Democratic Climate Glossary

What is the language of ‘climate democracy’? We know it’s evolving, and that some definitions are partial, or even contested. This Glossary offers a place of reflection on this emerging topic, including current references as listed further down the page. We warmly welcome your feedback and suggestions, by email to nadja@demsoc.eu.

a

active listening

The act of making a conscious effort not only to hear the words another person is saying, but more importantly, to hear the complete message that is being communicated. Creates understanding for authentic relationships, which are critical in social change work.

Reference: Wolvin, “Listening for Democracy by Andrew Dobson.”; Kasriel, Emily, “Deep Listening.”

actor framework

Leading systems change requires collaboration across diverse actors. How much and how actors come together has a bearing on the degree of rooted collaboration for climate resilience. Democratic Society's Democratic Climate Model features an Actor Framework to help us explain the types of actors involved in climate action, what roles they play, and how their roles must evolve to bring about just and sustainable climate futures. It also helps us think about whose voice is missing. Types of actors include artists, activists, researchers, grassroots groups, civil society, companies, governments, and journalists. The Actor Framework is adapted with permission from Reboot, New York.

Reference: Lee and Kropp, “Designing Collaborations for Urgent, Courageous Change.”

actors

The people – individuals or groups – involved in a climate democracy process. Actors have varying levels of engagement in the process, ability to influence outcomes, frequency of interactions or tensions, closeness and alliances.

When we say "non-involved actors" in the Democratic Climate Model we are referring to people or groups who could have or should have been part of a climate democracy process, but who were not. Opportunities may have been missed as a result of these actors’ exclusion.

"Non-human actors" refer to plants, animals, and natural features who are often forgotten, but importants actors in climate democracy. More and more humans are starting to think about how to create space for active multispecies, non-human voices in urban greening initiatives.

Reference: Beatley and Bekoff, “City Planning and Animals: Expanding Our Urban Compassion Footprint.”

adaptation

In the context of climate action, adaptation refers to the actions, plans, and policies undertaken to prepare human settlements and natural landscapes for the effects of climate change, including extreme weather and rising sea levels. Adaptation is all about improving our ability to cope with climate change. Think building sea walls, breeding crops that can tolerate droughts, and restoring the natural course of rivers.

Reference: Yoder, “Want People to Care about Climate Change?”

c

carbon footprint

How much carbon-dioxide emissions can you attribute to a country, company, or maybe your neighbor? The answer is their carbon footprint.

Reference: Yoder, “Want People to Care about Climate Change?”

carbon neutral

The term “carbon-neutral” is sometimes used instead of net-zero, and they broadly mean the same thing. There are also two specific categories of carbon-neutral technologies:

  • a process that generates CO₂ in a short-term cycle which does not add to global warming. An example of this is bioenergy, where CO₂ is initially absorbed by organic material, then released on conversion to energy. Overall, emissions are stable and there is no net increase in CO₂;
  • a process that generates CO₂ but captures and sequesters (stores) it, rather than releasing it to the atmosphere. An example of this is a coal-fired power plant fitted with carbon capture and storage technology. These processes generally have leakage – CO₂ emissions that do make it into the atmosphere – as part of their lifecycle.

Something is carbon neutral when the amount of CO₂ released in the atmosphere is equal to the amount that is taken out of the atmosphere. That amount can be very small or zero.

Reference: Allen, “Net-Zero, Carbon-Neutral, Carbon-Negative ... Confused by All the Carbon Jargon?”

circular economy

A system where nothing really gets thrown away. With a fully circular economy, our society would not produce waste or pollution. In other words, your old smartphone gets broken up into its different parts and recycled — or more likely, you’re repairing it. With a circular economy, we keep using products that we already have, and help natural systems regenerate.

Reference: Yoder, “Want People to Care about Climate Change?”

citizen

An individual member of the public. Who is considered a citizen varies depending on national perceptions and language. For example, in some languages the term citizen is associated with citizenship and voting rights and by definition excludes residents who do not have such rights.

citizens' assemblies

Where a representative sample of a community is assembled to learn about and deliberate on a given topic. Typically, citizens’ assemblies are used to generate recommendations that are supported by a cross-section of people. Such assemblies are usually given broad and open-ended themes to address, allowing participants to engage with the topic and shape the direction of deliberations.

