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Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg

Climate change has rapidly emerged as a grand challenge confronting humanity. While fossil fuels have over the last two centuries underpinned the rapid economic development of our global economy, this has also resulted in a fundamental disruption to our planet’s carbon cycle and now threatens the habitable climate upon which human civilization has relied. The consequences of the climate crisis are only now revealing themselves in terms of extreme weather events of growing ferocity and step-changes in basic ecological processes. In this chapter the authors outline how political and economic responses to the climate crisis can be understood as forms of social innovation. In contrast to the narrow contemporary understanding of social innovation as reliant upon market mechanisms and corporate self-regulation, they argue that social innovation must return to older conceptions of the central role for civil society and communities in defining solutions based on improved social justice, equality and human rights. The authors outline three key political-economic models of social innovation in response to climate change: business as usual, green economy and climate mobilization. They identify the ways in which each of these models propose different understandings of social innovation in responding to the climate crisis in terms of their underlying ideological narrative and the proposed roles of business, government and civil society. The chapter concludes by identifying areas for future research in terms of more critical understandings of social innovation, the role of social movements and bridging the discursive duality of humanity and nature.