Something to talk about – success stories of public engagement to tackle climate change
This webpage, as part of the Climate Engagement Initiative, explores Climate Outreach’s principles of effective public engagement and a collection of case studies that show that there are certain common strategies and approaches that underpin successful public engagement despite differences in location and culture. Organisations, community groups and governments can draw inspiration from these strategies and successfully apply them to other contexts in which effective public engagement can be carried out to achieve long-lasting and impactful change.
From these success stories, there are certain commonalities that can be found throughout the strategies and processes deployed by each initiative. These are as follows:
- a bottom-up approach where a two-way process of public engagement and participation has been instrumental in achieving a truly inclusive outcome,
- participation of a wider community beyond traditional classrooms or institutional education settings,
- co-creation and co-design of solutions and policies that put participants and the community at the centre of projects and consultations.
The case studies highlight a plethora of approaches that effectively place people and communities at the heart of climate change engagement, for instance:
- in Egypt, where an array of small-scale initiatives are uplifting communities on the ground with focuses spanning art, tourism, conservation and much more, which play the vital role of intermediary between authorities and communities,
- in the Carteret Islands, where community-owned and -led organisations use deliberative processes and community consensus in practices to create long-lasting, meaningful engagement with climate change, and where changemakers represent communities and their deeply held values,
- in Scotland, where the citizens’ assembly model means participants are empowered and at the centre of the policymaking process, resulting in deeper understanding and enthusiasm for policies addressing climate change.
The case studies represent a snapshot of relevant and innovative work carried out between 2019 and 2021. In the coming years Climate Outreach will revisit these case studies and add further success stories to this site.
Creating a low-carbon, climate-resilient world now requires accelerated action across all levels of society. These changes will require a clear mandate from citizens across the world, empowering governments to act. Creating this broad public mandate requires effective communications and the active engagement of the public. Without broad-based public support, the policies needed to reduce emissions and build resilience may fail.
These case studies highlight outstanding examples of public engagement on climate change which can often be difficult to find but are important to celebrate when done well! These projects have demonstrated how a public mandate for climate action can be created, and how meaningful engagement can lead to tangible change.
The Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) framework under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) now commits governments to undertaking active engagement with citizens around climate change. The ACE framework proposes that governments engage their citizens through education and active public participation. However, this has left many governments wondering how to create and facilitate initiatives that will drive a public mandate for action on climate change.
Each of the examples demonstrates how people can be meaningfully engaged around climate change as an issue, how education can be used to empower citizens to take climate action, and how participation can be used to drive climate resilience and adaptation.
The success stories are drawn from across the world, demonstrating that effective public engagement on climate change is possible across a diversity of socio-political, economic and cultural contexts.
The cases highlighted here also exemplify how evidence from the social sciences can be used to inform project design. Research shows that people do not form their attitudes to climate change based on a dispassionate assessment of information. Rather, their attitudes are influenced by stories that connect with their experiences, narratives that engage with their deeply held values and through conversation and engagement with other people they trust and respect. People take action when they understand the reasons for doing so, and where these reasons resonate with their concerns. Social norms and cultural practices drive people’s attitudes to climate change and their willingness to act or engage more deeply with the issue. Therefore it is not just what is said by global leaders and the media that matters – but who says it, and whether people trust those messengers.
By highlighting a series of case studies we hope to demonstrate the importance of values, meaningful participation and powerful trusted messengers in creating a sustained social mandate for action on climate change.
Principles of effective public engagement on climate change
Climate Outreach has identified the following key principles for effective public engagement, which are echoed by the success stories presented here:
Connect with people’s deeply held values
Think carefully about the values of the audience or community you are hoping to engage. Messages about climate change are known to resonate strongly with people when they can see their own deeply held values in the messages.
This does not mean that public engagement on climate change should simply aim to appeal to any value. Instead, communicators should look to engage values that are widely held across society in order to avoid messaging that could become divisive. Similarly, communicators should look to engage community-focused values that speak to people’s desire to help their communities, families and the environment. Evidence suggests that climate change communication projects that engage these deeply held communal values often build long-lasting change.
