Climate Dialogue, Covid19 Ready, in 7 steps

In 2016 the Irish government announced a National Dialogue on Climate Action. Only 4 events have been held within the past 4 years so it falls on the current government to ensure that dialogue proceeds at pace. In a Covid19 world how will that happen?

  1. Convene a National co-ordination team: First and foremost there has to be a firm commitment from government to resource a comprehensive climate dialogue. This must be coordinated at national level and facilitated at local authority level to allow for bottom up engagement in community led, place based, solution focused, climate action. There must be full time staff dedicated to the dialogue coordination, aligned to the Climate Action Council.
  1. Run a national awareness campaign: The climate dialogue requires a continuing and far reaching campaign along the lines of a referendum, covid19, the Gathering etc. It will need to be across all forms of media and bring national, community based, bodies into it  – such as the GAA, youth groups, Age Action, unions, FAI, Macra etc. All of the people in Ireland need to have the relevant information so that they may participate in the vision and decisions that will impact our country for generations to come. 
  1. Build official capacity to facilitate the dialogue: Whether it is local authority staff, through the Public Participation Networks or another entity there must be, at the very least, one full time staff member assigned to the dialogue. As well as local support, this person would have access to national guidance and support via the coordination team and the national, community based, collaborating bodies at county and local level.
  1. Call on intermediaries and local actors: There are many trained facilitators throughout Ireland. There are Transition Towns facilitators all across the country. As well as eNGOs and environmental groups, programmes such as Cool Planet Champions, Climate Ambassadors, Recycling Ambassador, Green Schools etc have all built public capacity to discuss climate change. There are enough engaged citizens to create county or municipal district, climate dialogue action teams. 
  1. Recognise that the time is right: People are more engaged than ever, with many eager for climate action. The growth of Fridays For Future, Extinction Rebellion and green politics demonstrates an appetite for change that sees the climate and biodiversity emergencies addressed. Collaboration with these activists will be important.
  1. Accommodate the creativity and collaboration: Heeding the compelling call from government, people will want to get involved. Town hall style, world cafe format, workshops function very well for climate dialogues as people collaborate to reimagine their community. There are online platforms that function very effectively and can produce similar, even more detailed, outcomes.
  1. Follow through: From these workshops will come action plans. Many in line with existing government policy. For well being it is important that people have the support they need to put their ideas into action. The government must increase supports and funding streams for businesses and climate action projects that communities will inevitably pursue.

Introduction to the National Dialogue on Climate Action

The National Climate Dialogue evolved from the national energy policy Irelands Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future. The following reasoning is taken from the website of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. 

It is essential that we put in place a system of community engagement to build public support for the action plans that we need to put in place over the coming years and decades.Given the long term nature of climate action, much still needs to be settled in terms of long-term policy direction and, in this context, a national dialogue is timely and will be a useful tool to engage people with the challenge of climate change; motivate changes in behaviour; and create structures at local, regional and national levels to support the generation of ideas and their translation into appropriate cost-effective actions.

The Programme for a Partnership Government commits to establishing a National Dialogue on Climate Action (NDCA). This will also subsume the role envisaged for the National Energy Forum, which is a key action of the Energy White Paper. Given the long term nature of climate action, much still needs to be settled in terms of long-term policy direction and, in this context, a national dialogue is timely and will be a useful tool to engage people with the challenge of climate change; motivate changes in behaviour; and create structures at local, regional and national levels to support the generation of ideas and their translation into appropriate cost-effective actions. 

The objectives of the National Dialogue on Climate Action are to:

  • Create awareness, engagement and motivation to act (locally, regionally and nationally) in relation to the challenges presented by climate change;
  • Create structures and information flows to facilitate people gathering to discuss, deliberate and maximise consensus on appropriate responses to these challenges, and to enable and empower appropriate action;
  • 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;
  • Provide regular input, through the NDCA, into the prioritisation and implementation of climate and energy policy which can be reported and monitored at local/regional/national levels. 

This introduction speaks for itself. It is essential that we have a national dialogue so that we are all working together with a shared goal of climate action. 

