Over the past 20 years, environmental, energy, and climate policies have been decided behind closed doors – with little input from the people who will be most affected by the outcome of the negotiations. Policy design has been driven by technocratic considerations that ignored or was simply uninterested in ordinary people’s priorities. As a result, clean air, renewable energy, and green spaces have all too often been sacrificed to the notion that environmentally friendly legislation increases costs and red tape for businesses and ultimately hurts the economy.
The good news is that a new pattern of citizen participation is emerging, especially in developing countries, with new voices and fresh ideas entering the debate. Around the world, citizens are demanding that their governments listen to them about environmental issues and put their needs and priorities first.
For years, the debate around environmental action in the United States and Europe was characterized by a focus on abstract principles and by political infighting. To some extent, this was understandable. Opposition to environmental action – from the fossil-fuel industry, political parties, and portions of the media – has been formidable.
But the result was a discussion that was far removed from the issues that are most important to ordinary people. Instead of discussing how ineffective public transport and polluted air was making life worse for billions of people, the talk centered on carbon trading, emissions trajectories, and the industrialization of China.
Fortunately, the discussion is now being brought back down to earth.
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