Similar to a citizens’ assembly, a citizens’ jury or citizens’ panel is where a representative sample of a community is assembled to learn about and deliberate on a given topic. Typically, however, a citizens’ jury or citizens’ panel is smaller in nature than a citizens’ assembly and requires less time and engagement. Citizens’ assemblies, juries, and panels are all types of "mini-publics".

Reference: Harris, “Mini-Publics: Design Choices and Legitimacy.”

citizen science

Citizen science is the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge. Through citizen science, people share and contribute to data monitoring and collection programs.

It also fosters a sense of empowerment to participate in informed decision-making. This approach also recognises that expertise and knowledge can come from a wide array of sources and in differing formats.

Reference: National Geographic Society, “Citizen Science.”

civil society

One definition of civil society, which has been used for a long time, is: the arena outside of the family, the state, and the market, which is created by individual and collective actions, organisations and institutions to advance shared interests. This broad definition covers non-governmental organisations (NGOs), activists, civil society coalitions and networks, protest and social movements, voluntary bodies, campaigning organisations, charities, faith-based groups, trade unions and philanthropic foundations.

Newer definitions of civil society focus on civil society as a growing and changing ecosystem with both organised and organic components. The actors who are a part of this civil society ecosystem collaborate to achieve goals.

References: CIVICUS, “Who We Are”; VanDyck, “Concept and Definition of Civil Society Sustainability.”

climate action

An action taken with the intent to mitigate against climate change. Climate action is inline with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #13: take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Climate actions take many forms and vary in effectiveness.

Reference: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Goal 13.”

climate democracy

The ways in which democratic principles can lead governments to respond differently to climate change. Democratic Society's evolving Democratic Climate Model is underpinned by meaningful participation and legitimised by continuous community consent. A vital feature of climate democracy is that it strengthens democratic institutions in the long term through citizen participation.

Democratic Society has a dedicated climate and democracy focus through programmes including NetZeroCities and Healthy, Clean Cities Deep Demonstrations, where the core mission is to make climate change a democratic issue, as opposed to a technocratic issue. These programmes make use of citizen participation theory to develop engagement strategies and ensure public involvement.

co-design

Co-design is a participatory design-led approach to challenges of a more complex nature. It is more than a method – it is a mindset and a movement that employs different modes of collaboration, experimentation and creative thinking to challenge power dynamics, share knowledge, build and nurture trust and social connections. A co-design approach seeks to empower individuals to have a greater sense of agency in shaping the systems and services around them. Co-design is underpinned by five principles: outcomes-focus, inclusivity, participation, respectfulness, and adaptiveness.

References: Blomkamp, “Sharing the Principles of Co-Design.”; McKercher, “What Is Co-Design?”

crowdsourcing

A method by which to gather a lot of ideas from many people to address a given challenge. Crowdsourcing has the potential to generate new possibilities and harness the wisdom of a crowd. A crowdsourcing effort is usually challenge-based, e.g. ‘how should we implement XYZ?’.

“Crowdfunding” is different to crowdsourcing. It also involves collective effort between individuals and groups, but is focused on raising money, in lieu of access to capital or investors.

d

decarbonisation

The starting point for decarbonisation is our current policial, economic, technological and social systems that are tied to using carbon for energy in the form of fossil fuels. As a result, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, which causes climate change. Decarbonisation is delinking, decreasing or completely removing (depending on who you talk to) this tie to carbon, primarily in the form of fossil fuel energy.

Reference: Bernstein and Hoffmann, “Climate Politics, Metaphors and the Fractal Carbon Trap.”

Deep Demonstrations

A large-scale project funded and led by EIT Climate-KIC through which an innovative model is offered to mayors, government ministries, industries leaders, community leaders and funders who have the means and mandate to tackle Europe’s biggest climate change challenges. Deep Demonstrations are a way of accelerating learning about how to change the world in the context of urgency, diversity and radical uncertainty.

