Re-evaluating the changing geographies of climate activism and the state in the post-climate emergency era in the build-up to COP26

by Andrew P. Kythreotis, Candice Howarth, Theresa G. Mercer, Hannah Awcock and Andrew E.G. Jonas

15 Sep 2021
Journal of the British Academy
https://doi.org/10.5871/jba/009s5.069
25 (pp. 69-93)

Abstract: A key aim of much climate activism is to enhance climate ambition and hold local and national governments, as well as global governance forums like the United Nations (UN), to account for the ways in which they implement and monitor climate policy across society to reverse long-term climate change. In recent years new local forms of climate activism, particularly at the urban scale, have taken a more prominent role in this. Although place-based, such local forms of climate activism are at the same time multi-scalar in orientation and strategic focus. This is particularly true in the UK where climate activism has prompted a number of local councils to declare climate emergencies, providing a mechanism by which they can become locally accountable in the delivery of their climate action plans, whilst at the same time holding national government to prior and future commitments to global climate governance. Using interview data with experts working on climate emergency declarations research across the UK, we critically discuss four key themes that have underpinned and catalysed the changing geographies of civil-state relationships within the climate emergency and what this may mean for future global climate governance under the UNFCCC Conferences of the Parties (COP). We argue that decision-makers at COP26 need to take greater heed of the significance of this new broader urban climate activism and its role in geopolitically mobilising more equitable, democratic and inclusive forms of climate governance which give citizens and civil society more credence within global climate policy decision-making processes that have been up to now, dominated by national state discourses.

Keywords: Climate activism, climate policy and the state, climate emergency, COP26, democracy, civil society.

Article posted to the Journal of the British Academy, volume 9, supplementary issue 5 (Climate Activism)

Sign up to our email newsletters