Governance, Democracy and Sustainable Development

Governance, Democracy and Sustainable Development

Moving Beyond the Impasse

Edited by James Meadowcroft, Oluf Langhelle and Audun Ruud

The contributors explore the difficulties developed countries are experiencing in coming to terms with environmental limits and the resultant challenges to the democratic polity. They engage with different dimensions of the governance challenge including norms, public attitudes, citizen engagement, political conflict, policy design, and implementation, and with a range of environmental problems such as climate change, biodiversity/nature protection, and water management. The book concludes with an essay by William Lafferty that explores the flawed character of the contemporary democratic polity and offers his reflections on possible pathways to reform.

Chapter 12: Climate change, the common good and the promotion ofsustainable development

Susan Baker

Subjects: environment, environmental politics and policy, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy, public policy, regulation and governance


The aim of this chapter is to use the notion of the ‘common good’ to ground an environmental ethic that will help underpin our responses to global environmental change, particularly climate change. Given the need to engage in collective action in the face of our climate crisis, combined with the often politically fragile, hesitant and, to date, ineffective nature of such collective action, it becomes important to find ways to ground such action on strong normative principles. Furthermore, many of the actions that are taken arise out of a concern to promote national self-interest, which often has little in common with a state’s declaratory commitment to promote sustainable development. To help break the impasse on collective action to protect our common future, we turn to the development of an environmental ethic based on the notion of the common good. The attempt to apply normative principles to practical problems brings us to issues of applied ethics. When we adopt the notion of the common good as a normative principle this then forms a moral standard that regulates right and wrong conduct in relation to how we–international agencies and organizations, governments, society and the individual–both mitigate and adapt to global climate change. The onus is on us to develop these normative principles because we have the power of reasoning and we have both the capacity and the obligation to act as ethical beings. As we will argue, however, this power does not make humans the primary subjects of ethical deliberations and moral behaviour.

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