Social Climate Change

Rather surprlsingly I was recently asked by one of Europe's largest energy companies [not an oil company I hasten to add!] to join a small but eclectic group of people they convened to look at climate change issues. One of the issues on which they sought reflection was the question of citizen engagement - both in and of itself and related to energy companies.

There is an increasing interest and priority within the international development community on climate change. A number of bilaterals such as DFID and SDC for example have this issue amongst their top priorities.

In common with many other issues the polci framework on climate change has often been [a] technically driven - what new, greener ways of creating energy can we develop and proliferate? [b] laws and regulation driven - what tax or other investment incentives or penalties can we out in place to stimulate lower carbon emissions? and/or [c] targets driven - for example the Kyoto and Copenhagen processes. From our recent meeting it seems the corporate sector has a similar focus.

These 3 policy elements are of course vital parts of any response. But maybe they miss a vitally important element. All three of these strategies require people - citizens - in countries, communities and organisations/companies to carry them out. Without that motivated, committed and energetic citizen involvement, buy-in and leadership you can have all of the technology, laws and targets you wish but not much will happen.

Taking energy choices as an example, from individual/family [eg transport choices] and local communities [eg public transport investment] to commercial considerations [eg fleet policies] and national laws and policies [eg reaction to tax penalties or incentives] the engagement of citizens is crucial for both direct climate change action and a set of social and political norms that support, motivate and propagate that action.

Of course commercial conglomerates see all of this through three pressure points - their short term profit levels - how much money they make; the long term context for their business - will their brand be positive and their products relevant in future scenarios; and consumer demand - what do their present and potential customers want right now and in the future?

I have no background and little interest in big business. But being in a context that is considerably outside your natural habitat does encourage a look at the broader issues. I would welcome your feedback on the following two perspectives.

The first issue is what the citizen related dynamics are on climate change. Without that understanding [and much more research is needed of course] there is little hope of understanding. The summary I presented on this had the following major elements as continuums to navigate in order to expand citizen engagement:

Daily life pressures........Future of the planet considerations

Short term.......Long term


Company profit......Environmentally sustainable action

Government direction.....Locally decided action

Self/family interest.......Community/national “health”

A Distant Issue [can see no real local impact]......Present Issue

Doable.....Not doable

Size of the issue.....People's perception of their piece of that issue

For each of these there are any number of examples that can be used to illustrate. Think for example of your own transport choices today [convenience?] or the requirement to keep warm [fossil fuel dependent?].

In general the 'trick' with effective climate change action will be to move from the left to the right along these conitua.

Of course climate change is not the first big, big, big issue that we have had to address collectively at global scale - though it may be the most serious. We have to assume that the very future of the planet in which all future generations will live trumps even human rights, national liberation movements, equal rights for women and a bunch of other issues.

For more effective and wide ranging citizen engagement in global warming issues what can we learn from these “successful” broad scale citizen led social movements. We began with these core strategic principles:


Positioning the issue for public debate and private dialogue

Highlighting key facts

Building advocacy and support networks

Engendering “ownership” of the issue

Balancing demonstration of progress with reality of future challenges

Engaging the political process

Amplifying the voices of those at the sharp end of the effects of climate change

Open strategic decision making processes to public involvement

These seem to have been key components of all major social change and social movement processes.,They also seem to be essential for effective action on climate change. Working in this way can address - in the extensive citizen engagement manner required - the requirements for effective climate change action.

Of course some of this is happening already - but it does seem to be either incidental or a reaction to the main technical, laws/regulations and target fixes being proposed at the core of the present climate change response.

And even major companies will need a policy prism and policy framework such as this in order to organise and implement effective climate change action that meets their three driving determinants - short and long term.

But what do you think?