Governance, Democracy and Sustainable Development
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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.
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Chapter 6: ‘Think globally, act locally!’ But what on earth can local governments do about global climate change?

Lennart J. Lundqvist


Assessing the pros and cons of taking climate action presents local decision-makers with a political dilemma. To take the slogan ‘think globally, act locally!’ seriously implies that although the effects of climate change are globally shared, ‘the physical scale of the human impact on the non-human natural world has reached a point where not just local or regional, but truly global ecological processes are being effected’ (Meadowcroft 2002, p. 176). If this is seen as postulating that an effective climate strategy must simultaneously address the individual and global scales together, local actors should never forget that economic and social activities within their cities and municipalities do contribute to climate change far beyond their local jurisdictions. But at the same time as these activities are necessary for developing and sustaining local welfare, the specific contribution–and thus responsibility–of one local community to global climate change may remain unclear to its decision-makers. In a pessimistic scenario this could lead to an impasse. When local climate action is seen as jeopardizing local economic and social development, local governments may resort to minimalist modes of governing climate change and may even opt for a free ride on the issue of climate change. In an optimistic scenario the competition among local governments to mobilize resources may lead some to view actions on climate change as an opportunity to enhance local identity and thus, in the long run, to attract and develop new resources (see Zannakis 2010; Schreurs 2008; ICLEI 2010).

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