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Working Group on Democracy


This group gathers researchers from various disciplines who are interested in questions of democracy, power and legitimacy, and how these relate to the challenges of governing contemporary social-ecological interactions. We are particularly keen to explore the tensions and synergies between democratic and environmental values across all levels.

Our group has a strong presence at Earth System Governance conferences, and we have published a scoping article in the Earth System Governance journal on democratizing sustainability transformations in the Earth System Governance journal arising from discussions and collaborations within the working group.



Despite the urgency and scale of global environmental threats, many democratic states are struggling to act swiftly on problems such as climate change and biodiversity loss. At the same time, the resurgence of authoritarianism in many countries – often with an anti-environmental streak – threatens progress towards sustainability.

Questions on democracy and democratic legitimacy are thus central to the scholarship and practice of environmental politics and green political theory. Democratic values, such as representation, inclusion, participation, accountability, and transparency are central research themes in Earth System Governance. A broader range of concepts including deliberation, consensus, reflexivity, direct democracy, diffusion, and egalitarianism have been coined, studied, and promoted by ESG scholars from various disciplines, pushing the mainstream democratic values to more progressive policies. There has been a rise in attempts to increase participation and accountability on national levels, in regional and global environmental summits, such as multi-stakeholder dialogues, institutionalized representation of NGOs, and civil society deliberation. These may represent democratic innovations, which have consolidated a model of “participatory” or “bottom up” environmental governance aimed to reduce the “democratic deficit”, yet they might create new conflicts and challenges to be explored.



The aim of this working group is to critically explore the tensions and synergies between various types and values of democracy and planetary change on local, national and global levels. Eco-authoritarians are sceptical that democracy with its slow and cumbersome process can handle the scale and severity of the global environmental crisis while work on democratic innovations and new forms of citizenship reflect reconciliation between environmental politics and democracy. Others suggest technocratic solutions could resolve the tensions between democracy as we know it, and ecological catastrophes that are taking place. The working group examines how practices of environmental politics relate to various models of democracy, such as deliberative, representative, radical, ecological, stakeholder and participatory democracy. Another purpose of the working group is to explore relationships between democracy, expertise and planetary change.

Some key questions are: Can global environmental threats such as climate change be best handled within the institutions of democracy? Alternatively, are democratic polities too slow and cumbersome to handle accelerating global risks? Or is a shift in our understanding and current practices of democracy needed to address to these challenges? For example, might other forms of democracy, such as direct, deliberative or ecological democracy be better equipped to handle environmental problems than representative democracy? Do mechanisms to increase representation and participation of civil society and NGOs in international policy processes lead to a democratization of global environmental politics? Or conversely, how can NGOs increase democratic credentials if they are not democratic themselves? Can (and should) democracies of a different scale (beyond the nation-state and the current international system) be imagined for future democratic governance of the Earth’s systems? Does the de-politicization and technocratization, carbonification, and scientization of environmental politics lead to post-democratic politics?


Working Group Co-Conveners

Ayṣem Mert, Department of Political Science, Stockholm University

Frederic Hanusch, THE NEW INSTITUTE, Hamburg, and Panel on Planetary Thinking, Gießen University

Julia Tschersich, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University


Stay in contact and join our Google Group

We share information and plan activities using our Google Group. Please join us! In case you have trouble joining the Google Group, reach out to one of the co-conveners.


Activities and Events

Selected previous events and activities

  • ESG Speaker Series on Democratising Sustainability Transformations, 20th September, in collaboration with the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance
  • Working Group meeting at the Toronto ESG Conference 2022
  • Working Group meeting at the Bratislava ESG Conference 2021
  • Panel on “Democratic innovation & exnovation” at Bratislava ESG Conference 2021


Recent key publications focusing on Earth System Governance and Democracy

Baber, W. F., & Bartlett, R. V. (2021). Democratic Norms of Earth System Governance: Deliberative Politics in the Anthropocene. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.10.1017/9781108923651

Dryzek, J. S., & Tanasoca, A. (2021). Democratizing Global Justice: Deliberating Global Goals. Cambridge University Press.

Eadson, W., & Van Veelen, B. (2021). Assemblage-democracy: Reconceptualising democracy through material resource governance. Political Geography88, 102403.

Eckersley, R. (2020) Ecological democracy and the rise and decline of liberal democracy: looking back, looking forward, Environmental Politics, 29:2, 214-234, DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2019.1594536

Eckersley, R. (2021). Greening states and societies: from transitions to great transformations. Environmental Politics30:1-2, 245-265.

Hanusch, F. (2018). Democracy and Climate Change. Routledge.

Hanusch, F., & Meisch, S. (2022). The temporal cleavage: the case of populist retrotopia vs. climate emergency. Environmental Politics. 31:5, 883-903,

Mert, A. (2021). Challenges to Democracy in the Anthropocene. In International Relations in the Anthropocene (pp. 291-309). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Pereira, J. C., & Saramago, A. (Eds.). (2020). Non-human nature in world politics: Theory and practice. Springer Nature.

Pickering, J., Bäckstrand, K. & Schlosberg, D. (2020). Special Issue: Ecological and environmental democracy, Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning. 22:1.

Pickering, J., Hickmann, T., Bäckstrand, K., Kalfagianni, A., Bloomfield, M., Mert, A., … & Lo, A. Y. (2022). Democratising sustainability transformations: Assessing the transformative potential of democratic practices in environmental governance. Earth System Governance, 11, 100131.

Schlosberg, D., Bäckstrand, K. & Pickering, J. (2019). Perspectives on Ecological Democracy. Special Issue of Environmental Values 28:1.

Sénit, C. A., & Biermann, F. (2021). In whose name are you speaking? The marginalization of the poor in global civil society. Global Policy, 12:5, 581-591.

Thew, H., Middlemiss, L., & Paavola, J. (2021). Does youth participation increase the democratic legitimacy of UNFCCC-orchestrated global climate change governance? Environmental Politics30:6, 873-894.

Tschersich, J., & Kok, K. P. W. (2022). Deepening democracy for the governance toward just transitions in agri-food systems. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 43, 358–374.


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