Environmental Justice and Climate Change: Operationalizing cross-scale governance for energy production using multi-criteria, multi-stakeholder evaluation methods




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AYDIN Cem İskender
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REEDS-UVSQ 15 Bergerie Nationale Bâtiment Aile Sud 78120 Rambouillet
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background and objectives

The growth in consumption and production has escalated the need for energy and raw materials, with resource use reaching exceptionally high levels worldwide. Today, contrary to beliefs that the economy will ‘dematerialize’ and economic growth ‘decouple’ from natural resources and environmental impacts, the resource extraction (e.g. oil, copper, gold, uranium and biomass) frontier continues to expand. This so-called increased social metabolism causes social and ecological conflicts throughout the world and ignites environmental justice movements against dams, thermal and nuclear energy plants, mines, industrial fishing, waste disposal and so on (Martinez-Alier, 2002; 2012).

Climate change is one of the well-known results of the growing social metabolism of the world. And the most important cause of the climate change is the consumption of fossil fuels for the ever growing energy demand of the increasing population. As the climate is a complex system, with multiple interactions and feedbacks between the nature and people (and other subsystems), the facts given by the science are diverging, involve uncertainty and confusing information, while the decision-making is urgent and with many decision makers and affected parties (Saloranta, 2001; Ferkany and Whyte, 2011). 

As many scholars have argued (e.g. Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1994; Faucheux and O’Connor, 1998; Martinez-Alier and O’Connor, 1999; O’Connor and Spash, 1999; Munda, 2008), in cases where priorities, attitudes and perceptions differ—the so-called value pluralism—reaching a decision/solution based on technical schemes alone that satisfies all parties is not easy. The policy making problem of climate change is one of the such social choice situations, where on the one hand, ‘…facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent’ (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1991, p. 137) and a deliberative practice is needed on the other, since there is a long or short term distributional conflict resulting from environmental change and risk (Faucheux and O’Connor, 2005; Frame and O’Connor, 2011).


The lack of a common value system, the incommensurability of existing values, and the uneven occurrences of impacts (hence unequal distribution of costs) resulting from the climate change mean that creating a participatory and deliberative process that addresses different dimensions and aspects of the conflict is crucial to arrive at a legitimate decision and/or reach a consensus, and more importantly to reach the climate justice. In such conflict cases, deliberative multi-criteria/multi-stakeholder evaluation methods that integrate multiple perspectives and different valuation languages are put forward as governance and decision aiding tools for their ability to accommodate incommensurability and pluralism in a transparent manner, and therefore can be employed in assessing trade-offs and consequences. The well-established but still diverse multi-criteria literature (de Montis, et al., 2005; Polatidis, et al., 2006) is still mostly technocratic, which make communities feel that ‘outside self-appointed “experts” were intruding with concepts, ranking criteria and conclusions alien to the sentiments of the people themselves’ (O’Connor, 2000, p. 183). Attempts has been made to overcome such issues by transforming the method to a more deliberative and participatory one (e.g. Banville,, 1998; de Marchi, et al., 2000; Chamaret, et al. 2007; Munda, 1995, 2008; O’Connor and Spangenberg, 2008).

Unfortunately, uncertainty, value plurality, and participation are not the only challenges faced while tackling the climate change problem. Having impacts ranging from global to local, the scale issue (both spatial and jurisdictional) is another important challenge to tackle and hence, governance mechanism with coordination across multiple scales becomes necessary. The current interaction between scales is mostly vertical and top-down, defined by the power resulting from the jurisdictional schemes (Chase, et al. 2006; Young, 2006). As put forward by Kates et al. (2006), there exists a mismatch between the scales where the decisions are made and actions are taken. The large scale scientific knowledge and global policies designed accordingly have little or no relevance local decision makers and vice versa, the local and indigenous knowledge is disregarded and seen incredible by the national and international actors (Cash et al, 2006). The scale mismatch between actors operating at different levels creates another source of conflict, a challenge which is yet to be addressed.

There are many studies putting forward the necessity of multi-level/participatory governance in such cross scale cases ranging from the community to the international level. (e.g. Berkes, 2006; Chase, et al. 2006; Lemos and Agrawal, 2006; Paavola and Adger, 2006). However, as also claimed by Paavola and Adger (2006), there is not any clearly distinguishable level of decision making for undertaking actions. Hence, the questions of “how the governance should be operationalized” and “which actors should participate” do not have clear answers. At this junction, the participatory multi-criteria tools can be useful in framing this complex problem.

outcome and expectations

It is hoped that by taking different languages of valuation into account and bringing together different stakeholders to discuss conflicting issues at different scales, this study will contribute both to multi-level governance and to the deliberative multi-criteria/multi-stakeholder evaluation literature, particularly in framing and understanding cross scale/multi-level conflicts. The constructed deliberation framework will try to generate legitimate outcomes through a bottom-up organic community process that recognises both environmental and social needs, instead of technocratic solutions imposed by experts or decision-makers and to improve cross scale linkages from local to global. As such, the study will contribute to the desired focus shift in environmental policies from technocratic environmental management to participatory environmental governance.

In an attempt to operationalize this aim, this study will use conflicted cases for energy production alternatives for they are particularly important and are strongly related to the climate change, and for they play an important role as part of the both adaptation and mitigation.

more informations

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Chamaret, A., O’Connor, M., Recoche G., 2007. Top-down/bottom-up approach for developing sustainable development indicators for mining: application to the Arlit uranium mines (Niger).  International Journal of Sustainable Development 10 (1/2), 161 – 174.
De Montis, A., De Toro, P., Droste-Franke, B., Omann, I. and Stagl, S., 2005. Criteria for quality assessment of MCDA methods. In: M. Getzner, C. Spash and S. Stagl (eds), Alternatives for Environmental Evaluation, Routledge, London, pp. 99-133.
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Bogazici University - Turkey
Governance ePLANETEe Blue, RCE members, EJOLT
thematic field
Ecological economics