Public Deliberation with Climate Change: Opening up or Closing down Policy Options? 

Paper by Gwendolyn Blue, Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law - July 2015

The principle of public participation is increasingly recognized as central for effective climate governance, although underpinning assumptions about what constitutes participation are not always clearly articulated. This article inquires into the challenges faced when lay citizens are asked to engage in deliberative ‘mini-publics’ geared towards providing input into climate policy. While advocates claim that these innovative forums improve collective decision making by creating the conditions for a socially diverse constituency to learn about and deliberate on salient public issues, critics caution that the democratic potential of deliberative initiatives can be compromised from the outset by a deeper set of assumptions that position public meanings as the domain of expert institutions. Rather than opening up public issues to diverse meanings, mini-publics can inadvertently close down public debate where only expert issue framings are considered valid, reasonable and credible. The admirable objective to include lay publics in climate policy can be limited in practice by a tendency to frame climate change as an inherently expert-based issue. Defining the discussions as the exclusive preserve of experts can implicitly preclude wider public involvement, in turn limiting the knowledge and perspectives available for policy makers.