Political Science, Climate Politics, and Change: Opportunities for Productive Engagement?

Steven Bernstein

Guest Lecture by Honorary Professor Steven Bernstein

Questions of “change” or “transformation” are longstanding preoccupations of both political science and climate change scholarship. Yet, the two fields largely occupy independent epistemological, normative, and ontological spaces that have led to misunderstandings, mutual criticisms, and a lack of serious engagement on these questions. For example, International
Relations (IR) scholars (albeit, erroneously) lament the lack of political science research on climate change, while many climate change scholars argue that IR bakes in an inability to address core political questions climate change raises, including on transformation, equity and justice, power, and ecological violence and harms. Lack of engagement has led to missed opportunities to transform the IR and policy subfields especially, misdiagnoses of political dynamics of climate change, and perversely limited the insights and influence of political analysis on wider climate change scholarship.

In this talk, I will address understandings of change and transformation relevant to both fields and suggest a productive epistemological shift for analyzing and normatively engaging with change in the face of uncertainty. I then propose a more policy relevant and forward-looking scholarship that moves from explaining change to identifying causal logics and dynamic processes that can reinforce or undermine change. To illustrate these arguments in action, I examine politicization of target setting in the Paris Agreement that produced major change, the transformative potential – and risk of “false change” – of “net zero” policies, and implications of the argument for securitization theory and anticipatory and just governance of existential global threats.

The lecture is open for all, but we kindly ask you to register prior to the event.

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About Professor Steven Bernstein

Steven Bernstein is Distinguished Professor of Global Environmental and Sustainability Governance, Chair of the Department of Political Science at University of Toronto Mississauga, and Co-Director of the Environmental Governance Lab at University of Toronto. His research spans the areas of global governance and institutions, global environmental politics, IPE, and policy studies. His publications include several authored or co-edited books and over 85 scholarly articles and book chapters. His current research projects investigate transformative policies and initiatives to achieve decarbonization, coherence and incoherence in global sustainability governance, and change at the intersection of International Relations and Global Environmental Politics theory and research. He holds an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Copenhagen.