Decision-making based on social-justice principles could be more effective than democratic efforts against climate change (see N. Stehr Nature 525, 449–450; 2015).
Democratic decision-making involves multiple stakeholders, and democracy emphasizes the mutual roles of actors: all preferences are treated as equal. In many regions of the world, however, the results of democratic choices can be strongly influenced by power relations and inequitable social arrangements, owing to differences in economic development, access to technology and knowledge.
Elites may use democratic processes to entrench their status or encroach on other social goals (B. Sovacool et al. Nature Clim. Change 5, 616–618; 2015). This can lead to incremental or undesirable results, which might explain why large democratic nations such as the United States continue to oppose progressive climate legislation.
In our view, sound climate and energy planning should not treat all stakeholders in the same way. Instead, preferences and roles should be weighted to consider criteria related to equity, due process, ethics and other justice principles. This would ensure that stakeholder discussions and resulting policies serve to eradicate, rather than exacerbate, socio-economic vulnerability to a changing climate.