This post was written following the second Climate Emergency UK Conference I spoke at alongside Professor Nigel Watson, Professor of Environmental Governance at Lancaster University and Emily Tulloh, Senior Service Designer at FutureGov.
The climate emergency is as much a governance challenge as it is a technological, environmental or economic one. Governance is about when decisions can and should be made, who should get to decide, and how the benefits and costs of taking action should be shared across society.
21st-century governance must move beyond the idea of single organisations acting alone with fixed plans, inflexibly delivered. The scale, nature and severity of the climate and ecological emergency calls on us all to work collectively within our local places and across our wider governance and institutional systems.
Governance challenges in the climate era
For society to be able to respond effectively in a new climate era, we need governance arrangements that are designed to cope with a number of fundamental challenges. What are the main governance challenges?
Climate change is a challenge that touches different sectors, societal interests and scales of governance. Our traditional hierarchical structures were not designed for such a challenge. For those in positions of power or influence, navigating the interconnected elements of the environment, society and the economy can be complex.
Despite rapid advancements in our understanding of the climate, there’s still uncertainty around how to respond. We don’t know what the future will look like, or if the actions we’re taking now will work. Combined with the fact that individual and collective behaviours will affect the outcome, we’re shrouded in uncertainty.
The climate crisis can’t be solved by institutions, organisations or community groups working alone. The current culture of our institutions is focused too much on delivering what’s within their immediate control. It’s time to build trust and create more trusted relationships, enabling local communities to have confidence that their actions will be matched and amplified by actions happening elsewhere in government and in business.
Short-term political cycles are not designed to address long-term challenges and there’s an inevitable gap between action and results. To avoid catastrophic climate breakdown we know there are less than 10 years to halve global emissions which, if we stick to annual budget cycles, is only 10 points of reflection to pause, reflect and change course.
Governance principles for the climate era
So how can our institutions and local communities govern and manage together to respond to the climate and ecological emergency effectively? We’re sharing our ideas below, inviting you to help us develop and grow these principles.