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Dickinson to Durban » Climate Change, Conservation, Consumption, Environmental Politics, Key COP17 Issues » Top to Bottom: Inspiring Bottom-up using the Top

Top to Bottom: Inspiring Bottom-up using the Top

Sam Parker ’12

Climate change governance and mitigation thus far have taken a very “top-down” approach.  One of the best examples of this is the Conference of the Parties (COP) that occur yearly, bringing together government officials from all across the world to discuss climate change and its different aspects.  Though, these top-down approaches to global problems often overlook the need for more “bottom-up” or community based approaches to issue that the world faces.  As I haven’t said before, I believe that approaching issues of such a monumental proportion as global climate change, the energy crisis, uses of inequality across the world, without involvement on the local, community level will only get so far.  “We are the 99%” is a phrase that is being thrown around a lot these days with the Occupy Wall Street Movement, but this can also be looked at in terms of government and the people.  Governments and its officials represent a very small proportion of the people in the world, but much of what happens to deal with global climate change, is done at the government level, i.e. a top-down approach.  This has only gotten us so far though and will only get us so far if there is not an effort to inspire the “99%”.  There are a couple of means by which to do this, the most productive would seem to be using the top to encourage the bottom, what I am going to refer to as “top-to-bottom”.

The idea of top-to-bottom is discussed in Chapter 4 of Bulkeley and Newell’s book Governing Climate Change. They give to very good example of governments providing the inspiration for the bottom to move forward with climate change mitigation.  The two examples that are used are Mexico and the UK.  Both are examples of the governments using  financial incentives, but in both cases these incentives worked very well to inspire strong community engagement into climate change mitigation.  In 2004, the Mexican government established a program called Payments for Carbon, Biodiversity and Agroforestry Services (PSA-CABSA), which provided financial compensation to communities primarily for reforestation actions. These efforts were very successful until 2006 when the UNFCCC changed the criteria for CDM projects.  In the UK, the government used a similar strategy to encourage community based renewable energy projects.  Again, this was very successful and worked well to also bring more mindful thought about energy use and climate change.

Bringing climate change to the people is one of the most important things to be done to combat this major issue.  People are what change things in this world, the governments simply react to what the people want and need.  Often it is difficult to change the behavior of people without incentives and thus we need the governments to “inspire” the people.  But, the without the people, without some work from the bottom-up, we will not be able to combat the potential effects of climate change.


Bulkeley, Harriet, and Peter Newell. “Community and the Governing of Climate Change.”Governing Climate Change. London: Routledge, 2010. 70-86. Print.

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One Response to "Top to Bottom: Inspiring Bottom-up using the Top"

  1. learyn says:

    Sam – take a look at the paper “The Wrong Trousers” by Prinn and Rayner. I think you’ll appreciate their perspective.

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