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No one is doing climate engagement well enough – can Britain step up?

By Nameerah Hameed on June 13, 2024

People in Britain care about climate change and want to tackle it as a society.

Our research from ‘Britain Talks Climate‘ reveals a public that is fractured but not deeply polarised, with climate change emerging as an issue that offers the possibility of hope and reconnection.

Yet public engagement is often an afterthought for governments. For many people, there isn’t enough communication about what the transition to net zero means for their future. This makes people feel as if change is ‘being done to them’ without engaging them effectively first.

This is a problem because we know that to achieve around 62% of the UK’s net zero target requires some form of individual action – whether it’s how we travel, what we eat, how we heat our homes, or how willingly we go along with ambitious climate policies.

Britain is not unique in this. Many governments around the world are failing to engage the public on climate. Either climate policies are not ambitious enough or top-down regulations are enforced without the buy-in of citizens.

In fact, governments are obligated to educate their citizens on climate change, involve them in policymaking, and ensure they have all the necessary information to make informed choices. Countries that signed up to the Paris Agreement are required to implement all the promises in good faith, including Article 12 of the Agreement which is known as Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE).

The Glasgow Work Programme on ACE was approved at COP26, which was hosted by the UK. This means that there exists a framework to guide national work on ACE. 

The overarching goal of ACE is to empower all members of society to engage in climate action, through the six ACE elements – climate change education and public awareness, training, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation on these issues. 

There are a number of activities and programmes being conducted across the six ACE pillars by charities, academia and training institutes in the UK. What is needed is a coherent national public engagement strategy by the next UK government that unites all the progress happening on ACE into a UK action plan to engage the public. This would not only fulfil international obligations but also address the dearth of meaningful local public engagement.

 At the start of this year, the general public felt disillusioned with politics, but even then there has been no demographic that seriously opposes tackling climate change and protecting nature.

However with the rising cost of living, there are genuine concerns about fairness and who will bear the cost of ambitious climate policies. People are worried that the energy transition will cost them money they don’t have. For example, people with limited incomes think installing heat pumps to replace traditional gas boilers will be financially unfair to people like them. Similarly, transitioning to EVs comes with a high capital cost at a household level. 

In the absence of meaningful engagement, a serious backlash against net zero amongst certain groups would not be surprising. People are not being involved and taken along on the journey – either locally or nationally. People don’t want to be left alone to face and tackle climate change. We all want to feel like we are part of a bigger change, not isolated individuals facing costs many worry they cannot afford.

Indeed if change is unfair or top-down or if it feels like it is, some will push back. For example, broadly is London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) a good policy to tackle air pollution? Yes. Could communications and engagement have been done better? Yes absolutely. Our research suggests that people want to protect nature and are more drawn to actions that feel most immediate. ‘Pollution’ might have been a better term to use than ‘emissions’.

So far in the election campaign we have not seen any engagement with the optimism of climate action and the benefits that can be reaped from a successful net zero transition. There is a vacuum of information and engagement – and certain groups of people are using it to push a sense of injustice for their own narrow interests. But it need not be this way. 

Only 14% of the British people believe the current UK government has done a good job at tackling climate change and 20% believe the government has done a good job of encouraging other countries to take action on climate change. At the COP28 climate talks last year, the UK was far from the only country that was performing poorly at delivering on its commitments to public engagement. I’d like to see it not only do more domestically, but also show international leadership on moving the ACE agenda forward, along with UNFCCC and global partners. 

The recent local elections in the UK showed that candidates can succeed when they have something positive and tangible to say about how climate action will improve daily life. Making progress is contingent on involving people meaningfully. ACE and public engagement is all about bringing people positively into the climate conversation.


This piece was originally published in BusinessGreen on 10 June 2024.

By Nameerah Hameed

Nameerah is our Advocacy Manager, working to support MPs, governments, and businesses on climate engagement. And supporting partners on how to engage different audiences meaningfully on climate change.

She previously joined as an Engagement Advisor working on the Climate Engagement Initiative, an ambitious and multi-partner project that aims to influence the outcomes of the UNFCCC negotiations on Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE), and to support governments to strengthen their national public engagement initiatives.

She is also the founder of Women In Energy Pakistan, working to build a strong community of female professionals and foster a culture of career and leadership development.

With over ten years of experience, Nameerah has worked in the nexus of energy and climate policy in the UK, USA and Pakistan. She formerly served as a Policy Specialist in the Government in Pakistan working on renewable energy and energy efficiency with development partners. She studied Energy, Resources and Environment at The Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in USA.

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