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On the road to a green recovery – Can Covid-19 help accelerate a ‘better normal’?

Alongside hundreds of other countries, the UK has experienced cleaner air, less traffic and pollution, and an increase in the use of parks as well as walking and cycling. With the easement of the global lockdown now underway, will the positive behaviours we have adopted continue post-Covid-19?

Following on from Davy Jones ’stowards a better normal” blog post last month, the Institute hosted a climate webinar on 4th June addressing this very question, with a focus on the role of local authorities. We engaged many organisations, important points were raised, and many views were shared, some of which we will touch upon here… so stick around for a few more minutes!

Davy Jones focused on how engagement on the climate emergency has been affected by the Covid-19 crisis. He mentioned how the “Overton Window” had widened on behaviour change from this crisis and how what seemed unthinkable just a few months ago was now mainstream and accepted by millions. But the Climate Emergency is a longer lasting issue to engage with, so engagement with it will have to be too. Lots of different techniques will need to be used by local authorities at various stages of this long-term engagement, so it requires a (preferably cross-party) long term commitment from Members and officers. They will have to focus a lot on how to involve every citizen in their local area, especially young people and to identify key local stakeholders. Framing this engagement positively will be crucial – the ways life will be better by rising to the challenge of the climate emergency.

By now, we have already established that the best approach to tackling the climate emergency is a collaborative cross-sector one. This collaborative approach also includes engaging strategic partners to search for effective solutions. It was tCI associate, Ruth Shepherd, who said it best towards the end of the webinar, there are many other strategic partners such as developers, consultants, the energy sector (specifically wind, solar and hydropower) will all have an impact into climate environment discussions. Local authorities would benefit from involving these partners in their discussions, or they risk missing part of the conversation.

As Emma Wilson stressed in her webinar presentation, public engagement truly lies at the heart of behaviour change. The Institute is particularly trying to consider the links between public engagement and behaviour change, and how this can lead to better decision making. For instance, the use of clear messaging in public communication, although if messages are too simple, they may be understood in different ways, so it is important to be clear on what lies behind a simple slogan. Greta Thunberg has demonstrated that symbolic actions can lead to mass mobilisation – but governments need to know how to listen, understand and translate this into policy responses. Enabling infrastructure, such as online technology and cycle routes, can transform the way people act, but public engagement prior to installing infrastructure is essential to make sure it is right for people and will be adopted (and if necessary paid for). People need to be provided with sufficient information, based on scientific evidence, so as to make appropriate decisions on their behavioural changes.

The climate emergency requires local authorities and the national government to engage with ‘everyone’, including the ‘seldom heard’ and the ‘still don’t care’. But how do they do this? Do they try to reach everyone, do they use representative samples, do they reach out through partnerships and institutions?

Penny Norton focussed on taking a strategic approach to climate change engagement. She explained why engagement, as opposed to consultation, was necessary in the case of such a long term and diverse subject and the benefits of a planned and coordinated approach in order to engage both thoroughly and efficiently.

Her presentation focused on specific aspects of the strategic process: research (environmental and social science data, issues analysis and stakeholder analysis), stakeholder mapping and messaging. She then went on to describe how Covid-19 has resulted in significant changes, demonstrating the need for a flexible approach. Read more on communicating on climate change where Penny provides insight on ‘getting the message right’.

The Institute has an Environment Working Group who can help you – whether you are a local council, a business or an industry association – to plan your public engagement around the climate emergency. Get in touch with us here to have a chat with us regarding your climate strategies.

About the Author

Sheena joined the Institute at the end of 2019 as our Public Policy and Research Officer. In her evolving research-based role, Sheena will be writing articles and commentaries for our newsletter and building case studies of past and future Institute projects highlighting different sectors, pitfalls and law.

Read more about Shaheena

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