Create truly meaningful inclusive and participatory approaches
People’s identities matter. So does power. Effective public engagement on climate change always requires the active participation and leadership of people who have so far been excluded from decision-making because of race, gender or class. Purposefully including and creating safe spaces from the very start for such excluded communities to share their perspectives and solutions is critical to effective public engagement initiatives.
Engage positive cultural and social norms
One of the greatest influences on anyone’s attitudes and beliefs is their social network, through the social norms and practices exhibited by the people around them. Evidence shows that one of the most effective ways of driving broader public engagement on climate change is by highlighting existing positive behaviours, practices and projects. By doing this, these activities cease to be seen as unusual activities, and start to be seen as normal, mainstream activities.
One of the key ways these climate-friendly norms can be embedded more widely is through peer-to-peer public engagement. This involves the creation of settings where people can engage with their peers who are taking action on climate change, view those activities as normal and see that people like themselves are engaged and active on climate change.
Create honest, empowering stories
When engaging the public on climate change it is vital to make an honest, positive case for climate action. This means setting out a narrative about climate change and its solutions that honestly acknowledges the risks of climate change, but also points to realistic and credible options for tackling it. These stories must not downplay the very serious consequences of inaction, but must also point to the tangible ways that climate change can be addressed and the potential co-benefits these might bring. Creating a sense of efficacy is vital. It is important that people understand that there are tangible actions they can take, and that those actions will make a difference.
Scale and splinters in Egypt: climate activism and public engagement
In early September 2021, and well before the country’s hosting of the 27th annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Conference of Parties, 3,000 registered participants attended Egypt’s ‘Greenish Environmental Festival’. The first of its kind in the Middle East, the festival was organised by social enterprise Greenish along with San3a Tech and designed to create a meeting point and connecting ground for civil society groups working on environmental and climate change issues.
The festival attracted more than 50 exhibitors. Greenish’s Co-Founder, and at the time, General Director Shady Khalil describes a fragmented environmental activism scene where “it may seem that those working on climate change are not that many, but there are countless more organisations that work on issues connected to the climate agenda even when they don’t describe their activities that way, and who would be interested in venturing directly into climate engagement if resources are scaled.” With nine panels, educational workshops and several creative performances – including a playback theatre sketch from Khoyout Troupe which featured audience stories of climate change – the festival highlighted the need to bring the environmental community together.
Greenish’s interest in offering a spotlight to creative groups reflects a longer tradition of some Egyptian artists using their craft to engage the public around climate change – from puppetry monologues to educational theatre geared at encouraging farmers to diversify agricultural practices. Greenish itself, invested in training and empowering youth to address climate change challenges and environmental issues in Egypt, routinely experiments with performance-driven and artistic ways to engage communities.
But what the event may show most clearly is that public awareness of and engagement with climate change may require an attentiveness to small-scale initiatives that need to find “synergy” and perhaps “incubation,” as Khalil puts it.
Egyptian sustainability groups, routinely youth led, don’t always know each other. But the range of initiatives attempting to engage the public around environmental issues stretches widely, including groups working around themes of environmental education – like the international Climate Collage or the COP in MyCity network. Another group, based in Egypt’s Alexandria, which is more widely interested in issues of civic dialogue, has put local sustainability matters on ‘trial’ and allowed for volunteers and members of the public participating in its educational simulations to “collectively visualise alternative futures”, in a dialogue-driven way of understanding sustainability education. Another organisation, Lampa, a non-profit focused on raising environmental awareness and education, works with communities, especially women and children, to support sustainability transitions. A dedicated focus on journalists and media practitioners is the focus of Climate School, which aims to provide training and capacity support in writing about climate change through specialised trainings and resource support;
Organisations that push an educational journey outside of ‘traditional’ classroom environments and specialise in building knowledge and awareness of the country’s environment take climate action a step further. Dayma, which uses biomimicry as a lens, offers guided tours of Egypt’s natural destinations. A number of local groups working around a cultural and environmental conservation agenda, like Sinaweya and Hawyet Siwa, foster opportunities for dialogue between local community groups and visitors interested in environmental history and sustainability futures. Similarly, the government-backed ECO Egypt campaign is aiming to reconnect travellers with the country’s protected areas and ecological sites as a mechanism for awareness-raising and to encourage community visibility in conservation efforts. The campaign highlights an eco-tourism sector growing in relevance, and that captures the attention of domestic travellers around climate more readily.
