Parliaments are representative institutions that should channel the voices and concerns of citizens and that should act and advocate on their behalf. Where climate change is concerned, it may be difficult for legislators to balance technical and complex law-making with the need for inclusive and participatory processes. Nevertheless, it is critical that parliamentarians are open to citizen feedback, and are able to pass on their concerns and questions. With climate change and energy issues in particular, such ‘direct’ inputs can prove invaluable in assessing and understanding priorities and new or emerging needs.
Beyond this, strong and consistent communication on climate change is also crucial if citizens are to accept the urgent need for action. Germany, the UK and Australia have seen varying levels of public dissent in the face of increased subsidies – and the resulting rise in energy bills - for renewable energy development. China and India, two countries facing considerable climate threats in the form of extreme weather events, flooding and pollution-related health risks, are pouring resources into renewable energy but remain reluctant where cutting carbon emissions is concerned. Bangladesh and the Small Island States, on the other hand, face more profound and immediate threats and have emerged, perhaps unsurprisingly, as early adopters of pilot initiatives.
Public opinion matters, and parliamentarians will not succeed in taking parliamentary action on climate change if there is little or no public support to do so.
Representation in Action
Parliamentarians have a crucial role to play in shaping people’s perception of climate change and in building the political will needed to tackle it. They can help inform people by supporting public information campaigns and by reporting on the issue through personal statements and communications. They can also encourage the parliament and relevant committees to share findings and reports with the public, and push for greater openness and direct consultation with citizens and key stakeholders.
Parliamentarians are also an excellent first point of contact for Civil Society Organisations looking to promote climate change action. CSOs can share concerns and comments with parliamentarians supportive of the issue, and can help provide research and expertise. While parliamentarians cannot act on every request that is made to them, when concerted efforts are made, they would do well to advocate on CSO’s and citizens’ behalf where possible.
Advocating for climate change action: two birds, one stone?
Advocating for climate change action is made easier when parliamentarians can point to possible win-win opportunities. In fact, many of today’s policy priorities and concerns can be addressed through climate-resilient responses.
A prime example is renewable energy development, which is commonly noted for its potential in tackling unemployment. It creates jobs in the renewable industry itself, and it attracts new investments through improved and secured energy access. Infrastructure development (schools, hospitals, public services) can be done more sustainably by securing green loans. With the right incentives and policies in place, these often prove more cost-effective than regular loans. Traffic congestion in large cities can be addressed by investing in climate-friendly alternatives such as public transport. This, in turn, will significantly improve air quality and deliver important health benefits.
Similarly, land management issues could be tackled with a view to flood prevention and sustainable water management. Investments in agriculture and food production should take into account projected temperature changes and possible soil erosion through floods, extreme precipitation or sea-level rises. Sustainable solutions could include putting up flood barriers, investing in more resilient crops and generally diversifying food production.
Such solutions are clearly complex. When well developed, however, they illustrate that climate change action can be more than money ‘wasted’ on protective measures. By going for win-win strategies that link climate change action to other priorities (employment, food security, energy access and so on), decision-makers can promote sustainable development and build resilient societies.
Indigenous communities can be adversely affected by local and global development processes, since their distinct visions, concerns and ways of life can be ignored by policy makers. In recent years, international and national legal and policy frameworks have emerged to address adverse effects on indigenous peoples and to advocate for the effective participation of indigenous peoples in matters that concern them in national and local governance.
Addressing the needs and concerns of indigenous communities is crucial with respect to environment and climate change as well. Many of the measures that are being implemented to deal with these issues have a profound effect on the lives and traditions of these communities; however, they are often left out of important decision-making processes. Parliamentarians should take note of their needs and concerns, and should use the tools and resources available to represent these groups where needed and to advocate on their behalf.
- Ask your participants how they engage with their constituents. Do they have a website, a newsletter, social media accounts? Do they spend much time in their constituency or with their constituents?
- Do your participants communicate about climate change and energy issues? Have constituents or civil society organisations approached them about these issues? Have they received any concrete requests for action?
- What are the main points MPs should be sharing with their constituents regarding climate change? What are the key messages to get across?
- How can parliamentary outreach on climate change and energy issues be improved? What could the parliamentary secretariat do, and what could parliamentary groups do?
- Ask your participants to propose one or two concrete steps they can take as MPs to strengthen their outreach and communication on climate change and energy.
- Encourage citizen action: Petitions & Citizen Initiatives
- Communicate about your policies
- Launch a Dialogue with Youth
- Inform your constituents
- Engage stakeholders
- Setting the example: going green
Petitions are an easy way for citizens to communicate their concerns or suggestions to MPs. It is important that such efforts don’t fall on deaf ears, and that citizens are encouraged to reach out in this way. To do so, make sure that there is sufficient space and time to address petitions and take follow-up action where advisable.
In Uganda, a group of youth leaders from Bunyoro were supported in their petition to parliament by one of their MPs, Barnabas Tinkasimre, who presented it to the speaker of parliament. The petition criticized what they termed an ‘exclusion from opportunities arising from the oil resource’. It highlighted the lack of employment opportunities, and claims of water and food contamination due to environmental degradation. It specifically called for an inquiry into the activities of oil companies.