Democratic Society are design partners in EIT Climate-KIC’s Healthy, Clean Cities Deep Demonstrations project, alongside Bankers Without Boundaries, Dark Matter Labs and Material Economics. The project was created to inspire cities into thinking of new ways of imagining, experimenting and learning about climate democracy in order to write a blueprint for a replicable, scalable model to help achieve carbon neutrality. The work is being conducted across 10+ European cities.

deliberative democracy

The idea of deliberative democracy is rooted in liberal political theory and philosophy. Individual rationality and deep conversation are valued in deliberative democracy. In a deliberative democracy process individuals with different viewpoints, which are reflective of a wider public, carefully consider and discuss possible ways forward and reach a consensus position.

Deliberative democracy’s primary goal is increasing thoughtfulness, and participatory democracy’s primary goal is increasing inclusion.

References: Elstub and Escobar, “Defining and Typologising Democratic Innovations”; Mouffe, “Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism?”; Chilvers and Kearnes, Remaking Participation: Science, Environment and Emerging Publics.

design justice

Design justice rethinks design processes and centres on people who are normally marginalised by design, and uses collaborative and creative practices to address deep challenges in a community. 10 principles of design justice were codified by the Design Justice Network.

Reference: “Design Justice Network Principles.”

e

energy democracy

Just as a cleaner electricity system would be preferable, so too would a more democratic energy system, one that distributes economic and social power more widely. This is in contrast to our current opaque, fossil-dependent electricity system. The average citizen has little understanding of how it works, who is in charge, or how it might change for the better. One measure that serves both those goals at once is simply to get renewable energy in more people’s hands.

Reference: Roberts, “Energy Democracy.”

environmental justice

Underscores the broad idea that those who did the least to cause climate change and pollution are often the most at risk from the consequences.

Reference: Bullard, “Unequal Protection.”; Yoder, “Want People to Care about Climate Change?”

e-panel

A method to regularly consult with a medium to large number of people using online tools. E-panels are useful to gather views on a given question or proposal from a wide variety of people. They are focused in their nature and are usually designed as a questionnaire or survey.

f

future workshop

A method to collaborate with small groups of people to imagine and co-create preferred futures. Future workshops exist to empower people to develop solutions for their communities. Such workshops are usually problem-based and begin with a critique and exploration of the current situation.

Reference: Jungk, Future Workshops: How to Create Desirable Futures.

g

governance

Governance is concerned with the fundamental question of how to achieve organisation, decisions, order and rule in highly variable societies. At its core, governance addresses the problem of economic and political coordination in social life. Many different types of actors (civil society, corporations, or state agencies) and all scales (local, regional, national, or international) are involved in governance processes; governance is not only done by the state. That said, within state agencies, governance is the process by which public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources.

References: Bridge and Perreault, “Environmental Governance.”; Mertsola, “Review: Addressing the Most Complex Problems of the 21st Century Demands a Humble Approach to Policy-Making.”

h

humble governance

Innovative governmental leadership showing humility – “humble governance” – can lead to the transformation of government structures and processes to enable healthy, clean cities that benefit everybody. Central to humble governance is inclusive, empowering and ethical leadership and policy-making, driven by purpose and commitment to collaboration, to address complex barriers and wicked problems.

The term comes from measures taken to "help the Finnish Government in living up to its pledges for continuous learning, new forms of interaction with stakeholders and long-term policy-making through improved collaboration with parliament."

Source: Annala, Leppänen, Mertsola and Sabel (2020)

j

just transition

The idea that moving towards an energy efficient, zero-carbon, and increasingly resilient society is built on fairness and inclusivity, and providing ‘decent work’ for all. ‘Decent work’ means having employment security and a fair income, opportunities for personal development and social integration, better social protection for families, and equal participation and say in decisions affecting peoples’ livelihoods and how they are treated.

A just transition opens up possibilities for increased investment in social and physical infrastructure (e.g. health and social care programmes, and clean public transport), new and better quality jobs (e.g. in care sectors and green energy), and greater societal equity and justice.

