In the aftermath of the failure that was the twentieth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) in Lima, Peru, how are we to imagine (let alone actually construct) a more effective as well as more democratic climate regime? There is little indication that the next COP in Paris will be any different; dissensus, contestation, and inertia characterize the global climate regime despite increasing popular interest and grassroots activism on climate policies. The authors of Democratizing Global Climate Governance seem fully aware of the need for inclusion and deliberation on policies of global warming. Not only do they provide a timely intervention to debates in IR relating to authoritarian and/or ecologically hostile responses to climate change, but they also provide compelling evidence that a UNFCCC reformed with deliberative ideals could be an efficacious starting point to address the climate crisis.

The book’s core purpose is to investigate how deliberative democratic governance can respond to the various challenges that humanity faces as the climate crisis deepens. To do this, the authors analyze the main premises and conditions of deliberation, particularly authenticity and reflexivity (as proposed by a long line of scholars working on deliberative models of democracy) and propose their inclusion in climate governance. This empirical work focuses mainly on the existing international regime on climate change and its various loci, thereby going beyond the UNFCCC. Governance networks, public–private partnerships, climate activism, and popular initiatives are studied systematically from a deliberative governance perspective.

Stevenson and Dryzek begin by problematizing claims that democracy is either not feasible or not desirable in global (climate) governance. First they discredit what they call “the authoritarian temptation” (p. 5–6): the suggestion that climate change is a super-wicked problem and therefore democracy must be put on hold for a while. They point to the necessity of democracy for effective problem-solving and the implausibility of global authoritarianism. They note that authoritarianism often results in less environmental protection and that reflective public opinion favors a stronger climate regime. Second, the authors question the arguments of mainstream governance and IR that object to democracy in the international system. While prominent democratic theorists and IR scholars argue that “democracy is something that can be an aspiration for the states—but not for [the international system]” (p. 6), Stevenson and Dryzek argue that global democratic practices do not resemble liberal democratic systems, suggesting that representative democracy is not applicable on the global level. Various other democratizing practices—even those impossible in current liberal democracies—can nevertheless be operationalized at the global level, particularly when democratization is regarded as a matter of degree rather than as a binary (present or absent) choice. Furthermore, scholars of IR and governance have focused on concepts such as accountability and transparency in order to address legitimacy issues in global decision-making, only recently including deliberation in global democracy debates.

The empirical analysis is rich and deep. The authors focus on deliberation and the main components of a deliberative system: private, public, and empowered spaces; transmission across these spheres; accountability; meta-deliberation; and decisiveness. While the starting point is the international system and the UNFCCC’s potential for deliberative practices, later chapters focus on more diffused modes of authority, such as governance networks and specific public–private partnerships working on various aspects of climate change.

The book ends with several sensible and well-argued proposals to reform global climate governance, one of which is especially intriguing. The authors argue that particular nation-states and civil society organizations could represent particular discourses on a deliberative minilateral platform: “[I]t is possible to interpret non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and activists in their normal activities as discursive representatives” (p. 196). Although representing discourses in a deliberative platform might be a legitimate reform to democratize climate governance, there are two problems that the authors do not reflect upon. First, the assumption that a single actor can represent a particular discourse simplifies processes of identity formation around discourses. Discourse coalitions are formed among actors with various viewpoints, and hegemonic contestations take place regularly between them. Deliberation among actors representing discourses can hardly result in legitimate decisions for all involved and affected, as actors would be representing one version of a larger ideological framework. Second, the practical issue of how to exclude from the process actors who believe they have something to say remains unresolved. When several similar processes emerge, competition, fragmentation, and hegemonic contestations seem to follow naturally, as happened with certification practices in the 1990s. An example is the competition between the Forest Stewardship Council, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, and various national timber certification programs (such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative in the US, the Malaysian Timber Certification Council, the Australian Forestry Standard, and Keurhout in the Netherlands). There is no guarantee that minilateral deliberation platforms on climate change will not experience the same kind of competition.

Similar problems occur in every policy suggestion made about the imperative to democratize global climate governance. This timely volume is likely to lead to critical debates about the subject and inspire deliberative practices in other areas of environmental governance.