Emerging in a variety of sectors, numerous initiatives are social enterprises. These enterprises include Bassita, the implementing group behind the 2018-launched VeryNile campaign, which works to raise awareness around plastic waste and leads communities in clean-up efforts. A similar initiative launched in Alexandria, Banlastic, is working to ban single-use plastic in Egypt and to promote alternative solutions.
But many of these initiatives don’t necessarily know of each other’s activities, and more importantly, may not be on each other’s radar as engaging the public around issues of environment and climate change.
RISE Egypt’s current work to map social and environmental innovation in the country aims to address some of these challenges. Dr. Mona Mowafi, Founder and President of RISE, describes an iterative, multi-year “citizen-generated mapping that philosophically moves away from top-down approaches to enable connections that allow us to think bigger together.” The map, envisioned as an open-source tool, is meant to digitise social innovation and serve as not just a place of knowledge exchange but what Mowafi describes as a “platform for action” or an “infrastructure to enable collective impact and system change.” When tackling issues of climate change, the RISE team emphasises that it is impossible to think one group has all the solutions and it is unwise to attempt to narrowly classify groups that are engaging with multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary problems.
The map aims to challenge a problem with similar initiatives that are “rarely participatory, are often snapshots in time that expire, and that are resource intensive.” As part of Greenish’s festival, attending groups received QR codes that will allow them to engage in this collaborative, grassroots-driven mapping exercise for self-registration.
Platforms for engagement around climate change are also often supported by donors. Regional initiatives like the Arab Youth Council for Climate Change aim to bring together youth working on the climate agenda and connect their voices with donors and decision-makers as innovators and co-producers of climate action solutions. The Egyptian city of Giza recently hosted a Climathon, as part of a programme supported by the European Union, to bring together policymakers and entrepreneurs. Cairo Climate Talks is another platform for exchange and a space for public dialogue around climate change issues.
- Egypt is consolidating a national climate adaptation plan and an advanced strategy, in line with its Sustainable Development 2030 vision. In this exercise, caution is needed to not exclusively capture large-scale, visible initiatives and lose sight of the plethora of small-scale initiatives that are working in fragments on the ground. Their individual community reach may be narrow, and their resources limited, but together their experiences offer activists and officials alike valuable lessons.
- Examples from Egypt suggest that labels aren’t everything. Many youth groups may be working around the climate agenda, but not always describing their activities in that language. Others may opt to register as social enterprises or other kinds of entrepreneurial ventures, but these groups can still play a critical role as intermediaries between authorities and communities.
- Initiatives to map and connect actors are vital. As more environmental groups invest in mechanisms to connect and learn from one another, initiatives that aim to support bringing them together may yield dividends. Such small-scale initiatives and groups may also need to be more systematically identified and consulted by donors and officials for their experiences in tackling an interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral problem from different vantage points.
Case study author: Dr. Dina Zayed, Consultant (at time of writing).
Tulele Peisa, the Carteret Islands – community-driven relocation in the face of climate change
The Carteret Islands in the Pacific Ocean are on the frontline of climate change. In places the islands are just 1.2 metres above sea level and in recent years have faced a number of climate change impacts, such as sea level rise, coastal erosion and salinisation of the freshwater, which has severely impacted farming and fishing. Alongside the risk of sudden sea water inundation and severe tropical storms, these challenges have increasingly eroded livelihoods and made life much more difficult for islanders.
