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Strengthening governments’ commitment to public engagement : introducing the Climate Engagement Initiative

By Deepayan Basu Ray on September 8, 2021

Climate Outreach is working with governments to help them engage with their citizens on climate change in ways that are meaningful, inclusive, two-way, and values driven – because climate targets won’t be met otherwise. Our new Climate Engagement Initiative will run its first public events at the upcoming UN climate conference (COP26).

Update: as part of this programme, we held two influential events at COP26: the flagship event on public engagement with the UK Presidency for COP26, and a press conference on the last day of the summit calling on governments not to fail on human rights.

To tackle climate change, we all need to make substantial changes to our collective and individual behaviours and actions. Many of us have begun to take our own steps – albeit within the limits of our personal circumstances.

At the same time, governments have begun actively recognising the impacts of climate change on long-term security and prosperity, and have started developing policies and strategies to address climate change.

There is however little evidence of an inclusive mindset within governments to actively engage with their citizens to define and refine these policies. Governments often consult scientific and thematic experts, but large-scale public consultations (such as citizens’ assemblies) remain ad-hoc, and often facilitated by civil society or community groups themselves.

In some ways, this lack of public engagement, inclusive policy design, and participatory policy development is at the heart of the fragmentation and disjointed approach by governments (at all levels – local, regional and national). 

The facts may well be black and white. But meaningful change cannot happen without a social mandate – where a majority of the public identify climate change as a key priority for them, and social norms shift to low carbon behaviours and fuel demand for supportive policies.

Building a social mandate

In order to generate this social mandate, governments should actively embed public engagement and participatory policy-making that is meaningful, two-way, and values driven. 

And that is where Climate Outreach’s new initiative steps up. The Climate Engagement Initiative (CEI) will work with governments to develop, improve and implement public engagement strategies to meaningfully establish inclusive and participatory channels of two-way communication with their citizens on climate action.

The CEI has started working with governments to strengthen national and international processes, and is developing methodologies with civil society partners to track how effectively governments are implementing public engagement strategies.

The vision of the CEI is to build a social mandate for climate action to achieve a world where governments fully engage their public on climate change, so that citizens  – especially those who have so far been excluded from participation in decision-making about climate change – can make informed decisions, and take the personal and collective actions required to achieve global emission reduction targets.

To realise the vision of the CEI project, the CEI team will:

    • support governments to develop strategies that learn from and build on the extensive evidence base of social science research on a values-based approach to public engagement. We know that to connect meaningfully with people, governments have to recognise and speak to their citizens’ beliefs, values, aspirations, fears and perceptions. Only then will strategies be able to move beyond the political polarisation which threatens to strangle climate change policy debates in many parts of the world.
    • encourage and support governments and stakeholders to be actively inclusive and participatory and to engage with people who have so far been excluded from decision-making because of race, gender or class. Amplifying the voices and solutions of such excluded communities will be critical to effective public engagement initiatives.
    • develop and share principles and approaches to guide and shape the development of public engagement strategies by governments. Climate Outreach and its partners have done extensive research on how public engagement can completely transform the fortunes of policy development efforts. There are a number of tools and approaches that can assist governments in ensuring their public engagement strategies are inclusive, participatory, and effective.

Public engagement at COP26

The CEI team’s first public activities will be held at the upcoming UN climate conference (COP26) conference in Glasgow in November. We will be actively working with partners to increase the profile of public engagement as a necessary tool to develop effective and impactful policies to tackle climate change. Watch this space for more details!

Ultimately, the CEI project is based on a singular premise: climate targets cannot be met without putting in place effective, meaningful, inclusive, two-way, and values-driven public engagement efforts. The evidence shows that this approach works. The role of the CEI will be to ensure that this approach becomes commonplace within policy-making circles.


Climate Outreach would like to thank the IKEA Foundation and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation for supporting the Climate Engagement Initiative.

5 responses to Strengthening governments’ commitment to public engagement : introducing the Climate Engagement Initiative

  1. Hailey Campbell says: says:

    Hello Climate Outreach!!
    This is an awesome initiative!! My name is Hailey and I am an Americorps VISTA for the City nd County of Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency. I am tasked with orchestrating round 4 of our community engagement plan, which will focus on showcasing how community feedback from previous rounds was incorporated into the Climate Adaptation Plan and seek additional input on the draft to ensure it meets their needs. Additionally, my work will focus on ensuring vulnerable and often left out communities are included in this round of engagement. I see that you will be sharing more information at COP26, but as I am in the planning stages right now, I was hoping you could offer a preliminary draft or bullet points of your findings (specifically if you have identified any criteria for selecting Community-Based Organizations to partner with for community engagement with more vulnerable communities and best practices for engagement as whole).


    • Léane de Laigue replied: says:

      Hello Hailey, thanks for your interest! Deep (who leads this program and wrote this blog) will be in touch with you soon. All the best with your work, sounds exciting!

  2. Leslie says: says:

    Hello, first thank you very much for this thought-provoking information. I am new to this so please excuse my ignorance – but you mention you have evidence that your values-based approach works – could you please point me int the direction of some of this evidence please?
    Many thanks.

  3. Charalee Graydon says: says:

    You work is important to seek information and bring citizens concerns forward for COP26.

By Deepayan Basu Ray

Deep was the Head of Engagement at Climate Outreach until June 2023. He worked with governments and international bodies to increase recognition of public engagement as a key component in addressing climate change and meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Deep has worked for over 15 years in international and regional forums on arms control and sustainable development; working with civil society and parliamentarians to support more inclusive treaty and policy development processes. Prior to joining Climate Outreach, Deep worked with Pacific Island and Southeast Asian countries to strengthen their national systems, laws and legislation to ensure compliance with a range of UN treaties and agreements. He also established and led the Arms Trade Treaty Monitor project – a civil society initiative to strengthen compliance with the UN Arms Trade Treaty.

Deep holds an MA in International Relations (Sussex University) and a BA in Political Science and Environmental Studies (York University, Canada).

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