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Ecomodernist citizenship

Updated: Apr 16, 2019

This month we have seen two noteworthy developments in the discussion on climate change. First, on 8 October 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a much-debated and urgent report on the steps that need to be taken to reduce global warming to 1,5 degrees Celsius. One day after the publication of the report, the Hague Court of Appeal in the Netherlands upheld the groundbreaking 2015 decision of the Hague District Court in the Urgenda case, in which the Court had ordered the Dutch government – drawing on the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations – to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions with 25% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. The Urgenda case was the first in the world in which citizens held their government accountable for contributing to dangerous climate change.

Jonathan Symons and Rasmus Karlsson have asked how ‘citizenship’ is relevant to combatting climate change. Introducing the concept of ecomodernist citizenship, they argue this concept is relevant as it ‘emphasises citizens’ rights to a habitable environment, specific rights of habitation consistent with intensification of urban form, and duties to promote (just) institutional arrangements capable of accelerating both low-carbon innovation and intensification, and practices of viewing participation in innovation and intensification as virtuous and worthy of particular social esteem’. An important element in their paper is their plea for radically improved technologies to maintain our current levels of mobility and consumption without irredeemably damaging the environment. Crucially, ecomodernism ‘ascribes a central role to publicly funded innovation in steering technological change towards socially desirable objectives’. They emphasize how the ‘Entrepreneurial State’ throughout history ‘steered the direction of technological change and has often created entirely new technologies and sectors that set the stage for later long-run economic growth’. The emphasis on public sector initiatives deviates from the position that citizens, as consumers, have a duty to reduce their ecological footprint. Ecomodernism, by contrast, relies more heavily on the duties incumbent on people as citizens, submitting that ‘individuals have moral obligations to invest heavily in political advocacy promoting emissions reduction, but only indirect political reasons to reduce their own emissions in support of this advocacy’.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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