Democracy and the Challenge of Climate Change

International IDEA Discussion Paper 3/2021
This publication is only available in electronic format
20 October 2021
978-91-7671-460-7 (PDF)
Daniel Lindvall

Climate change poses an existential threat for humanity and has become the defining issue of our time. The outcome of the climate crisis will depend on whether democracies can drastically reduce their carbon footprints in the coming years. Climate change already has an impact on democratic governance through its effects on food security, conflicts, water scarcity. migration and natural disasters, among other consequences. Climate change also tests the ways in which democracies cooperate and collectively confront issues of relevance to humankind. Democracies need to formulate and put in place effective responses to climate change to respond to the needs of the current and future generations.

Climate change actions in democracies face perceived challenges such as short-term bias in decision-making, policy capture or inconsistency, weak accountability mechanisms and the permeability of the policy-making process to interests adverse to fighting climate change through the role of money in politics. Apart from its intrinsic value to citizens, democracy also brings critical advantages in formulating effective climate policy, such as representative parliaments which can hold governments to account, widespread civic participation, independent media and a free flow of information, the active engagement by civil society organizations in policymaking and the capacity for institutional learning in the face of complex issues with long-term and global social and political implications. International IDEA’s work on climate change and democracy aims to support democratic institutions to successfully confront the climate crisis by leveraging their advantages and overcoming the challenges to formulating effective and democratically owned climate policy agendas.




Executive summary

1. Introduction

2. Climate change as a challenge to democracy 

3. Is democracy leading to lower emissions?

4. Why climate change is a challenging issue for democracy

5. Conclusions and recommendations


About the author

About International IDEA

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