Parliamentary committees can also pro-actively solicit feedback and inputs on issues pertaining to climate change, energy and the environment. the European Parliament, for example, recently launched its first ‘citizen initiative’. The initiative took the form of a hearing, organized by the Environment Committee, where representatives of the Right2Water Citizens Committee addressed MEPs on the need to ban water privatization. Hailing the first-ever hearing on a Citizens’ Initiative as “a milestone in the history of European democracy” Gerald Häfner (Greens/EFA, DE), of the Petitions Committee said “Today, we are switching to listening mode. The question now is how we can better legislate on an issue that is crucial. Water is a human right and should remain in public hands”. The European Commission is expected to draft a response to the initiative.
In Suriname, a group of citizens went so far as to draft a wide-ranging environmental law. The effort was welcomed by Andre Misiekaba, Member of Parliament, as “a perfect example of how the community can get together and help think about crucial matters. We actually have a responsibility to adopt it.” Such initiatives are less common, but connecting with CSOs and engaged citizen groups can provide valuable inputs to your legislative work.
Taking effective action on climate change and energy requires the buy-in of citizens. Opportunities for renewable energy development, fiscal incentives for energy efficiency measures, mitigation strategies and adaptation initiatives will fail to make their mark if citizens are not aware of them.
Good legislation should include provisions that stipulate how the proposed actions will be communicated. It should also clearly outline what outreach efforts and related budgets are available, including for training and induction purposes if need be. The United States Energy Policy Act is a good example, as it specifically addresses information dissemination as part of the legislation:
United States: Energy Policy Act of 1992
Section. 132. PROCESS-ORIENTED INDUSTRIAL ENERGY EFFICIENCY; (b) GRANT PROGRAMME; (1) USE OF FUNDS. — The Secretary shall, to the extent funds are made available for such purpose, make grants to States, which, consistent with State law, shall be used for the following purposes:
(A) To promote, through appropriate institutions such as universities, nonprofit organizations, State and local government entities, technical centers, utilities, and trade organizations, the use of energy-efficient technologies in covered industries.
(B) To establish programs to train individuals (on an industry-by-industry basis) in conducting process-oriented industrial assessments and to encourage the use of such trained assessors.
(C) To assist utilities in developing, testing, and evaluating energy efficiency programs and technologies for industrial customers in covered industries.
Young people across the globe are increasingly aware of environmental issues and often take a passionate stance on climate change. You can engage youth by inviting youth representatives for meetings, involving young people in discussions and making them part of decision-making processes. In addition to building awareness and developing more youth-sensitive policies, you are likely to find significant support for your parliamentary initiatives on climate change and energy among this growing electoral group.
If your country has a Youth Parliament, get in touch to see how you can promote a common agenda. In Lebanon, an environmental magazine launched an initiative that brought together school children from a number of schools to discuss environment and climate issues. The Youth Parliament then went ahead and interviewed key ministries, municipalities as well as parliamentarians and informed them about their main concerns.
Informing your constituents is critical to building support for climate change action. Given the persistent skepticism and the pervasive lack of awareness across the globe, many of them may not appreciate that you push for climate change action and green energy. This is especially the case if they feel that those resources would be better spent elsewhere, for example on the construction of roads, hospitals or schools. Communication pays off, though, – and as climate change becomes more visible and more high-profile, support will follow:
“Many times we have had to drive the agenda on climate change, despite pressures from our constituencies. The fact is that there is a lot of literature coming out that we communicate to our constituency, and slowly but surely they are realizing the benefits and need for action on climate change. Communicate with your constituents, because the support will come from them, ultimately.”
Kalikesh Singh Deo, Member of Parliament, India
Legislation must be representative and inclusive, responding to real needs and priorities. It is critical to involve all stakeholders in law-making and policy-making discussions, to ensure that consensus on legal proposals is informed and comprehensive.
Kenya’s 2012 climate change bill successfully went through both the first and second reading but was rejected by former president Kibaki, who failed to assent it into law citing lack of public partnership. In response, the Kenya Climate Change Working Group organised an MPs sensitization workshop on the climate change Bill on 9th May, 2014 in Mombasa. The forum brought together stakeholders from the national assembly, the senate, media, KCCWG, TI Kenya, MEW&NR and other CSOs providing an avenue to discuss the draft climate change Bill, the proposed amendments by the taskforce (with the assistance of the Bill’s legal consultant) and proposed necessary amendments.
To read the workshop report, please click here.
Parliaments can set the example by taking climate change action themselves. They can adopt ‘green’ procurement policies, provide recycling facilities, and optimize their energy efficiency. The Pakistan Parliament is going green by installing a 1.8 megawatt solar power plant at the Parliament House building in the capital city Islamabad. Solar power is projected to save the parliament over $1m in electricity costs.
This document illustrates how decision-makers and other stakeholders can be sensitized to the inevitable impacts of climate change for their respective sector(s), and encourages them to develop constructive, sustainable solutions. Publications such as these can be helpful to parliamentarians who want to raise awareness and promote positive action.
This guide has been written to help policymakers and other stakeholders understand what community protocols are, why they are important, and how they can support their development and recognition within formal environmental legal and policy frameworks. It is also written for all interested in learning about community protocols, including: indigenous peoples and their communities and other local communities (ILCs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), researchers, industry, and those working in government at the local, national and international levels.