Modern Climate Governance: A Governmentality Study

Andreas Smith Jørgensen

Student thesis: Master thesis


This master thesis is a governmentality study of modern climate governance in Denmark. It sets out to explore climate strategies by public and private actors following what was dubbed the climate general election in Denmark in June 2019, with the purpose of identifying the rationales through which governance limits its capacity for intervention.
The analysis finds that four rationales characterise Danish modern climate governance. Firstly, the climate crisis is reconceptualised as an opportunity for growth and interventions are reduced to initiatives, which operate within boundaries dictated by ideas of growth and competition. Thus, climate governance is concerned primarily with the creation of surplus (greener) markets, products and services and paradoxically becomes a way in which industries of growth are created and sustained. Secondly, the responsibility for climate governance is distributed widely to different societal actors, who are perceived to be more capable than the state of governing within certain domains. This functions to attribute the main responsibility for delivering climate solutions to the market and to individual consumers, who are subjectivised as responsible and empowered to drive the green transition - a privatization of responsibility, which reduces the capacity of subjects to reflect upon and create room for collective (climate)action. Thirdly, the climate crisis is demoralised as it is constructed as an administrative and scientific issue, which can be solved through effectivization and technological development. The development of climate policies is anchored in scientific bodies, individuals are governed to understand climate engagement as linked to consumption, and policy proposals and the political debate avoids criticism of existing practices, systems and modes of government. In combination, these factors blur the linkage between the climate crisis and existing power relations and reduce the need to develop visions for a different society. Fourthly, the climate crisis is reduced to being primarily a crisis of pollution and the imperative of growth and governance techniques such as climate compensation render possible that individuals, organisations and the government can lift their responsibility, while our lives and society as we know it prevail.
With these rationalities identified and exposed, the paper moves on to discuss how they are challenged by the state governance of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the case in the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic proves that state intervention into the market and into the rights and privileges of citizens are possible and that the legitimacy of such governing can be built upon a moral, rather than economic, foundation. The thesis argues that the discrepancy between the logic of the two crises could potentially serve to expand the collective understanding of the function and capacity of the state and of the legitimate ramifications of crisis governance.

EducationsMSocSc in Political Communication and Managment, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages84
SupervisorsAnders Sevelsted