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Participatory governance

Three propositions regarding the connection between greater participation in democratic processes and sustainability can be made:

1.    Power structures in current forms of liberal democracy have biased decision-making against sustainability. In other words, the political systems tend to appease powerful economic interests at the expense of the overall wellbeing of the majority.  Only the active political engagement of the wider citizenry has the potential to redress this situation.

2.    Sustainability is a substantively different problem from the problems for which the current political and policy system has evolved to cope.  This means open and informed debate is required, across society, about the likely consequences of unsustainability and, given these, what values ought to underpin society’s decisions.  Greater participation in democratic processes is required to ensure:

  • a society-wide understanding of the issues;

  • the contribution of society’s best intellectual resources;

  • the debate is not biased by short term economic interests; and

  • the debate is not biased by the short term political interests of governments.

3.    Scale is a critical consideration for democratic participation and in this regard local and sub-national (regional) remain critically important.  While sustainability requires a sophisticated balancing of agency from local to global levels, enhanced local and regional action is critical for three reasons:

  • One, it is the scale at which much direct action needs to be taken and coordinated.  This local level implementation is likely to be more effective if a high degree of responsibility and ownership is felt, which presupposes a high level of community participation.

  • Two, it is through activities at the local or regional level that individuals can engage in a meaningful political discourse about sustainability.

  • Three, it is from this level that any counterbalancing and political opposition to the power of purely economic interests, global corporations, or the state has to be mobilised and sustained.