Global Governance Institute


15: Robyn Eckersley – Green Political Theory, the State and the Climate Emergency

Robyn Eckersley joins us to discuss green political theory and the future of the state and democracy in a context of climate emergency.

Robyn Eckersley is Professor and Head of Political Science in the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia where she specialises in environmental governance, politics, political theory and international relations. She was elected as Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in 2007 and in 2019, she received a Distinguished Scholar Award from the Environmental Studies Section of the International Studies Association. Robyn has been working at the interface of deep ecology, green political theory and international relations scholarship for over two decades. In her 2004 book ‘The Green State’, she laid out her argument for a ‘critical political ecology’ as a paradigm to navigate the political challenge of ‘greening states’, a theme which has continued to animate her work. Robyn has also been a vocal advocate for climate justice in the UN intergovernmental system, a shrewd analyst of the US’s role as a swing state in the long history of climate negotiations, and – most recently – begun evaluating the climate emergency movement and its implications for the future of the state and democracy. 

Robyn Eckersley
In this conversation, Robyn helps us take stock of where we are five years after the landmark Paris Agreement. We discuss why current targets are unlikely to cut it unless ambitious concrete action is brought forward to 2030. We probe the imperative of tackling pervasive structural injustices which continue to perpetuate harm upon those most vulnerable to climate extremes, as well as the complex moral terrain posed by the issue of historic responsibility. Switching gears, Robyn revisits her earlier work on the transformation of the state in a context of ecological crisis and some of the opportunities, challenges and contradictions which the current moment throw up, not least the spectacle of the military declaring their green credentials on the battlefield. We also reflect on the enduring value of Robert Cox’s seminal distinction between problem-solving and critical theory, and its modification to ‘critical problem-solving’ in light of the pressing, pragmatic challenge of transformative change. Robyn closes by reflecting on what deep ecology means for better understanding our relationship between the human and non-human in environmentalism, as well as – riffing on Sarah Parkin’s popular book – a call to all young people to be ‘positive deviants’ and to insist that everyone “walks the walk” when it comes to the climate emergency.

For more information, check out Robyn's profile at the University of Melbourne or follow @EckersleyRobyn on Twitter.

Publications we discussed include: