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A wicked problem and slow democracy – an impossible equation?

Climate change is a quickly evolving wicked problem. As the IPCC special report has pointed out, we only have limited time to react to the changes in climate to halt the warming within the scope of 1,5 degrees. If we don’t take action, the climate will warm quickly, and the effects can be devastating.

Climate change is a problem that will have profound effects on our life. It relates to various themes, such as global justice, regional differences, economy, biodiversity and sharing common goods. The complicated network of the accelerators and decelerations of climate change can also be seen in politics, where politicians always redetermine what we talk about when we talk about climate. The governance of issues related to climate change is fragmented and decisions are made in various areas, regionally, on state level and globally.

What is the role of multiparty democracy?

The most important task of multiparty democracy in this challenging situation is to find solutions, which are deemed just, and people are willing to commit to – and on top of all this, guide the decisions of people to be more sustainable.

In his book Democracy and Global Warming (2001) Barry Holden examines the reasons why it has been so extremely difficult to make the changes needed in our society to stop global warming. Firstly, the decisions needed would require people to give up something for uncertain benefits. Global warming cannot be stopped or eradicated completely; we can only reduce its effect to some extent. Secondly, the changes made need to be global to have the impact we need.

Holden thinks that democracy is the answer to these problems. Even though democracy is seen as a slow way to solve wicked problems, only by bringing people into the decision-making process is it possible to find the tools that are just, and people are ready to commit to.

Involving the public in decision-making

Thomas Beirle and Jerry Cayford argue in Democracy in Practice: Public Participation in Environmental Decisions (2010), that involving the public in environmental decisions creates solutions, which are responsive to public values and robust, and also help to build trust, resolve conflicts and educate people.

Including the public in decision-making and deliberation are slower ways to solve problems, but those produce decisions, which are more robust and just. Tackling climate change requires everyone to be committed and act towards a common goal.

The role of civil society in democracies is vital. It can have an important role in pushing decision-makers to do more, as Kimmo Tiilikainen says in his column. Civil society’s will to act can be seen in the climate marches and strikes all over the world.

Not forgetting the role of the civil society, the role of political parties and representative democracy in making the final decisions and setting the guidelines for the actions of a state is important. Therefore, strong, inclusive and functional institutions have a crucial role in advancing climate politics. Global wicked problems also require global solutions, so the global and regional cooperation between states is vital.

Anna Antila

The writer works as Demo Finland’s Programme Assistant

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