The delegated authority model misused as a strategy of disengagement in the case of climate change

Andries De Smet, Wouter Peeters, Sigrid Sterckx

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3 Citations (Scopus)
134 Downloads (Pure)


The characterisation of anthropogenic climate change as a violation of basic human rights is gaining wide recognition. Many people believe that tackling this problem is exclusively the job of governments and supranational institutions (especially the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). This argument can be traced back to the delegated authority model, according to which the legitimacy of political institutions depends on their ability to solve problems that are difficult to address at the individual level. Since the institutions created to tackle climate change fail to do so, their legitimacy is under great pressure and can only be saved by considerations of feasibility.We argue that democratically elected representatives are able to claim that a more robust climate policy is unfeasible, but only because the mandate we as citizens grant them is very restrictive. Instead of shifting responsibility for the thoroughly inadequate response to climate change fully to political representatives, we should highlight the failure of the political community as a whole to fulfil its responsibility at the input-side of the delegation of authority. When individual voters fail to fulfil the minimal obligation to at least vote for parties that explicitly advocate robust climate policies, they cannot hide behind the delegated authority argument, but should accept their complicity in the massive violations of basic human rights caused by the failure to successfully tackle climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalEthics and Global Politics
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2016


  • climate change
  • delegated authority
  • responsibility
  • feasibility
  • moral disengagement


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