How can policy and policymaking foster climate justice? A qualitative systematic review



Cairney P, Timonina I & Stephan H (2023) How can policy and policymaking foster climate justice? A qualitative systematic review. Open Research Europe, 3, Art. No.: 51.

Background Climate change research has established general requirements for policy and policymaking: transformational changes in policy and policymaking to foster ‘climate justice’, including a ‘just transition’ or movement towards environmental sustainability with equitable processes and outcomes. However, there is a major gap between these requirements and actual policies and policy processes. We identify how researchers use policy theories to understand this gap. Methods We conducted a qualitative systematic review (2022) to identify peer reviewed journal articles on climate change, policy, justice, and equity in three databases (Web of Science, Scopus, Proquest). Each article had to provide a non-trivial reference to policymaking concepts or theories. We used an immersive and inductive approach to identify key themes and show how the use of policy concepts and theories informs climate change research. Results A total of 108 texts meet the inclusion criteria (with some bias towards Global North research since all texts are in English). Most provide general definitions of climate justice, require fair outcomes and processes, and list what is required to meet those aims. However, they also identify unjust processes and outcomes in relation to who is recognised, gets to define the problem, and wins or loses from solutions. Researchers contrast their preferred social justice approach (informing ‘civic environmentalism) to a dominant neoliberal approach (corresponding to weak ‘ecological modernization’). Conclusions Researchers focus on what they need from policy and policymaking to produce climate justice. Few engage meaningfully with policy theories to describe how policymaking actually works. More engagement would help to set meaningful expectations regarding policy change and avoid a needless tendency to treat policymaking like a ‘black box’.


Open Research Europe: Volume 3

FundersEuropean Commission (Horizon 2020)
Publication date31/10/2023
Publication date online31/10/2023
Date accepted by journal15/12/2023
PublisherF1000 Research Ltd

People (2)


Professor Paul Cairney

Professor Paul Cairney

Professor, Politics

Dr Hannes Stephan

Dr Hannes Stephan

Lecturer, Politics

Projects (1)