Reframing Climate Policies: Strategies for Public Engagement and Behaviour Change

23 June 2023

Reframing Climate Policies: Strategies for Public Engagement and Behaviour Change

Reported by Victoria Price, CSaP Policy Intern (April - July 2023)

A panel discussion chaired by Professor Emily So, the Director of the Cambridge University Centre for Risk in the Built Environment (CURBE), aimed to unveil key strategies to bridge the gap between public engagement and policy implementation on climate and resilience. The discussion also focused on how to revolutionise climate action in the UK.

CSaP's Annual Conference 2023 concluded with a panel discussion on climate and resilience. The chair was joined by Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the Climate Change Committee and Professor Rebecca Willis, Lancaster University.

Chris Stark started by discussing the evolution of climate policy over the past 15 years and noted the shift from a predominantly technical focus to greater recognition of the role of behaviour change and incentives. He stressed the need to place people at the centre of policy discussions and consider their choices and preferences when designing climate strategies. Acknowledging the challenges in addressing equity in job creation and destruction across the UK, Mr Stark highlighted the importance of ensuring the voices of people living and working in rural areas are not neglected by policy makers. He continued his discussion by estimating that only 1% of jobs are likely to be phased out due to climate change, and most jobs will not be affected at all.

On the other hand, Professor Willis began by emphasising the high levels of public concern about climate change, and how this is often underestimated by Members of Parliament (MPs). Discussing that a desire for government action and leadership on climate issues does not automatically translate into support for individual policies, Professor Willis argued the ways of harnessing this support by framing climate policies as opportunities for economic growth and improved well-being.

Professor Willis also highlighted the importance of deliberative research and citizen involvement in shaping policies that resonate with people's aspirations, rather than demanding people change their behaviour. The panellists then discussed the role of education and young people in driving change and highlighted that people and politics and are often in a standoff, with both sides pushing for the other to act. However, Professor Willis argued that a conversation is needed about what both groups require of each other to rebuild trust in the political process - instead of pushing each other.

Climate Policies for the New Era of Net-Zero

Professor Willis shared her belief in the climate community, including decision-makers and academics, should prioritise researching public values and opinions. She further argued that policy makers can gain the confidence and leadership required to drive meaningful change on a more ambitious agenda by utilising this knowledge to shape strategies. Professor Willis also highlighted the importance of engaging citizens through participative processes, including those who are sceptical about acting on climate change.

Following the speech, a question raised by the audience focused on the challenge of prioritising climate adaptation alongside mitigation efforts without undermining the significance of the latter. Mr Stark acknowledged the prevailing tendency to prioritise mitigation and emissions goals over adaptation. He further argued that by quantifying and framing adaptation goals in a similar manner to net-zero targets, it would be possible to mobilise better forecasting, public support, and political action.

The panellists also stressed the need to address indirect climate risks, such as those that occur beyond national borders underlining how the lack of attention paid to climate shocks in other regions can affect food security, patterns of migration, and even geopolitical stability. They also argued that policy makers can better anticipate and plan for potential consequences, by fostering international cooperation and proactive decision-making as well as by integrating climate risk assessment beyond domestic considerations. Moreover, the panellists suggested providing more devolution to local councils and governments on climate policy, particularly when managing multiple risks and trade-offs.

Throughout the session, the panellists emphasised that by fostering an inclusive and informed dialogue, policy makers can better understand public concerns and ensure that policy decisions align with societal needs. As the conference concluded, the pressing need for a stronger connection between public engagement, political will, and evidence-based policymaking became more apparent.

You can listen to the session recording here: