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Trust is at the centre of the Petersberg Climate Dialogue – so what about the public’s trust?

By Amiera Sawas on May 4, 2023

This week, world leaders got together in Germany for the 14th Annual Petersberg Climate Dialogue. These dialogues were set up to build trust, positive climate diplomacy and momentum around ambitions in the lead up to the annual intergovernmental climate negotiations, the COPs.

This year’s COP28 is hosted by the UAE and led by its President Designate, Dr. Sultan Al Jaber. The Dialogue is an opportunity to lay out the proposed programme and priorities for the event.

Public engagement has to be a key priority – for this and future COPs – to have any chance of making the changes we need to our lives, communities and economies. So how has the Dialogue fared?

People walking over a crossing.

Collective energy seems focussed on three negotiating areas. Firstly, the firstGlobal Stocktake– a monitoring framework which can evaluate collective progress on achieving agreed global commitments on climate action. It can also provide evidence to catalyse new ambitions. 

Another key area – as always – is climate finance. Dr. Jaber reminded the audience of the lagging progress on the goal (set a decade ago) of $100 billion per year from high income to low income countries most affected by the crisis. 

The third area is realising and accelerating national plans to mitigate carbon emissions and adapt to the new realities of climate change, and Dr. Jaber emphasised the need for collaboration across sectors and the need for a just transition.

Each of these areas depends on public engagement. The loss and damage fund was won due to huge pressure from campaigners and citizens from around the world. A just transition is not possible without bringing people from every community on the journey to a low carbon future. But once again, the piece that could have had a real impact on people was ignored. 

In the COP process, there is a mechanism to engage people on climate change: ‘Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE). At the last COP, a 4 year strategy on ACE mandated parties to develop national strategies covering six areas: climate education and public awareness, training, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation on these issues. Successful implementation is key to climate action, especially in an era of a trust deficit – but it has been absent in Petersberg.

In fact, ACE has never been particularly prioritised by parties or even civil society. A review of technical submissions to the negotiating areas shows very few references to ACE national strategies and how they relate to these negotiating areas. 

We can’t help but think: how on earth are societies to ‘transform’ without putting people at the heart of those transformations? without building public trust in those making the decisions? without engaging them in solutions? For COP28 to be a success, there needs to be pressure on governments to enact the ACE national strategies that they committed to delivering.

Dr. Jaber did, in fact, talk about trust. He said “expectations are high, but trust is low”. He spoke to a need for active listening, empathy and respect for different points of view. This is astute, because we know from the new Edelman Trust Barometer – which surveys publics across the world – that trust and optimism are at all time lows. 46% of the people surveyed viewed governments as sources of untrustworthy information. When asked who they trust with information about issues like climate change and the economic crisis, people responded: scientists, my co-workers, my CEO, my neighbours, people in my local community and citizens of my country.

We know from all our research at Climate Outreach – although unfortunately this is not yet common knowledge amongst decision makers – that engaged citizens are absolutely essential. In the UK, the Climate Change Committee’s latest assessment argues 32% of emissions reductions up to 2035 require decisions by individuals and households to adopt low carbon technologies, choose low-carbon products and services, and reduce carbon-intensive consumption. The recent IPCC assessment report found that 40-70% of carbon emissions reductions could come from demand side measures. All of these need to involve people, helping them make different choices and understand the balance of co-benefits and trade offs. 

It’s not just about lifestyle change, either. The necessary systematic change through policies and their implementation via infrastructure, land use, business transformation and facilitated culture shift also require peoples’ buy-in. 

We need to see ACE strategies being prioritised and funded so that the highly ambitious and necessary goals to transform, decarbonise and adapt societies are possible. Initiatives like climate assemblies and participatory environmental planning have shown people’s participation is possible and desired. Now it’s time for governments to catalyse this, and put people at the centre of their decision-making and negotiations on climate.

One response to Trust is at the centre of the Petersberg Climate Dialogue – so what about the public’s trust?

  1. Anthony Powell says: says:

    I feel that COP28 delegates should be getting there by other means than flying, and those coming from the Americas should take sailing ships or at least a very slow cruise – no minimise fuel use. This would highlight how serious we are on this, set a standard and inspire other travellers to change; and set in motion making the infrastructure for low-emissions travel. The delegates would also see more of the World and its problems, hopefully making more ambitious decisions and sticking to them.
    Delegates unwilling to not fly should be fed a Third World diet and accommodated in tents!

By Dr Amiera Sawas

Amiera led Climate Outreach’s research and engagement teams until 2023. She was responsible for overseeing the programmatic and research implementation of the organisation’s strategy. Amiera has diverse experience in climate, environment and development research and programming work, across the private, non-governmental and academic sectors. This has taken her to various countries including Sweden, Pakistan, Jordan and Kenya. As a result, she’s really passionate about the potential of bringing diverse stakeholders together to combat climate change and set an inclusive vision for our collective future.

Amiera has a PhD in Human Geography, a Masters in Global Politics and a Bachelors in Psychology.

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