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Climate change and public participation

Citizen participation climate EU
Lander Esparza

Lander Esparza

Consultant and environmental expert – EU projects

Since their adoption in September 2021, the five EU missions under the Horizon Europe R&D&I funding programme focus on public participation as one of the instruments to achieve their objectives. The Adaptation to Climate Change mission – which aims to support at least 150 European regions and communities to become resilient to climate change by 2030 – is no exception. Within its scope, it is a requirement for each participating region and community to ensure citizen involvement at all stages, which is why different institutions devote a lot of effort and resources to civic engagement. Despite this, citizen support was mentioned as a challenge by 38% of the signatories of the Mission Charter, according to a recent analysis by the European Commission.

In the two years since its launch, the mission has carried out three key actions: the implementation of its calls for proposals; the development of MIP4Adapt, the implementation platform to help European regional and local authorities prepare and plan their transition to climate resilience; and the mission’s Charter, ratified by more than 300 regional and municipal administrations, more than double the initial target.

Although these milestones are proof of the mission’s progress, “the mission’s basic actions only cover the tip of the iceberg: the integration of climate change adaptation into a large number of programmes, funding lines and other actions remains an important task for the mission to achieve its objective”, according to Brussels. One of the conclusions of its in-depth analysis is the need to conceive innovation as “a continuous exercise of learning and knowledge generation to support decision-making and civic engagement”.

To achieve effective civic engagement during project implementation, a multi-stakeholder participatory approach must be adopted from the proposal preparation phase. This, in turn, is directly related to the integration, from the outset of the project, of experts in the Humanities and Social Sciences, among other areas. In this sense, the Adaptation to Climate Change mission has developed activities and initiatives aimed at increasing citizen participation.

Calls and tools

In this way, the coordinators of the proposals to be submitted in the next three Horizon Europe calls in this field (HORIZON-MISS-2023-CLIMA-01-01: Testing and demonstrating transformative solutions increasing climate resilience of the agriculture and/or forestry sector; HORIZON-MISS-2023-CLIMA-01-02: Testing and demonstrating transformative solutions to protect critical infrastructure from climate change, mainstreaming nature based solutions; HORIZON-MISS-2023-CLIMA-01-03: Testing and demonstrating transformative solutions to build resilience towards health risks caused by the effects of climate change) should not overlook the tools at their disposal to successfully prepare the civic engagement part.

To help increase and facilitate stakeholder and citizen participation, the mission implementation platform has developed a handbook for regional and local authorities that aims to support the implementation of effective citizen participation processes. Its methodology is conceptually based on the following four elements.

Communication: improving the communication of climate-related information.

Engagement: a sustained engagement strategy.

Connecting: creating opportunities for deliberative and inclusive dialogues.

Enabling: catalysing stakeholder and citizen mobilisation, participation, and action.

This methodology is in turn supported by the Regional Adaptation Support Tool (RAST), developed by the European Climate Adaptation Platform Climate-ADAPT, and based on the Adaptation Support Tool and the Urban Adaptation Support Tool. The RAST includes the six main steps to be considered during the adaptation planning process: preparing the ground, assessing climate change risks and vulnerabilities, identifying adaptation options, assessing, and selecting adaptation options, implementing adaptation, monitoring and evaluation.

Some EU regulations are also creating so-called Climate Assemblies for the elaboration and deployment of adaptation strategies. These bring together people selected by lottery to learn, deliberate, and make recommendations on aspects of the climate crisis. Its knowledge network brings together the experience and expertise of policy makers, civil society actors and academics, with the aim of promoting best practices for impact.

It is also worth mentioning the annual Mission Forum. This governance element brings together national, regional, and local authorities, friends of the mission, European institutions, and research organisations, and is an opportunity to take stock, identify issues, provide guidance, and define the way forward. It will also showcase regional climate change adaptation initiatives and facilitate dialogue between participants.

Another action is the so-called Climate Resilience Dialogue, where insurers, reinsurers, public authorities, and other stakeholders (such as property developers and infrastructure operators) can exchange views on how to cope with losses from climate-related catastrophes and determine how the insurance sector can further contribute to climate adaptation.

In addition, several ongoing European projects focus on climate change adaptation. These include IMPETUS, which aims to create a Citizen Science innovation programme; REGILIENCE, which aims to pave the way for regional climate resilience processes by gathering the perceptions and opinions of stakeholders and citizens; and ARSINOE, which aims to engage citizens in the increasing complexity, interdependence and interconnectedness of modern societies and economies.

Zabala Innovation and Regions4Climate

Zabala Innovation plays an active role in ensuring effective and meaningful stakeholder engagement processes in several EU-funded research and innovation projects. In this regard, its Social Innovation department is part of the Regions4Climate consortium, a six-year project funded under the climate adaptation mission.

In it, Zabala Innovation contributes to the definition of just transition processes and the assessment of the level of climate resilience maturity of regions, with an emphasis on the social dimensions of the processes and is implementing a stakeholder engagement and participation strategy focusing on the pilot project in the Spanish Basque Country.

A closer connection between institutions and civil society

Institutions should continue to work towards more effective and equitable citizen engagement through activities, tools and initiatives, as presented, and other awareness-raising campaigns. In addition, it is crucial to increase influence on policymaking and to promote incentives to adopt sustainable practices.

However, it is also necessary to focus efforts on establishing a closer connection between institutions and civil society. This stronger linkage would reinforce proactivity both at the individual level and in society, thus strengthening commitment to climate change adaptation plans. In this way, resources to reduce the impacts of climate change on the environment will be truly effective and fair to society, both in human and economic terms. Transformation processes should not increase disparities between different social groups but identify vulnerable groups and implement actions to reduce existing inequalities.

Expert person

Lander Esparza
Lander Esparza

Pamplona Office

Consultant and environmental expert – EU projects

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