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Public engagement on the Climate Emergency – towards a “better normal”

What’s the biggest issue facing humanity in the short, medium and long term? Covid-19? Mass unemployment & inequality?  Nope.

Is it the climate emergency? Almost – but not quite.

The biggest challenge facing humanity is how best to engage millions of people across the world about how to change our systems and behaviour to tackle the climate emergency effectively. Because we have absolutely no time to lose to start this process. We are already perilously late. And where it is done badly, it will set us back and make the climate emergency significantly worse.

So why so little discussion about how to do this well? What lessons can we draw from the extraordinary behaviour changes across the world that have been achieved in response to the Covid-19 crisis? When “normal” no longer exists, isn’t it a perfect time to plan for “a better normal” – one where all the social, economic and environmental changes needed to tackle climate change are built in from the outset? Surely experts across the world in the fields of behaviour change, consultation and public participation should be collaborating and sharing best practice?

Here are some initial thoughts about how consultation and public engagement on the climate emergency differ from more general approaches:

  • The climate emergency is an extremely wide-ranging and complex topic not reducible to a “one-off” consultation. There may well be simpler, more direct decision-making elements within that process but if it is to be done well, it is certain to require a continuous and long-term process of engagement.


  • Consultation and engagement on the climate emergency is very likely to involve a wide variety of methods and processes at different phases within that long-term process. These might involve “representative” forms of engagement such as citizens assemblies or juries, with more traditional consultation techniques, and also direct decision-making processes such as Participatory Budgeting.


  • Those leading the process of engagement and consultation will need to place a much greater emphasis on the science of behaviour change. Badly prepared engagements and consultations are likely to have dangerous and negative consequences for tackling the climate emergency. Market research and surveys on public priorities, fears and concerns should be used to inform the continuous engagement process.


  • Throughout any continuous engagement process, the general public is likely to be the primary stakeholder. While individual issues may focus more on particular communities or stakeholders, the engagement will have to include mechanisms that allow large numbers of the general public to have their say.


  • Young people specifically will constitute key stakeholders in this continuous engagement process. They have consistently proved to be the most vociferous and the most concerned on this issue. And yet for many public and private organisations, their experience and knowledge of how to engage young people is weak. There needs to be a swift learning process on how best to give prominence to ways of consulting and engaging young people in this work.


The Consultation 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. There is no time to lose – things are moving very quickly as people think about what a “better normal” should look like. We are preparing support packages for you. Follow our work on this or contact us for advice and guidance on the tCI website here.

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