1. National coordination team

It is important that a dialogue of this scale and urgency have national oversight including access to relevant experts, collaborators, advisors, officials and funding streams. It is vital that the same message, base methodology, ambitions and resources are afforded to all local authority catchments so that the dialogue may be rolled out effectively at local level. National commitment and support to ensure that happens will be important. 

Once established, at least one full time, executive position, adequately resourced and supported, must be dedicated to the implementation of this dialogue at national level. This function could be aligned with the Climate Action Council to increase collaboration.

There should be a forum where national organisations or networks with a local reach can engage with coordination. Bodies such as the Gaelic Athletic Association, youth groups, Age Action, unions,  Irish Farmers Association, Football Association of Ireland, Macra etc. The most successful town hall meeting is the one that sees everyone in the community attend. Participating in the decisions that affect your environment are a right protected by the Aarhus convention and working to achieve maximum participation should be a driver in this project. Community reach is vital to the success of the climate dialogue therefore national organisations with community reach are essential.

The national coordination team should be supported by a working group of state agency officials ensuring two way communications with the departments and agencies deemed most relevant by the national coordination team and the Minister for Climate Action.

Climate and biodiversity are now identified as cross cutting issues. The climate dialogue offers an opportunity to incorporate information and the sign posting of regenerative practices to protect and enhance biodiversity. This should be incorporated at national level and inform the messaging for the local process. 

A well run, solutions focused dialogue will ensure that the resulting collective vision depicts the direction Ireland can take. It will identify where certain technologies and solutions are welcome. Where land use solutions could be best suited. The potential of employment opportunities and entrepreneurial trends for a just transition. 

A similar, recent initiative, was the Recycling Ambassador Programme co-ordinated by Voice Ireland. In 2018 the aim of the RAP programme was to help people increase Ireland’s recycling rates and reduce levels of contamination in household recycling bins via the delivery of face to face workshops in communities throughout Ireland. The project had a steering group, one national coordinator with 3 regional coordinators organising workshops in conjunction with facilitators at local authority level. This proved extremely successful and replicable. A summary of the final report is here. During the course of the programme 691 workshops were delivered, spreading the message of the programme to 24,736 people face to face, both through workshops in communities and businesses and through stands at events and festivals.

2. National awareness campaign

Awareness of the urgency of the issue is essential and must be delivered mindful of the gravity of the situation and possible impacts on mental health. Covid19 has demonstrated that the people of Ireland respond very well to facts despite the seriousness of the situation. People are adapting on a regular basis to changes we could never have imagined before March 2020. 

The science of climate change can be and is often simplified to some extent, but it is a very complex area. It is vital that there is an agreed information pool for the messaging delivered during the climate dialogue. It must be the truth. It must be compelling. It must be a call to action. We must have the best minds in climate science, marketing and facilitation working together to devise a deliverable, compelling message that will ensure a coordinated package of marketing and workshop tools so that everyone is on the same page.

There are now many examples of best practice for climate action across the country. Bitesize introductions to local food and energy production, sustainable transport options,  farming for conservation, waste reduction and water conservation measures, biodiversity enhancement and much more exist in Ireland. 

An awareness campaign of this scale will ideally involve plenty of collaboration. It must be far reaching along the lines of drink driving, car safety, smoking dangers, etc. but it must also be long running such as a campaign for a referendum or covid19. All of the people in Ireland need to have the relevant information so that they may participate in the vision and decisions that will impact our country for generations to come.

It will need to be across all forms of media including print, social, radio and television. As well as visible in the public domain on billboards and posters. It will require postal information to all households. Sharing information through schools should also be included with consideration given to working with Fridays For Future and the school strike movement. Students are given plenty of information on climate change and this is an opportunity to bring them in on the problem solving.

This campaign must bring national, community based, bodies into it. In the tourism initiative “The Gathering” of 2013 the support of a wide coalition of community and voluntary sector partners was required. The goodwill and effort of individuals and communities were essential ingredients of success. 

The Gathering needed to become a project ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’. In order to achieve this, a determined effort was made to canvas the support of as many community-based organisations as possible.

