This article is a contribution from People’s Plan, a community organisation working to get citizens involved in shaping climate policies.

Living in a democracy means we have the power to choose our governing legislation.

In representative or indirect democracies, like most modern Western-style democracies, we do this by electing officials to represent us. These elected officials must represent and balance the needs of many constituents; a complex task which, by its very nature, often results in suboptimal, generalised policy solutions.

The truth is- in an indirect democracy, to have a meaningful say in the laws which govern you, active participation and engagement with elected officials is vital to inform the policymaking process. This is especially important when considering the urgent, universal threat of the climate crisis, our response to which has far-reaching implications for every aspect of how we live. As we’ll explore, citizen engagement helping governments decide how to respond to the climate crisis results in better, more informed climate policy. That is why we, The Climate Venture Collective, have launched The People’s Plan, a campaign empowering the British public to speak up about what a green recovery means to them, so their views can inform local climate solutions.

We speak up to protect our future and our children’s futures. Because fundamentally, we believe this world can be a better place. We are dedicated to tackling the climate crisis with ambitious and achievable policies that will make our economy thrive.

The Great Reset

We find ourselves at a momentous crossroads in history. Centuries of carbon-intensive industrial growth have created economic prosperity on a huge scale, lifting millions out of poverty, whilst simultaneously destroying the environment on which our wellbeing and existence depends. This current pandemic – an invisible enemy affecting the lives and livelihoods of so many across the globe – is a stark reminder that our wellbeing is integrally linked to that of our environment. It has enabled us all to see our carbon-intensive prosperity for what it is – a house of cards at risk of being blown away at any moment. Or put another way, in the words of activist Satish Kumar: “We humans have the responsibility to raise our voice. What we do to nature, we do to ourselves. If we pollute the water, we have to drink it. If we pollute the air, we have to breathe it. If we pollute soil, we have to eat the food from the soil.”

Forced to slow down and reflect on how we live and what matters to us, this unprecedented year is being hailed as ‘The Great Reset’. In a recent YouGov poll, 91% of the British population say they do not want to return to life before Covid-19, but instead to ‘build back better. After all, we need to rebuild and decarbonise our economy urgently, so why not tackle both at the same time? Now is our only window to push for a clean and green recovery that protects the wellbeing of future generations.

Citizens as change-makers

So what can citizens add to how governments respond to the climate crisis? First and foremost, unique insight and diverse ideas. Every citizen is a local community expert, seeing and experiencing problems first-hand and day-to-day. Involving more people with a diversity of backgrounds in the policymaking process leads to more diverse ideas and more varied solutions (a few of which we’ll examine later).

What’s more, national and local governments need our help. They know we need to decarbonise our economies rapidly, but don’t have all the answers as to how we should go about this. It’s a monumental task and new territory for everyone – not dissimilar from learning how to adapt our lives to a continually evolving global pandemic. There’s also a growing public concern about the climate crisis and how we respond to it, given its profound implications on everyone’s lives and how we live.

UN consultations, including the ‘World Wide Views on Climate and Energy initiative in 2015, have repeatedly shown that citizens want to take part in deciding on policies to address the climate crisis. They want their views to be heard and see themselves as participants in the decision-making process, rather than subjects of decisions made by others. Fundamentally, citizens have a right to be heard and air their concerns about an issue as important as this that significantly affects their future. Furthermore, countries that are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have committed to promoting “public participation in addressing climate change and its effects and developing adequate responses“. Defining an inclusive and participatory approach to a green recovery that ensures regular dialogue between the government and its citizenry is essential.

Assemble the masses!

History is full of examples that show us citizens can drive transformational change. Countless breakthroughs, from the suffragettes to the civil rights movement, only happened because people put themselves behind a cause. All forms of citizen participation, from formal consultations to advocacy and even direct nonviolent action, can be important catalysts for change. And given the tight deadlines, the worsening impacts of the climate crisis, and the enormity of the task ahead, all of them are much-needed.

