Citizenship for a changing global climate: Learning from New Zealand and Norway

by Jake Kessler

Two professors at the University of Canterbury teamed up with a professor from the University of Oslo to investigate young persons’ attitudes towards citizenship in Norway and New Zealand. At first glance the two countries are remarkably similar. New Zealand and Norway both have approximately 4.5 million citizens, are developed, are quite “egalitarian,” and are internationally known for their having stable political environments. However, the forms of democracy that have developed in the countries are quite different. New Zealand has embraced a market liberal form of democracy that has resulted in mass privatization of various industries. Norway embraces socialist ideals, and has a strong public sector and a long history of public-private cooperation. The authors looked at the students in both countries to understand how young adults from these affluent countries view their citizenship, and responsibility towards the global community as our climate changes radically.

Both countries have curriculum devoted to teach students the respective customs, traditions, and civic histories needed for high levels of civic knowledge. Previous evidence showed that both countries performed above average in the field of civic knowledge. Yet, Norway outperformed almost all countries on student government participation and school voting. New Zealand, by contrast, had significantly lower levels of school government participation. With this contrast in mind, the authors interviewed students of similar age at schools in both countries.

Norwegian students frequently mentioned their rights towards group contribution. As a whole, Norwegian students were adamant about the need for active group participation in society and government for the societal good. The authors attributed this to Norway’s strong public sector presence, which actively works to ensure a stable quality of life for all Norwegians. The students also expressed a desire for the Norwegian government to tackle problems, such as climate change, that universally affect the global poor. On a communal level, Norwegian students felt a deep responsibility to be active in their communities.

New Zealand students focused on the individualistic characteristics of citizenship such as freedom of speech, equal opportunity, and the right to participate in government. They felt less of a desire to participate in communal life and instead stressed individual success. The authors theorized that students were influenced by the market policies of their country. For example, students said that they did not feel any responsibility for fixing climate change because New Zealand is such a small country. This was worrisome because as long as there are countries that pollute more than New Zealand, a percentage of students will feel little responsibility towards taking action against climate change.

The different attitudes towards citizenship show that the classroom deeply affects students’ attitudes towards citizen responsibilities. Students must understand that their roles as citizens of affluent countries extends beyond that of their communities. As the impact of climate change spreads, it will take a unified front in dealing with the consequences. Without a populace that believes responsibility extends beyond their boundaries, it will be much harder to initiate the collective action needed to deal with these issues.


Hayward, Bronwyn., Selboe, Elin., Plew, Elizabeth. 2015. Citizenship for a changing global climate: Learning from New Zealand and Norway. Citizenship, Social and Economics Education, 14(1), 19-27.

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