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 14: Governance for sustainable development: the impasse of dysfunctional democracy

William M. Lafferty


The theme of the Oslo Symposium, for which the draft chapters of the present work were written, was the crucial issue of addressing the general impasse which had arisen with respect to the implementation of the international accords agreed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The theme was selected to mark the conclusion by the Research Council of Norway of the Programme for Research and Documentation for a Sustainable Society (ProSus), a ‘strategic programme’ supported by the Council during the period 1995–2009. As Director of ProSus throughout this period, I was honoured to celebrate my own ‘age of retirement’ at the symposium, and to participate in the discussion of the papers prepared for the event. By way of providing a conclusion to the present volume, I have been asked by the editors to give my summary assessment of what I see as the major reason for the impasse encountered in the pursuit of sustainable development (SD) implementation. Given the very specific evaluative mandate of the ProSus programme, this was a most reasonable–though clearly challenging–request. My nomination for ‘most fundamental impasse’ is the nature of the Western model of political decision-making itself: a model I choose to profile (following the work of Schumpeter, Dahl and numerous successors) as ‘competitive democracy’.

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