Climate re-public: Practicing public space in conditions of extreme complexity

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In their Introduction to this volume, Best and Gheciu define “public practices as patterns of activity that involve an understanding in a given society at a particular moment in time that something is of common concern.” That climate change governance entails public practices according to this definition is perhaps so obvious as to go unnoticed. It is more or less impossible to make any claim about climate change that does not refer to this quality. It is, for example, the foundational claim in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The first words of the Convention read “The Parties to this Convention, Acknowledging that change in the Earth's climate and its adverse effects are a common concern of humankind... ” (UN 1992: Preamble). The first principle enunciated in the Convention reads that “The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” (UN 1992: Article 3.1). More or less any governance document focused on climate change makes some sort of claim about climate change as a “common concern.”. But how might we say more about the qualities of public practices around climate change? Best and Gheciu's division of these into three types of argument – the public as eroded by the private, the reconstitution of the public sphere, and the notion of public goods – is a useful starting point. This chapter explores the reconstitution of the public in climate change governance. It suggests that while climate change is ubiquitously framed as a public-goods problem, thinking through how public is practiced in its politics is better understood by starting from its framing as a problem of complexity. The notion of public goods is ubiquitous in talk about climate change – but it arguably is not so useful in explaining what people do in relation to it.
Original languageUndefined
Title of host publicationThe Return of the Public in Global Governance
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)978-110728183-7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012

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