References: International Labour Organization (ILO), “Decent Work.”; International Labour Organization, “Guidelines for a Just Transition towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies for All”; Smith, “Just Transition: A Report for the OECD.”

l

local conference of parties (COP)

A local COP is an opportunity for civil society actors to advocate and influence local decision-makers. Such an event concludes with decision-makers in a local administrative entity signing a common document of climate objectives.

local connectivity

Networks of local actors that share learning experiences and good practice quickly through the network. Momentum for change across all facets of society requires such networks to adapt to local challenges and opportunities and ensure adequate climate action is implemented.

m

mobilisation

Mobilisation is the degree to which citizens’ initiatives and civil society movements have united to press for adequate action on an issue.

Conversely, "de-mobilisation" happens when inhibiting factors prevent people from mobilising and taking action. Inhibiting factors can be both internal, i.e. a lack of motivation for the individual to take action, or external, i.e. the lack of a political opportunity for action to happen.

n

nature-based solutions

Nature-based solutions (NBS) are green infrastructure projects that are inspired by processes found in nature. NBS are applied in urban spaces, e.g. drainage systems that mitigate against flooding and are inspired by wetland ecosystems. NBS can help us transition from resource-intensive to more resource-efficient urban spaces and spark societal innovations.

References: Nevens et al., “Transition Labs: Co-Creating Transformative Action for Sustainable Cities”; Faivre et al., “Nature-Based Solutions in the EU: Innovating with Nature to Address Social, Economic and Environmental Challenges.”

net zero

Cancelling out the carbon dioxide we emit by making sure that the same amount gets absorbed by trees, plants, machines, or other things.

Reference: Yoder, “Want People to Care about Climate Change?”

p

participation

Participation means the active involvement of people in decisions, e.g. policy and planning decisions, that affect their lives. It can also be referred to as “engagement”. Participation can refer to the methods, practices or ways in which people are involved in decision-making. The context in which participation happens, and its motivations, also works to exemplify how organisers of and participants in participatory processes think the world ought to be, or democracy ought to work.

Reference: Chilvers and Kearnes, “Preface.”

participatory budgeting

The process whereby members of a community deliberate on the allocation and distribution of public resources. This has long been recognised as a means of involving citizens in local governance and decision-making. Participatory budgeting provides an opportunity for a more equal budget planning process to take place and to support climate change mitigation and adaptation projects.

Reference: Ganuza and Baiocchi, “The Long Journey of Participatory Budgeting.”

r

relational leadership

The inclusive process of people working together to attempt to accomplish change or make a difference to benefit the common good. Relational leadership acknowledges the diverse talents of group members and trusts the process to bring about good thinking for socially responsible changes.

resident

A person who resides in a place either full or part time. This is a wider term than citizen and includes groups such as students or people who cannot vote. Residents should have a say in their surroundings, however, this is not always the case and some resident groups, like homeless people, are often excluded from decision-making processes.

resilience

Our ability to deal with climate change’s effects. Simply put, a more resilient New York City will be better able to withstand another Superstorm Sandy.

Reference: Yoder, “Want People to Care about Climate Change?”

retrofit

When a building is changed to become more energy efficient, sustainable, and resilient.

Reference: Ebrahimi, “Climate Resilience and Deep Retrofits.”

rooted collaboration

'Rooted collaboration' is the core idea of Democratic Society's Democratic Climate Model, involving deeper and wider citizen engagement that can help reimagine life in cities. Democratic Society believe rooted collaboration makes citizens feel more agency through enhanced participation and strengthens climate resilience in cities and regions through enhanced democratic decision-making. This approach connects citizens to their democratic institutions, giving them louder voice, representation and reach, and say in their collective futures.

'Weak collaboration' in comparison is characterised by shallow, narrow citizen engagement that diminishes the imagination of living together in the future. Weak collaboration causes citizens to feel less agency and relevance because they are left out of participatory activities or treated as an afterthought, and not involved in democratic decision-making. This approach keeps citizens at arms-length from democratic institutions and privileges dominant voices and power systems.

s

social movement theory

An interdisciplinary field of study within social sciences that seeks to understand and explain why mobilisation and collective action occur, the forms under which these manifest, as well as potential social, cultural, economic and political consequences.