Tulele Peisa is a community-owned and -led organisation that aims to facilitate the equitable and sustainable relocation of some residents of the Carteret Islands to mainland Papua New Guinea or the nearby larger island of Bougainville. Their goal is to plan and accomplish a number of relocation projects in which livelihoods are not just protected but enhanced, and where tangible benefits are achieved for both the citizens on the move and the receiving communities they are moving closer to.
The Pacific has a long history of population relocations, many of which have been carried out without full and informed consent, let alone consultation or meaningful community involvement. The colonial era saw a number of forced relocations carried out in pursuit of territorial claims. Other communities were forcibly moved in order to allow mineral mining on many atoll islands. More recently, many communities were forcibly moved in order to allow for nuclear weapons testing. Many communities facing the prospect of moving as a consequence of climate change are understandably sceptical about a new generation of relocation projects.
This historical context makes Tulele Peisa’s community-driven approach all the more important. Their purpose is not simply to consult a community about a proposed relocation or gather feedback. Rather, their way of working puts the community facing relocation right at the centre of the process. The plans are led, managed and delivered by the community in question. It is from this community leadership that Tulele Peisa takes its name. In the Cartaret’s Halia language Tulele Peisa means ‘sailing the waves on our own’.
Tulele Peisa has created community engagement around climate change borne out of practical necessity. Community leadership of the relocation projects necessitated wider community understanding of the situation driving the proposed relocation. The community were already acutely aware of the environmental changes happening around them, and the difficulties these were creating. However, the project leaders had to engage in extensive deliberative processes in order to connect this immediate, practical understanding with the need to move permanently to a new location.
Tulele Peisa also engaged in extensive deliberative processes with the wider community on every aspect of the relocation. This process carefully and painstakingly built the best possible project, but was also a vital part of creating community consensus for the need for the relocation. To facilitate this, Tulele Peisa drew extensively on the Carteret Islands’ existing practices of local and community governance – bringing elders and key people from communities into the leadership of the organisation. Having these trusted representatives as part of the leadership and as part of the process of deliberation was vital to creating the wider community engagement needed.
Engaging with the communities close to the destination of the relocation was key as well. Tulele Peisa also facilitated extensive engagement and deliberative discussion with the receiving communities. This process was vital to ensuring that both communities felt that the relocation would work for them. Tulele Peisa hosted a series of exchange visits between key community leaders from both communities in order to discuss the practicalities of the relocation, which was important to build trust and understanding.
- Tulele Peisa engaged in a number of practices that are known to create long-lasting and meaningful engagement around climate change and its impacts.
- The extensive use of deliberative processes and community discussion built consensus with the community about the project, the need for relocation and the practical steps needed to complete this. Without this, the project may not have succeeded. Tulele Peisa also made extensive use of trusted figures within the community to facilitate this discussion, building trust between the organisation and the community, and in turn creating trust in the relocation project itself.
- Tulele Peisa was created and led by the community itself, and therefore the organisation had an acute understanding of the values and culture of the community. This deep knowledge of the importance of language, culture, faith and community practices meant that Tulele Peisa could build a project that was deeply embedded in the values of the community.
Case study author: Alex Randall, Senior Engagement Advisor, Climate Outreach.
Scotland’s citizens’ assembly on Climate Change
Scotland held its first Citizens’ Assembly in 2019, building on this work, they held the second national citizens’ assembly, which was the first to focus specifically on the climate emergency.
The citizens’ assembly was not simply a consultation exercise, but rather an opportunity for a group of 100 Scottish citizens to deliberate and then design policy. Scotland’s citizens’ assembly on climate change brought together a group of people who were broadly representative of Scotland’s population to learn about climate change, and then work together to design a series of policies to address the issue.
The structure of citizens’ assemblies (on any issue) does not simply involve participants reflecting on a series of pre-set policies. Instead, the assembly model enables participants to spend a significant amount of time learning together about the issue. In the case of Scotland’s citizens’ assembly on climate change, participants spent several days learning about the causes and consequences of climate change. This wasn’t achieved through a one-way flow of information from experts to participants, but instead through a process that allowed the participants to question a series of world experts on climate change.
