The team reflects on learnings from some recent climate action projects, rounding up our top tips for public consultation on this important issue.
Climate action has been the shared purpose of many of our recent consultation projects. Some have fed directly into government policies for Local Authority Climate Action Plans and Decarbonising Zones. Others have been spearheaded by passionate groups who recognise the urgent need to bring people together to collectively tackle climate change.
The need for engagement on climate change will continue to grow in the coming years. Already we see increasing policy requirements and public pressure for local government and other organisations to take practical steps to address climate issues. So, what are the essential things to keep in mind when creating a plan for public engagement on climate change? Our team have put their heads together to choose our top pieces of advice and share some useful resources to get you started.
TIP 1: Cut the Jargon
The complicated language of climate science can intimidate and confuse people, preventing them from participating in important conversations for fear of looking stupid. An easy way to address this is to provide a ‘jargon buster’ that breaks down complex terms into simple language. The Department of the Taoiseach has developed an A-Z Climate Guide that covers all common climate definitions.
Removing this layer of jargon can also help people better relate climate action to their own lives. In one of our recent climate workshops, participants initially felt they had nothing to contribute to the ‘circular economy’. However further discussion revealed the existence of an established donation network within the community, with baby clothes, furniture, school books and more being regularly shared out for reuse. Using everyday, familiar language can lead to much more productive conversations.
Provide links to your jargon buster at all stages of the consultation process and review all promotional and workshop material, surveys, published reports with a critical eye to ensure all difficult terms are clearly explained.
TIP 2: Focus on the positives
Climate change is a scary and hopeless prospect for many, and research on climate anxiety shows that a common coping strategy when faced with this overwhelming issue is to disengage entirely. While hard-hitting statistics and a narrative that creates guilt may grab people’s attention to begin with, focusing on the positives and possibilities will sustain people’s engagement in the long run.
A novel workshop method that we used in one of our recent projects is the Climate Ikigai or Climate Venn Diagram. This activity gets people thinking about what brings them joy and what they are good at, then links this to climate issues to identify practical actions. By reframing climate action as something that can be a positive addition to their lives, people feel more empowered and inspired to make the necessary changes.
Source: Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
TIP 3: Make it relatable
A key challenge in discussing climate change is how intangible the issue can be – it’s difficult for people to wrap their head around concepts such as carbon emissions. An approach we find useful is to relate climate issues to more everyday concepts. For example this sustainability agency has calculated that 1 tonne of CO2 = 120,000 smartphone charges and has also created a visual representation of a tonne of CO2 in relation to an average house. Priming people with this knowledge helps to frame climate discussions in more relatable terms.
It is also helpful to focus your discussions at a local level where possible. Identifying realistic actions that can be taken by individuals and communities within their neighbourhoods is more achievable than tasking people with the burden of fixing global issues.
TIP 4: Educate as well as consult
When preparing for a climate action consultation, you should prepare for drastic differences in the level of climate knowledge and interest that participants will have in the topics to be discussed. An important first step in the process is to try and establish a shared baseline understanding, so that everyone can meaningfully contribute. This can take many forms – a short introduction presentation on climate fundamentals, a warm up activity to gather collective knowledge, sharing your jargon buster (see Tip 1) as pre-consultation reading material.
If you want to gauge the level of climate literacy of your group in advance, you can send a pre-consultation survey to all attendees and ask them to rate their existing knowledge. Ask people what topics they are least familiar with so you can prepare additional resources to support them during the consultation activity.