York University Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change Professor Ellie Perkins co-authored a new paper in the Journal of Global Environmental Change investigating the role of quality of governance, social capital and equality as preconditions for enacting climate policies.
Climate change mitigation is typically assessed through the lens of technologies and policies; however, the paper “Designing a virtuous cycle: Quality of governance, effective climate change mitigation, and just outcomes support each other” investigates the role of governance and social capital in the creation of effective climate policies.
The researchers reveal that the quality of governance underpins social capital, interpersonal trust, equality and effective climate change mitigation policies. Conversely, socioeconomic inequalities were found to reduce trust and political engagement, and thus compromise the overarching goal of climate change mitigation.
“My ongoing research and teaching on climate justice at all scales, from local to global, relate closely to the participatory, equity-oriented focus of this new paper,” says Perkins.
The team of researchers involved, including Felix Creutzig, a professor of sustainability economics at the Technical University of Berlin, used international data, estimates of social trust and other empirical evidence to demonstrate the correlations among social trust, good governance and effective climate change mitigation.
Perkins worked with some of the co-authors of this paper previously, on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 6th Assessment Report, which was published last year and documented the close interrelationship evident in peer-reviewed literature between socioeconomic, equity-focused policies and successful climate policies.
“We traced several paths that help to explain this link, mostly involving social trust in fair governance, which is necessary for people to support and advance the extensive socioeconomic and political transformations involved in the energy transition beyond fossil fuels,” says Perkins.
“International colleagues bring diverse perspectives and insights on the central climate justice challenge,” she explains. “The high-emitters most responsible for climate chaos are those least likely to suffer its impacts.”
In addition, a “lack of social capital and impartiality is a major barrier to climate change mitigation in many countries,” the paper states. “As climate change mitigation is a global public good that can only be achieved together, this is troublesome news.”
The researchers are hopeful that their findings will help lead to positive change in future climate mitigation practices, with social systems as a core focus of policies and assessments, and international efforts to increase the quality of governance globally. Non-policy streams of climate action, such as renewable energy, should also be considered as a powerful tool.