Last year, in recognition of the value that citizen consultation can have on the climate crisis, the UK government set up Climate Assembly UK, bringing together a diverse group of +100 people. This group, representing the British public, was asked to discuss how the UK should reach its commitments to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Advised by experts, it met over six weekends this past summer to understand, discuss and prioritise actions the UK should take. Their highly anticipated report offers many useful insights for local authorities seeking to act on their climate emergency declarations.

Key takeaways included that local areas should be free to define their own solutions with leadership from the national government and that education is key, especially regarding the broader benefits of decarbonisation. But perhaps the biggest takeaway was that citizen’s assemblies work. They provide unique insights for local and national policymakers to understand what policies will be acceptable to the public. Moreover, they offer a powerful means of generating ideas and evaluating trade-offs, and their strength lies in their role in helping participants to get to grips with the issues.

This success story is backed up by several local examples of citizen assemblies set up by councils, using the same process to select members that are representative of the population. For example, Cambridge’s Citizen Assembly, which created recommendations on how to reduce congestion, improve air quality, and provide better public transport in the Greater Cambridge region. Or Oxford’s Citizen Assembly, which advised making homes more efficient and cheaper to heat and helped push forward a pioneering renewable heating scheme that cuts carbon and saves money. A similar community consultation on how to adapt to climate change in Rotterdam resulted in the creation of “water plazas” around the city to collect water during heavy rainfall and serve as sporting grounds during dry spells. Such community-led solutions not only increase liveability standards for residents but also benefit the public purse. These examples demonstrate the role residents from all walks of life can play in developing a local approach to tackling difficult issues.

We need to rebuild and decarbonise our economy urgently, so why not tackle both at the same time? Now is our only window to push for a clean and green recovery that protects the wellbeing of future generations.

Participation is a two-way street

However, all forms of citizen participation require a deliberate approach. Rigid, one-way forms of participation that were common in the past, such as attempting to capture public sentiment through polls or surveys or trying to nudge citizens to adopt behaviours in line with a largely predetermined future, have proven to be of limited efficacy. Policymakers should ideally engage in a dialogue with citizens, and be open to discussing their assumptions, values and views. 

Even climate assemblies need to follow a transparent and structured process to ensure they are effective. A recent review of Camden’s Citizen Assembly on the Climate Crisis questioned their efficacy. Despite being a positive experience for those involved, the review raised questions about the lack of clarity on the incorporation of idea generation, shared principles and evaluation criteria.

Meet The Climate Venture Collective

The Climate Venture Collective is a collaborative, open community dedicated to creating scalable solutions to the climate crisis by leveraging collective wisdom. Founded earlier this year, our most significant initiative to date is a public awareness and engagement campaign advocating for a green recovery from Covid-19. As discussed, the global pandemic is a wake-up call, and radical change is needed. Our message is simple: the best way to fix our economy is to fix our planet. That’s why we called our campaign ‘The People’s Plan’. We speak up to protect our future and our children’s futures. Because fundamentally, we believe this world can be a better place. We are dedicated to tackling the climate crisis with ambitious and achievable policies that will make our economy thrive. And we want the UK Government to listen to the people and commit to taking urgent climate action by implementing green policies.

Our current focus lies on empowering members of the British public to engage in a dialogue with their local authorities. Our digital platform, to be piloted in the coming months and fully launched in 2021, will gather insights on citizen priorities for a more sustainable future. By making our platform interactive, educational and gamified, we aim to engage a diverse and representative cross-section of the community. We have identified ten action areas that are key to unlocking a healthier, cleaner, and greener future, and provide the steps in the interactive journey that each user will take. Furthermore, we see this platform as an opportunity to do more than gather data on residents’ wishes, but also to inform them of the co-benefits of specific climate policies.

The People’s Plan has identified ten action areas.

Act now!

So what can you do to get involved? Be an agent of change in your communities. Whatever you choose to do – act in this crucial and singular window, because we have to leave a better world for future generations. For as the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said – to lead a life worth living is to “leave the world a little better for your having lived.”

Involve residents in your action plans to tackle climate change

Community engagement can help you solve the climate change challenge. Tap into the collective intelligence of your residents by consulting them and shape better, fairer climate policies.

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