All key national organisations or networks with a local reach were invited to participate and support. This included the main sporting organisations, farming and rural organisations, elderly and youth groups, voluntary and community networks, cultural, education and music groups and many more. The strategy involved securing high level support at national level through one-to- one meetings with executive and elected leaders in all of the main organisations. Once national buy-in was secured, follow-up at local level ensued through the local structures that were being established.

Messaging is extremely important so major consideration must be given to how the facts are portrayed. While they must be honest and compelling they should not be too depressing or hopeless. Incorporating the existing examples of best practice and the livelihoods being generated while pursuing a sustainable economy will help keep a balanced and positive focus.

The Third Report and Recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Ireland as a Leader Tackling Climate Change states that:

Greater emphasis should be placed on providing positive information to the public which encourages people to make changes to the aspects of their behaviour which impact on climate change. Such information should be targeted at all age groups using a wide variety of formats. The information provided should be focussed on highlighting the economic, social, health and other benefits of taking action rather than focussing on the negatives associated with a failure to act.

Costing of a marketing campaign based on “The Gathering”

Marketing and Communications Plan

An integrated marketing, promotion and communications plan was drawn up. This covered the full range of channels from raising awareness and driving engagement in the domestic market, promotion in key international markets, direct marketing, design and brand collateral, sponsorship and PR and media engagement. The breakdown of the marketing & communications spend by category is shown below.

Breakdown of The Gathering marketing and promotion budget €5.2million.

41% Domestic Advertising and Promotion

27% International Marketing

13% PR and Media Engagement 

12% Sponsorship

7% Design, print and Collateral

The domestic marketing and promotion campaign cost €2.1million

In addition, the digital and social media activity contributed directly to promoting The Gathering both at home and abroad. This spend is accounted for separately in the budget analysis.

Breakdown of The Gathering digital and social media budget €3.5million.

34% Social Media Activation and Marketing – Overseas

29% Social Media Activation and Marketing – Domestic

21% Digital and Web Platform 

16% Video, Blogs and Digital Content

The domestic digital and social media campaign cost €1million

3. Official capacity to facilitate the dialogue

There must be one full time coordinator assigned to the dialogue at local authority level. Whether it is local authority staff or through the Public Participation Networks, this person must be fully resourced and supported locally. They need to be able to collaborate with all the necessary partners or supports within their geographical area as well as working with  the national coordinator.  

The capacity to organise and facilitate participatory workshops online and in person is essential. Town hall style, world cafe format, workshops function very well for climate dialogues. Attendees are presented with the facts, some existing solutions and encouraged to create actions for their own community. While physical workshops may off limits during Covid19 there are online platforms that function very effectively and can produce similar, even more detailed, outcomes.

As well as local support, this person would have access to national guidance and support via the coordination team and the national, community based, collaborating bodies at county and local level. National bodies with local branches can encourage people to participate.

Consideration must be given to the capacity of the public sector to support this role. Some local authority areas have very strict rules around the use of the internet and what platforms are permissible. It is important that consultation with the County and City Managers Association is carried out ahead of any such decision. If local authorities are the chosen agency to deliver the dialogues locally then the CCA must be available to the national coordinator throughout the life time of the dialogue. 

It may be worth considering a third party for delivery of the climate dialogue as a whole or a system whereby local dialogues are outsourced at local authority level. The current Climate and Environment Action fund is already being used to fund climate dialogues hosted at community level and this may be a format worth pursuing with a dedicated climate dialogue fund. 

For the Recycling Ambassador Programme communities applied to host workshops. They subsequently provided the venue, marketing, refreshments and an audience. The regional coordinator and local facilitator helped with the marketing. The facilitator was paid to deliver the workshop. Environmental Awareness Officers and Tidy Towns coordinators within the local authorities encouraged communities to host a workshop. There was also a national awareness raising campaign. The full final report is here.

Regardless of who delivers the climate dialogue it is vital that capacity to support it, including the outcomes, is built at local authority level. The new programme for government, “Our Shared Vision” has a mission of “Reforming and Reimagining our Public Life” with a promise to build the capacity of local authorities to lead locally and engage citizens on climate change and biodiversity.

Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities: A Five-Year Strategy to Support the Community and Voluntary Sector in Ireland 2019-2024

From Department of Rural and Community Development 

Objective 11

Support community development and local development to engage with Climate Change adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Linking with the Government’s Climate Action Plan 2019

– provide training and capacity building in relation to Climate Change to community development and local development organisations,

– pilot and develop models of good practice on Climate Change adaptation and mitigation at community level, and

– include a focus on Climate Change in all community development and local development programmes and initiatives.

Outcome

Increased capacity in the community development and local development sectors to proactively engage with Climate Change adaptation and mitigation strategies and fully consider Climate Change in their work at a local level.

4. Call on intermediaries and local actors 

There are many people within our communities who will be invaluable to the national transition process and likewise the climate dialogue. Experts and entrepreneurs in energy, food, transport, waste, water, land use, biodiversity, facilitation, infrastructure and more are all invaluable to the process and are all living throughout the country. The expertise already exists. 

These people can be called upon purposefully or invited to attend events similarly to everyone else. 

There are Transition Towns facilitators all across the country. As well as eNGOs and environmental groups, programmes such as Cool Planet Champions, Climate Ambassadors, Green Schools etc have all built public capacity to discuss climate change. There are enough engaged citizens to create county or municipal district, climate dialogue action teams. 

5. Recognise that the time is right

People are more engaged than ever, with many eager for climate action. The growth of Fridays For Future, Extinction Rebellion and green politics demonstrates an appetite for change that sees the climate and biodiversity emergencies addressed. Collaboration with these activists will be important. With so many people aware of climate and biodiversity emergencies now more than ever before we have a solid base to start from.

Communities are aware of the increasing pressures upon them to become part of the national transition. The pattern of objection to energy projects locally must be transformed into a situation where communities are presenting themselves as the solution with community energy projects. Local food producers and markets are growing in popularity since the Covid19 crisis. Appreciation of a local supply chain increased when the global supply chain was threatened.   

Science is screaming at us to act. The facts are available and are easily accessible at this stage. The Environmental Protection Agency has the basic information for Ireland here including answers to the questions: what is climate change ? what is causing it ? and how will it affect us? In the World Meteorological Organisation Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2019 UN chief António Guterres warned that the world is currently

“We are currently way off track to meeting either the 1.5 °C or 2 °C targets that the Paris Agreement calls for. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. And for that, we need political will and urgent action to set a different path.”

The world needs action now. As global immigration continues to impact on Irish communities the effects of climate change will worsen the refugee crisis. Taken from the United Nations news at 24th July:

“The climate emergency generated by global warming, is exacerbating existing risks to international peace and security, while also creating new ones, a senior UN official told the Security Council, making the case for swift climate action on multiple fronts.”

“The climate emergency is a danger to peace”, said Miroslav Jenča, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas, as he called on peace and security actors to play their role and help speed up implementation of the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change.

Solutions are here – we now have many examples across the country demonstrating climate action. Local food and energy systems. Waste reduction and prevention projects. Water solutions. Regenerative agriculture practices and much more.

Political commitment has emerged. As well as many national policies and local authority plans for climate action, the recent programme for government offers a clear mandate that climate action is a national priority:

The next ten years are critical if we are to address the climate and biodiversity crisis which threatens our safe future on this planet. We have set out our ambition to more than halve our carbon emissions over the course of the decade. This will be challenging and will require fundamental changes in so many parts of Irish life, but we believe that Ireland can and will rise to this challenge. In doing so we will be able to improve the health, welfare and the security of all our people. 

We recognise out moral duty to put social justice at the heart of our commitment to decarbonise. We will ensure that people in all parts of the country can capitalise on the new opportunities this Just Transition will bring. Undertaking this commitment will enhance our quality of life and will deliver a brighter future for our children. 

6. Accommodate the creativity and collaboration

This is non negotiable. No matter how you gift wrap climate change it is not great news and the antidote to depression is action. Covid19 was not great news but there was a rallying call to action which inspired a mindset of solidarity and commitment to act in the best interest of everyone. Communities were afforded the support to generate solutions to challenges within their own area. These task forces created solutions specific to their own communities. It is quite possible that these same task forces will play a part in the climate dialogue and that is something that should be explored with them. Many have already fostered collaboration across the prevalent community actors such as sports, recreation, PPNs, volunteer groups, development agencies and local authorities. 

