” on Climate Change and Transforming Energy to provide practical insights for improvement. Niklas Gudowski and Ulrike Bechtold (2013) argue that it is important to model, track, and evaluate information flows within participatory processes. They examine the information flows in the Austrian process of World Wide Views on Global Warming and use surveys to evaluate the quality and impact of information. Sara A. Mehltretter Drury et al. (2021) use interpretive methods to evaluate how participants examine expert evidence in Scottish citizens’ juries on wind farms. They conclude that the deliberative quality of participants’ engagement of expert evidence was issue-dependent: participants would dialectically connect economic expert evidence with local knowledge and experiences, but they would accept or reject expert evidence de facto on environmental or health issues. 

As educational materials are crafted for deliberations, we should be cautious that climate change can privilege scientific or other technical frames that both shut down citizen participation and conceal the values underpinning such frames. Gwendolyn Blue and Jacquie Dale (2016) use two deliberative mini-publics from the Alberta Climate Dialogue project to show how divergent discussion materials can either open up or shut out alternative frames for understanding climate change, such as a social justice frame. They call for critical reflexivity in framing climate change deliberation, which “actively acknowledges and openly expresses the diverse meanings, assumptions, and values at individual and institutional levels” (p. 16). 

The articles in this thematic collection highlight the value of deliberative democracy research to public decision making on climate change. Climate governance constitutes a complex deliberative system with a variety of intervention points for further scholarship, such as evaluating deliberative practices, promoting deliberative framing materials, or conceptualizing citizen participation in global governance. 


Stevenson, H. & Dryzek, J.S. (2014). Democratizing global climate governance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Research Article


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