A transformation towards climate resilience through an innovative citizen engagement toolbox

Climate change is one of the most critical issues to tackle today as it is foreseen to have detrimental social, environmental and economic impacts in the near future. Among the multiple extreme climate change events occurring worldwide in 2022, Europe registered numerous heatwaves, severe drought and exceptional windstorm¹. The increasing number of extreme climate events shows that what we are doing as policymakers, experts and stakeholders’ actions is not enough, and highlights the urgency of adopting a 360º citizens engagement which involves citizens in the development and implementation of climate resilience strategies. A 360º citizen engagement would mean that citizens are empowered to feed climate policies with their ideas and aspirations. But how can citizen engagement be organised in an effective and inclusive manner? How can it be framed around people’s values rather than being too centred in technical views from experts? How can we promote citizens’ empowerment?

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

Figure 1. The urgency of addressing climate change effects (photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash)

Climate Assemblies and Living Labs to promote deliberative democracy in climate policymaking

Building on the good past experience in citizens’ engagement in climate change action, the CLIMAS (CLIMAte change citizens engagement toolbox for dealing with Societal resilience) Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Action uses Climate Assemblies and Living Labs to accelerate the transformation to climate resilience. Climate Assemblies and Living Labs are sustainable and reasonable tools to stimulate deliberative democracy in climate policymaking. They are used in CLIMAS to co-create and test an innovative toolbox that helps democratise Climate Assemblies within 150 European regions and communities² and enhances their capacity to resist to the effects of climate change. These are some helpful definitions:

  • A Climate Assembly brings together randomly-selected everyday people to learn, deliberate and make recommendations on aspects of the climate crisis³. Climate Assemblies are one example of “deliberative mini-publics” (DMP), which have been used to discuss a variety of issues where policy can be improved by the inclusion of citizens through information-driven deliberation.
  • Living Labs are user-centred, open innovation ecosystems that rely on the systematic application of user co-creation approaches in real life communities and settings⁴.

CLIMAS was launched at the beginning of 2023 and involves local authorities, regional governmants, NGOs and universities who, for the next three years, will organise Climate Assemblies in three European locations: the region of Catalunya (Spain), the municipality of Riga (Latvia), and the municipality of Edermünde (Germany), spanning from regional level to city level and small municipality level respectively. A series of Living Labs in Ebro Delta (Spain), Chios (Greece), and Vilnius (Lithuania) will support the development and testing of the toolbox with a design-thinking approach. These different Climate Assemblies and Living Labs allow to cover diverse climate biogeographical regions, in particular: Boreal, Continental and Mediterranean regions. Knowledge and experiences will be transferred across these areas, building on their differences and commonalities (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Map of climate biogeographical areas and CLIMAS Climate Assemblies and Living Labs

Innovative steps ahead in CLIMAS Climate Assemblies and Living Labs

This autumn 2023, the Climate Assembly in Catalunya (Spain) is going to be launched. Besides, the first tools on scenario-building and citizen science are going to be co-created in the Living Lab in Vilnius (Lithuania) and the Ebro Delta Living Lab (Spain). Also, the Chios Living Lab plans to engage their local public and private actors, citizens and academia, to ensure their early involvement and plan the next activities. Meanwhile, the Climate Assemblies in Edermünde (Germany) and Riga (Latvia) are being planned and will be held in the course of 2024.

The ambition of CLIMAS is to support a transformation to climate resilience by:

  • Shifting Climate Assemblies from mostly technically-based deliberations that belong to climate change experts to multi-stakeholders’ deliberations based on solving the dilemmas from a bottom-up, more societal, and value-based perspective that considers the trade-offs of different adaptation measures.
  • Democratising the Climate Assemblies and moving them from an extraordinary policy event towards an ordinary policy event.
  • Consolidating the praxis of the Climate Assembly deliberation and reflecting on how to tackle accountability and legitimacy issues that make recommendations more acceptable by policy makers.
  • Making Climate Assemblies more inclusive by setting up anti-patriarchal approaches in the facilitation of Climate Assemblies. This also addresses the citizens access to training about the technical aspects of climate adaptation through the citizen science approach.

CLIMAS directly addresses the urgent need for a higher involvement of the civil society and citizens’ empowerment in climate adaptation and resilience efforts, by providing collaborative decision-making tools that can be used and customised by all citizens, civil society organisations, local governments, and other actors across the EU. Ultimately, CLIMAS outcomes are expected to positively influence climate policy development and awareness-raising process and offer sustainable strategies to enhance the acceptance of citizens’ led decisions by policymakers.

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Authors: Floridea Di Ciommo and María Alonso Raposo (cambiaMO)


¹State of the Global Climate 2022 report, WMO-No. 1316

²The European Union Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change has started a process of supporting at least 150 European regions and communities to become climate resilient by 2030