Reference: Della Porta and Diani, The Oxford Handbook of Social Movements.

stakeholder

A person or group who has an investment or interest in a decision being made, or is likely to be directly impacted by said decision. Some stakeholders may represent organised groups, others may not even be aware that they are stakeholders.

sustainable

Using a resource 'sustainably' means in a way that won’t deplete it. Example: Making sure a forest has a bunch of new trees growing before you cut down an old one.

Reference: Yoder, “Want People to Care about Climate Change?”

system change and system thinking

System change describes the emergence of new patterns of organisation or system structure. For example, resource flows, power, ownership, values, goals and mindsets.

System thinking is a holistic approach to ‘seeing the system’, using different lenses to acknowledge systemic challenges at different levels and identify possibilities for change, within conditions of complexity and uncertainty. It requires interconnected, transdisciplinary thinking, emphasises connections and causality, seeks to break down siloed processes and practices, and adopts longer time scales.

System thinking is the opposite of linear thinking, an analytic, methodic, rational and logical thinking style. A linear thinking process moves forward like a simple line, with a start and an endpoint. In this style of thinking, time is limited to the present and to the future and focuses on the single elements on the path to the desired result.

References: Meadows, Thinking in Systems; Meadows, “Dancing with Systems.”

t

transition governance

A governance approach that aims to facilitate and accelerate sustainable transitions through a process of learning and experimenting. These governance structures often focus on transition social and technical systems, and you may see the hyphenated word “socio-technical” used to describe them.

w

wicked problems

Wicked problems are those that are often a symptom of another problem, do not have a clear set of solutions and are often unique in nature. Approaches to wicked problems should engage multiple perspectives on what solutions to adopt. ‘Bad’ approaches to wicked problems may have irreversible effects.

A decade ago, scholars and then campaigners started calling climate change a ‘super wicked problem’ to emphasise how difficult it is to overcome, and draw attention four key features: time is running out; those who cause the problem also seek to provide a solution; the central authority needed to address them is weak or non-existent; and irrational discounting occurs that pushes responses into the future.

References: Rittel and Webber, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”; Levin et al., “Overcoming the Tragedy of Super Wicked Problems”; Sediri et al., “Transformability as a Wicked Problem.”

z

zero-carbon

This refers to a process where no CO₂ is released at all. In fact, in our current global mining and manufacturing system, no technology produces zero emissions.

Reference: Allen, “Net-Zero, Carbon-Neutral, Carbon-Negative ... Confused by All the Carbon Jargon?”

Feedback and suggestions

This Glossary is designed to evolve, and we warmly welcome peer and community contributions. Feel free to email suggestions to Nadja Nickel, Climate Programme Director: nadja@demsoc.eu.

References

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Annala, M., Leppänen, J., Mertsola, S. and Sabel, C. F., “Humble Government: How to Realize Ambitious Reforms Prudently.”

Beatley, T, and M Bekoff. “City Planning and Animals: Expanding Our Urban Compassion Footprint.” In Ethics, Design and Planning of the Built Environment, edited by C Basta and S Moroni, Vol. 12. Urban and Landscape Perspectives. Dordrecht: Springer, n.d.

Bernstein, Steven, and Matthew Hoffmann. “Climate Politics, Metaphors and the Fractal Carbon Trap.” Nature Climate Change 9 (2019): 919–25.

Blomkamp, Emma. “Sharing the Principles of Co-Design.” July 30, 2018. https://emmablomkamp.medium.com/sharing-the-principles-of-co-design-4a976bb55c48.

Bridge, G, and T Perreault. “Environmental Governance.” In A Companion to Environmental Geography, edited by N Castree, 475–97. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Bullard, Robert D., ed. “Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color.” Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society 15, no. 4 (August 1995): 203–203. https://doi.org/10.1177/027046769501500454.

Chilvers, Jason, and Matthew Kearnes. “Preface.” In Remaking Participation: Science, Environment and Emergent Publics, edited by Jason Chilvers and Matthew Kearnes. London and New York: Routledge, n.d.

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Ganuza, Ernesto, and Gianpaolo Baiocchi. “The Long Journey of Participatory Budgeting.” In Handbook of Democratic Innovation and Governance. Cheltenham and Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2019.

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