It is important to have the climate dialogues ready to go alongside the awareness raising campaign. People will want to take action when they become aware of the challenges climate change poses. Transition Ireland and Northern Ireland have been hosting these workshops for over a decade. The ideal event will allow people digest the information and come up with solutions to the challenges within hours. This is done in groups to ensure support and capacity to discuss the challenges. The expertise comes from the participants who know their own communities best. 

However the process in itself has to evolve to challenges. Covid19 threatens the classic town hall style, world cafe format, workshops which function very effectively for climate dialogues. They allow people to collaborate while they reimagine their community. People need a safe space to explore the information, ideas and solutions that evolve from the awareness. Thankfully there are now online platforms that function very effectively and can produce similar, even more detailed, outcomes.

7. Follow through

With the renewed focus on collaborative action it is imperative that communities are on board from the start to meet the top down approach from government and local authorities. There must be a bottom up approach incorporated. 

From these workshops will come action plans and communities committed to their implementation. Many projects will be in line with existing government policy. For well being it is important that people have the support they need to put their ideas into action immediately. The government must increase supports and funding streams for individuals, businesses and communities to implement climate action projects.

The current Climate and Environment Fund is a go to source of funding for small Transition inspired projects. Larger projects can often avail of various local authority grants, Leader funding and Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland supports. 

It would accelerate the national transition if local authority and development agency staff were available to communities.

Communication and collaboration are key to action on climate change. Biodiversity protection and restoration too, while we’re at it. In fact collaboration and communication are key to just about everything.

What the policy and advice says

Our Shared Vision Programme for Government states that:

It promises “A New Engagement Model” as part of the Green New Deal mission. 

The transformation to a low carbon, digital economy requires the concerted mobilisation of every element of Irish society. To succeed we need four interlocking elements:

  • Sustained leadership from the government and the Oireachtas.
  • Sustained engagement with citizens, sectors and regions.
  • Support for the workers, sectors and regions most exposed to help them to benefit from the new economic opportunities afforded to us by the transition to a low-carbon digital economy.
  • Protection for vulnerable families and communities least equipped to make the transformation.

We will develop a new model of engagement with citizens, sectors and regions as an early priority for government, building on the learning of recent years. It shall embrace:

  • Dialogue on a structured basis, so that the diverse elements of society can input into the process. There will be a specific youth dialogue strand.
  • A process of accountability on progress, including an annual review.
  • Promotion of citizen, sectoral and regional involvement in delivering actions within their own sphere of influence.
  • It will remain the responsibility of the government to lead and take decisions, to deliver on actions and to be accountable for achieving the goals of the Programme for Government.

Report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, Climate Change: A Cross-Party Consensus for Action is very clear about the need for awareness, engagement and empowerment of citizens, communities and business.

Citizen and community engagement

Climate action will only succeed if citizens, communities and businesses find it easy to engage and get information on what they can do to lower their carbon footprint. State bodies and local authorities should appoint trained staff for this purpose, to operate in a one-stop-shop type of arrangement. Better resourcing for community energy projects and Sustainable Energy Communities will also be key tools for community engagement and participation in climate action.

Education and Communication

The range of actions to be taken across the economy requires a high level of citizen engagement and empowerment. It is also imperative that we equip today’s children with the necessary knowledge and skills to be tomorrow’s leaders in undertaking climate action. Public information campaigns and our public service broadcasters have a key role to play in informing the public.

The National Economic and Social Council NESC report “Wind Energy in Ireland : Building Community Engagement and Social Support” states that an energy transition process would seem to have three overlapping features.

It must be:

  • Intentional
  • Participatory
  • Problem-solving

Theresa O’Donohoe 

July 2020

Relevant experience

  • Transition Ireland and Northern Ireland, Co-founder and steering group 
  • An Taisce Climate Committee, Co-founder and member
  • Stop Climate Chaos, Steering group, policy, action
  • Clare Public Participation Network
  • Peoples Energy Charter, Co-ordinator
  • PPN National Advisory Group
  • National Public Participation Taskforce 
collaborating people's charter
Bringing people together with all of their views and opinions can be a very rewarding exercise

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