Overcoming Limits to Consensus-Building on Energy and Climate: Toxic Partisanship, Us Versus Them, False Polarization

The University of Ottawa’s Positive Energy program uses the convening power of the university to bring together academic researchers and senior decision-makers from industry, government, Indigenous communities, local communities and environmental organizations to determine how to strengthen public confidence in energy decision-making.

Mockup of the report.

The study

This study headlines Positive Energy’s research on the models of and limits to consensus-building. (PDF, 2.4MB). It explores two key questions. First, how key energy and climate issues became polarized along partisan lines. Second, it identifies several significant limits to consensus-building on energy and climate. It relies on numerous data sources, most notably in-depth interviews with 50 Canadian energy and environmental leaders.

The study evaluates how interview participants understand Canada’s history of energy and climate policy, how they think about the language of “polarization” and “consensus”, and the extent to which they actually want to work with their ideological and partisan counterparts. From there, the study identifies three limits to consensus-building and identifies strategies for overcoming them: toxic partisanship (sufficient dislike for partisan opponents where civility and bipartisanship become difficult or impossible), negative affect (dislike for out-groups; often associated with “us versus them” thinking), and false polarization (incorrect perceptions of polarization).

The findings are positioned within scholarly literature and Positive Energy’s broader body of work. They aim to better equip decision-makers keen to seize upon the new, fragile cross-partisan consensus around “net zero by 2050”.

The study in brief

Read the key findings and their relevance to decision-makers 
Key findings (PDF, 2.5MB)

Media coverage