Sustainable Cities™

Anthony Giddens: The politics of climate change

In this interview, Anthony Giddens talks about his new book ‘The politics of climate change’ (2009). His major point is that we need to strengthen collaboration as well as political leadership in order to handle the issue. This means creating large scale investment politics that organise clean technology and make communities more liveable. Giddens also emphasises the need for positive and motivating politics in order for people to relate to and act on climate change.

Q: What is the main message in your book?
The core thing is that climate change is very, very different from any other political issue we have had to deal with before because it is mainly an issue of future risk. It is very hard for ordinary citizens to relate to an abstract risk in the future which right now does not impinge on their everyday life. And when it becomes visible, it is too late.

What most people do is that they push it out of their everyday life. What most politicians do is to make grandiose promises often without any substance or content. You have international agreements but they never discuss how they are going to implement it in the near future. It is easy to discuss what to do in 2050 but very difficult to discuss what we are going to do within the next 2 or 3 years.

Q: How do we implement politics of climate change?
We do not get very far with fear. People find it hard to relate to an abstract notion of catastrophe located somewhere indefinite point in the future. We have got to find much more positive motivations. We need to look for opportunities instead of problems. We have got to stress competitive advantages instead of only economic costs. We need a vanguard of entrepreneurs who will look for a convergence between competitive economies and climate friendly technologies.

We need a new strand of utopianism. We need a partial return to speculative political thinking. For instance, what could happen after the car? You could se a totally new way of organising transport with new kinds of sustainable transport systems.

Q: What is the role of the industrial countries?
The industrial countries must take the lead. We know that the developing countries will not do a lot unless they have a clear cut example to follow.

Q: How do we motivate people to deal with climate change?
I think a positive motivation is to change to a different kind of economy - a low carbon economy - but with a much higher level of energy security. I think it is much easier for people to relate to problems of energy security than it is to problems of climate change. We also need to develop forms of community innovation and architecture. You got to have a package of measures with a lot of innovation and experimentation to find out what works with people.

Q: What can cities do?
Cities need to deepen the kind of collaboration between them that already exists. Part of their program is to learn from each other to reduce emission. We need more of that. Cities also need further experimentation with new kinds of developments.

Q: What are your personal hopes for the future?
One could hope for a very different economy from the one we know today based on low carbon technologies. And secondly, a world where oil does not dominate geopolitics. You could create a much better way of life not being dominated by the endless search of wealth and growth.

About Anthony Giddens

Anthony_Giddens_193x193 Anthony Giddens is one of the most important contemporary sociologists educated from the University of Hull and the London School of Economics (LSE). He has been professor of Sociology at Cambridge University and from 1997 to 2003 he was director of the LSE. Giddens has written several important books which have been translated into some forty languages.

He is currently a Life Fellow of King's College, Cambridge. He has honorary degrees from 15 universities. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Science and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He has sat on the board of various public organisations including the Institute of Public Policy Research.

Giddens's impact upon politics has been profound. His advice has been sought by political leaders from Asia, Latin America and Australia as well as from the US and Europe. He has had a major impact upon the evolution of New Labour in the UK. His close collaboration with politicians is of major impact in his latest book 'The Politics of Climate Change' (2009).

Most important publications:

  • Modernity and Self-Identity (1991)
  • The Constitution of Society (1984)


The interview with Anthony Giddens has been made in close co-operation with British Council Denmark

British Council
British Council is the United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We have worked in Denmark since 1945 as a cultural institute focusing on British art, culture, education and teaching. In recent years we have emphasised on three global programme strands: Intercultural Dialogue, Creative and Knowledge Economy, and Climate Change. In Denmark, we work on specific projects under each of these strands, trying to engage young people in Denmark to work more on issues like multiculturalism, climate, art and education.

British Council Denmark has a five-staff office in the heart of Copenhagen, which is part of a global network of more than 200 offices in more than 100 countries. British Council is in close contact with all art network and cultural circles in the United Kingdom, and we can connect them to similar groups from Denmark.

British Council has worked with Sustainable Cities™ under the programme strands of Climate Change and Creative and Knowledge Economy. The co-operation on the interview with Anthony Giddens has been a creative way of merging social, urban development, climate debate and political opinions in a British perspective.

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014