After several days of interaction with leading experts, participants turned to policy design. Again, this process took a deliberative approach. The goal of citizens’ assemblies is not to canvas opinion on existing policies, but rather to allow a group of citizens to design the policies themselves.
The assembly generated policy recommendations covering every area of the economy. Crucially, the recommendations engaged with many of the more controversial areas of carbon emissions reduction where public opinion has remained divided, such as aviation and changes to diets. The assembly produced recommendations on these issues which enjoyed support from over 95% of assembly participants, demonstrating that consensus can be reached – even on difficult topics – through a process of participation and deliberation.
The assembly also created policy recommendations that fall outside the usual areas of emissions reduction and climate adaptation. The assembly created a series of recommendations on education and wider public engagement on climate change. For example, the assembly recommended embedding carbon literacy in Scotland’s education system, as well as a series of proposals on raising awareness on specific climate change issues.
The assembly model exemplifies a number of principles that in practice are likely to lead to meaningful public engagement on climate change – engagement that creates both acceptance of the necessary policies and a clear-sighted understanding of the risks posed by climate change.
- The citizens’ assembly model creates a meaningful two-way interaction between citizens and experts. This is likely to create a deeper understanding of the evidence, greater respect for the scientific processes involved and greater acceptance of the strength of the evidence in question.
- Crucially, the citizens’ assembly model also puts the participants at the centre of the policymaking process. In an era where many governments have been accused of being distant and disconnected from their citizens, Scotland’s citizens’ assembly on climate change put ordinary citizens at the heart of policymaking. By putting a representative group of citizens at the core of policy design, the assembly helped to generate policy ideas that reflected the needs and concerns of the population at large.
- By employing a participatory process to generate policies, the Scottish government can be more confident that these will not adversely impact a particular section of society. As the government begins turning the policy proposals into tangible change across the country, they can also be more confident that the policies reflect a pace of change that the wider citizenry feel is proportionate to the risks posed by climate change.
- For governments considering options for building a public mandate for policy change, the citizens’ assembly model may bring a number of key benefits. Evidence from across the social sciences points to this kind of participation leading to both deeper engagement and concern, and increased enthusiasm for policies to address climate change.
Case study author: Alex Randall, Senior Engagement Advisor, Climate Outreach.
There are certain common strategies and approaches that underpin successful public engagement despite differences in location and culture. Organisations, community groups and governments can draw inspiration from these strategies and successfully apply them to other contexts in which effective public engagement can be carried out to achieve long-lasting and impactful change.
These strategies illustrate the main principles of effective public engagement identified by Climate Outreach: connect with people’s deeply held values; create truly meaningful inclusive and participatory approaches; engage positive cultural and social norms; create honest, empowering stories. Furthermore, in highlighting the importance of meaningful participation, values and trusted messengers, these case studies show that these considerations can make a sustained social mandate for climate action possible.
This webpage has been produced as part of the larger Climate Engagement Initiative (CEI) at Climate Outreach. 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 can make informed decisions and take the personal and collective actions required to achieve global emission reduction targets.
Climate Outreach would like to thank the IKEA Foundation for supporting this work.
If you have any questions or success stories of your own concerning public engagement on climate change that you would like to share, please contact us.
Project team and acknowledgements
Alex Randall, Senior Engagement Advisor, Climate Outreach
Deepayan Basu Ray, former Head of Engagement, Climate Outreach
Dr Gurpreet Kaur, Engagement Advisor, Climate Outreach
Dr. Dina Zayed, Consultant (at time of writing)
Editing & Production
Fahmida Miah, Project Manager, Climate Outreach
Lauren Armstrong, Communications Coordinator, Climate Outreach
Léane de Laigue, Communications Lead, Climate Outreach
Marné Beukes, former Project Manager, Climate Outreach
We would like to thank Aya Youssef (Lampa), Hoda Baraka (Align), Manar Ramadan (Banlastic), Mona Mowafi (RISE Egypt), Sarah Rifaat (Khoyout Troupe) and Shady Khalil (Greenish) for their contributions, time as interviewees for this work, and for allowing us to spotlight their work in these case studies.
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