Deliberative democracy and environmental justice: Evaluating the role of citizens’ juries in governance of the climate emergency

Amy Ross, James Van Alstine, Matthew Cotton, Lucie Middlemiss

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Declarations of climate emergency around the world are a clarion call for a rapid decarbonisation of energy, food and transport systems to net zero by 2030. Whilst many scientists have highlighted the need for rapid transformation and political and economic commentators have called for justice to be embedded in the change, there are fewer scholars providing pathways for how a ‘just transition’ may be achieved. As a political discourse, climate emergency highlights the failure of national climate leadership, and is paralleled by a growing dissatisfaction towards international negotiation as a means to achieve progress. Governing city and regional low carbon transitions is itself a site of policy innovation, but this raises issues of justice. Justice literature emphasises distributive and procedural elements, enhanced by other facets of justice (notably recognition, representation and temporal justice). Understanding the mechanisms of policy engagement and the participation and authority of different actors in urban climate governance is particularly important as cities move to declare climate emergency, so that the interests of both climate change governance and political equality can be advanced simultaneously. Citizen’s juries are one of a range of deliberative democracy tools that aim to allow a demographically representative sample of the population to learn about a contested issue from experts, discuss, debate and develop policy recommendations. In this way citizens’ juries have the potential to overcome a lack of trust between experts and powerful decision makers, which stems from embedded socio-economic inequality and conflicting messages about the climate crisis. Leeds City Council declared a climate emergency in March 2019, compelling the local authority to take serious measures across industries and sectors to implement a reduction in carbon emissions to net zero by 2030. A citizen’s jury was established by an independent local body, the Leeds Climate Commission, to debate various possible courses of action in response to the declaration. This research critically examined the processes surrounding and embedded in the Leeds citizens’ climate jury with a focus on procedural justice and representation justice. Research questions were based on a framework by Graham Smith (Deliberative Democracy and the Environment, 2003), asking to what extent does the citizens’ jury: capture and include marginalised voices; create space for contested values including those outside the mainstream; offer opportunities for empowerment of citizens by building their knowledge and capacity to influence decision making; and build trust between relevant actors? Qualitative methods such as non-participant observation and semi-structured interviews with members of the jury were used to collect and analyse data.


Conference2020 Workshop of the Environmental Politics and Policy Network
Country/TerritoryNew Zealand


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