Engaging citizens for socially just climate action

This project aims to understand community-led adaptation responses and citizen engagement mechanisms to strengthen locally led and socially just climate action and national level climate policy decision-making.

June 2020 - October 2020
Karen Wong Pérez

Senior researcher (strengthening partnerships team), Climate Change research group

A group of people sit in a circle outside on grass.

A group of women from the Tororo community, Uganda, who are usually disenfranchised from citizen engagement processes, gather for a community dialogue to share and discuss ideas (Photo: Comfort Hajra, Women Climate Centers International)

Responding to the interconnected challenges of poverty, inequality, nature degradation and climate change requires mechanisms that enable people to engage actively and freely as agents in policy and decision making.

Policies to promote low carbon growth and climate adaptation in both developed and developing countries have strong socio-economic impacts, which are unequally distributed due to a variety of social differences such as gender, age, ethnicity, income level, literacy and migratory status.

The challenge is for countries to build consensus around the policy reforms that are needed, garnering the support of those who may not understand climate change, or those who are concerned that they will unfairly be impacted by climate policies.

Climate-smart development considers action on climate change in an immediate and broad social justice context. 

It recognises the urgency of present needs – better jobs (including jobs in green sectors at a large scale), access to basic services, health, social protection programmes, institutions and policies that sustain livelihoods – while plotting an ambitious course to decarbonisation, sustainable management of ecosystems and overall resilience to long-term impacts in an inclusive way. 

This calls for concerted, urgent and major actions by governments in partnership with citizens, the private sector and civil society organisations. 

The meaningful engagement of citizens – most especially of marginalised and vulnerable groups – in climate-related decision making is critical to ensure that policies respect the rights of communities and contribute to gender equality and social justice.

And it is also essential to ensure that climate measures have adequate public support and deliver more effective results in reducing emissions and improving communities’ resilience to climate change by blending local, traditional and scientific knowledge.  

A challenge for effective, timely and sustained citizen engagement is that marginalised individuals and groups engage with unequal resources, capacities and social positions. These social inequalities make it difficult for such people to participate effectively in public decisions and undermine the public character of participation by reproducing the advantages of those who possess sufficient information and political capabilities.

What is IIED doing?

Supported by the World Bank, IIED and grassroots knowledge partners Slum Dwellers International (SDI), the Pastoralists Alliance for Resilience in Northern Rangelands (Paran Alliance) and Women Climate Centers International (WCCI) are undertaking research to document the ways in which social movements representing federations of the urban poor (SDI), women’s groups (WCCI) and pastoralists groups (Paran Alliance) have been able to engage in decision-making at different levels: from decisions related to self-organisation to decisions taken at higher institutional levels.

The ‘Engaging citizens for socially just climate action’ project aims to understand how citizen engagement participatory processes and locally led climate action can be improved and fed into national level climate policy decision-making.

We focus on social movements as initiatives for locally-led engagement and participation in policy discourses to understand the strategies used to make the public sphere more inclusive despite underlying social inequalities.

Given the impacts and implications of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, the research also considers citizen engagement and action in response to the health crisis. In addition, given the rapid advance of digital technology, the project includes a focus on digital platforms for deliberation and engagement through virtual and other means. 

This research is supported by the World Bank Group and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.

Logos of the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR)In a first phase, the IIED and partners aim to:

  • Assess participatory and deliberative processes currently in use by civil society networks and social movements to address climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    This includes SDI (with a national focus on Kenya and Malawi), WCCI (Kenya and Uganda) and the Paran Alliance (Kenya).
  • Identify digital tools used by grassroots networks to assess risks and provide access of local communities to risk information. 

    This component focuses on how technology can support social inclusion in decision-making and resilience strengthening.

    It also aims to capture the needs and priorities of communities being represented by the civil society organisation networks and articulate how digital technologies can respond to their needs and priorities.