When It’s Personal

This is a personal post I’ve been reluctant to write yet I know it must be written.

Last July the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment announced the members for the Advisory Group on the National Dialogue on Climate Action while presenting the National Mitigation Plan. The explanation of the climate dialogue was as follows:

The primary objective of the National Dialogue will be to ensure an inclusive process of engagement and consensus building across society towards enabling the transformation to a low carbon and climate-resilient future. To do this, the Dialogue will seek to create awareness, engagement and motivation to act (locally, regionally and nationally) in relation to the challenges presented by climate change and to establish, on a long term basis, appropriate networks for people to meet periodically to consider evidence-based inputs on the economic, social, behavioural, environmental and public aspects of climate and energy policy.

A key element of the National Dialogue already underway is the Green Schools National Climate Change Action and Awareness Programme which, for 2017, includes the development phase for a Climate Change Ambassadors Programme.

So the Climate Ambassador programme is part of the Climate Dialogue and the Climate Dialogue evolved from the National Energy Forum promised in the national policy Irelands Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future 2015-2030. Effectively the manifestation of work with the Peoples Energy Charter PEC calling for Comprehensive Public Participation in Irelands National Energy Transition Plan. There were others calling for similar and the pressure for climate dialogue was strong. However this is for all intent and purposes the governments attempt at changing the system of participation which is what I worked on with PEC and the Transition movement for almost 3 years. It’s all in my blog post Changing THE System.

I received a phone call early in July congratulating me on membership of the advisory group. 3 different sources were discussing my appointment but it was the first I had heard. As I hadn’t heard I contacted the relevant civil servant:

I’ve heard from three different people in the past week that they were informed that I was a member of the steering committee for the climate dialogue. As I have heard nothing it was suggested that I check with you personally.
I received a phone call the following day and was told these people were talking nonsense. I was told I’m not on the advisory group but he hoped I would get involved in the future at a regional and local level.
I was pretty deflated with the whole experience and it reminded me of my days working in the civil service when initiative and intelligence in the lower ranks were frowned upon. I heard it started as a 12 person group but other people had taken the hump and got themselves included for their own egos so the membership went to 16. I battled with whether this was just an ego issue and who am I to think I deserved a place on the group. I reserved judgement and hoped that my values would be shared and pursued by someone else on the advisory group. I did send the following email but received no reply.

I am delighted that there is a cross cutting group being formed to oversee the process. I’m now curios, having heard about it, as to who will make up the team and why I’m not involved. I know you can’t tell me who is named but I do hope it is more than NGOs, scientists and academia. I hope that you have people with experience of engagement from the grass roots and not a panel of researchers and academics. Not that I have anything against academia but I hope there is balance.

As it happens, after hearing the news that I was named for the third time yesterday, I received the following email (another researcher, this time from Maynooth). The fact is that I have been interviewed by probably every researcher on the subject in the country. My input has been used in probably all recent reports you will or have read on public participation in climate and energy policy. With that in mind I began to wonder why I would not be on the steering group to oversee public participation in the climate dialogue especially as it subsumes the energy forum which is something I pushed for during the white paper process.
Transition Ireland has been coordinating grass roots climate action for almost 10 years now with locally sourced funding for all sorts of climate related projects ranging from LA21 grants for awareness raising events to Leader funding for county wide energy audits. The People’s Energy Charter which called for comprehensive public participation in the national energy transition plan was our first national policy campaign. I think it would be very unfortunate if the department did not include a Transition Ireland representative, with insight and experience of grass roots engagement specialising in climate action, on this steering group.

Fast forward to this week.

Ahead of attending the Climate Ambassador training last Saturday with someone I had to accompany I asked about expenses to attend as it was over an hour away from home and included car parking in Galway which is not cheap. I learned that there were no expenses for the volunteers attending to be trained as Climate Ambassadors. I referenced the recently launched National Adaptation Framework (page 53) stating that this programme is being hailed as the first step of engagement in the national climate dialogue which is a commitment under the Programme for Partnership Government yet there’s no funding for expenses of volunteers attending training. So volunteers must deliver on the programme for government at their own expense? This is something that would not happen if I were in an oversight position. This proved to me that the climate dialogue advisory group are not mindful of inclusion or aware of the challenges to rural engagement. Ensuring volunteers are not out of pocket is something they must commit to at every step of the Climate Dialogue.
When I went to the training on Saturday it hit me how easily I was cast aside yet how important my voice is to the process. Then when someone assumed I was there to give the training I just cried. They encouraged me to write this post as it needs to be known how exclusive our governance is. That I, a mere mortal, living in the hills of Clare who has been engaged in grass roots led transition and climate action for over 10 years might have something valuable to add is dismissed. This is about a peoples charter not some top down scripted programme, one size fits all, box ticking experiment in how to elude inclusion or facilitated participation. Maybe I wasn’t welcome because I blog and tell it as it is.
Theresa O’Donohoe
January 30th 2018

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