Public engagement matters, now more than ever

November 27, 2022

Changes must take place in Pakistan for participatory climate policy development

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eaningful public engagement pushed the ambitious agenda of loss and damage forward – both inside Pakistan and globally. Small island developing states such as Vanuatu and Maldives had been pushing for such funds since 1991. This set the stage for Pakistan, faced with devastating floods, to use its position as chair of the UN Group of 77 and China to first lobby for placing loss and damage on the official agenda of the COP27 conference and then to aggressively push for a fund facility.

Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman impressively built a momentum on loss and damage at Sharm el Sheikh, even as sessions went over the officially mandated days. There was a clear division between countries hit the hardest by climate change and those who emit the most greenhouse gas emissions. Long negotiations saw efforts by the developed countries to stall a loss and damage till next year, raise questions about the donor base and which countries should receive funds, etc. Tensions remained high at the all-night negotiating session until the final gavel hit to cement the deal past 9am on Sunday.

Teresa Anderson from Action Aid said, “We can give credit to the collective pressure from civil society, combined with unprecedented unity among developing countries, for forcing rich countries to finally say ‘yes – we are in this together’.”

Achievements at COP27 remained limited to tackling the impacts of climate change, rather than addressing its causes. While establishing the loss and damage fund is a hard-won facility to help vulnerable communities and countries face the worst impacts of climate change, failure to address the root cause of the climate crisis by phasing down fossil fuels –

– oil, gas, and coal – is a loss for the planet’s survival. “1.5 to stay alive” remained a call from small island states to limit global warming from use of fossil fuels.

Harjeet Singh from Climate Action Network (CAN) International aptly summarised it when he said, “disinformation campaigns by polluting fossil fuel companies cosying up with governments, and rich countries’ fear of liability to pay up for the climate damages tell the tale;” and that, “the creation of a new loss and damage fund has sent a warning to polluters that they can no longer be off the hook.”

Pakistan, along with the rest of the world, needs to continue this momentum to accelerate its clean energy transition.

The power of delivering on a well-crafted message – that polluters must pay for climate induced natural disasters – carried through from the flooded plains of Pakistan to the negotiating tables at Sharm el Sheikh. The next step for our government should be to steer this engagement towards phasing out of fossil fuels – both globally and at home.

Pakistan’s resilience and adaptation to a green economy will essentially depend on engaging its millions of citizens. Trusted messengers become critical to galvanising public support and higher engagement.

Climate Outreach’s research found that ‘traditional’ messengers do not have the same impact on everyone. For example, environmental NGOs may in fact sometimes deter certain segments of the population from engaging, as they feel they cannot relate to them due to different political ideologies and values. When the messenger is perceived to be from the ‘other’ group, it leads to polarisation that is often exploited by lobbies opposed to ambitious climate action.

Research is clear that “finding the right intermediaries is critical. Traditionally, the public have been thought of as receivers of information, but evidence has consistently shown that the information deficit model (that people do not change because they have a ‘deficit’ of information) is not a good explanation for lack of engagement with climate change.”

For example, Sir David Attenborough is the most liked public figure in the UK with 87 percent approval ratings (YouGov) – any message he conveys on the survival of the planet will be much better received. Similarly, football clubs and cricket teams have higher trust ratings – allegiance to a sports team is a strong part of people’s identity and community. A recent case study with Pledgeball shows that making people feel that they are part of a collective taking action and that their actions feed into a large systemic change works.

Social narratives that resonate with people’s values and identities fundamentally form their attitudes and actions, further propagated by trusted messengers.

Trusted messengers, if strategically employed, can be a powerful tool to engage the public on behavioural change. So the role of governments and civil society also becomes to pass the mic to these trusted messengers for higher engagement for climate action.

Another powerful tool is the use of citizens’ assemblies, which are increasingly gaining momentum in a number of countries to help shape the work of governments and parliaments. Citizens’ assemblies on climate enable decision-makers to understand people’s informed preferences on issues that are complex and require systemic changes.

These changes must take place in Pakistan for participatory climate policy development. Creating a social mandate – where the public identifies climate change as a priority issue and demands ambitious climate policies – will be required for meaningful and just transition. Will Pakistan place its people at the heart of addressing climate change?


The writer is the engagement advisor at Climate Outreach, UK. She tweets NamHameed



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