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Commentary Article December 2nd, 2021
Energy • Delivery • Justice • Innovation

The People’s Panel and climate change: 4 key takeaways from our latest meeting

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The @CPI_foundation People's Panel discuss engaging the public on #climatechange, opportunities and risks around climate action, and what govts & businesses could do

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"My local authority is promoting initiatives to support small local businesses & change consumerist behaviour that favours fast fashion. But I also think businesses have a big role to play. Where they lead, the politicians often follow." Jessica Russell

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"A lot of people I know would love to be told the top three things they could do in their lives to make a real difference in reducing their carbon footprint. That simplicity could be so powerful and could get people to act.” @vichollins

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Climate change is one of the most urgent and complex challenges that we face today, and, whatever your thoughts on the mixed outcomes of COP26, the conference has brought into sharp focus the need for climate action globally.

This is a challenge we have increasingly been focussing our efforts on at CPI. Earlier this year, we worked with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to publish new research on Public Engagement around Climate Change, to deepen our understanding of how the public can be effectively engaged in the quest to reach net-zero.

This research feels especially pertinent at the moment, with the recent conclusion of COP26. It, therefore, felt like the perfect time to discuss this with our People’s Panel. Formed in 2019, the People’s Panel is composed of people from across the UK who have a passion for representing, understanding and caring for people who depend on public services and governments.

Chandrima presenting our research on Public Engagement around Climate Change Chandrima presenting our research on Public Engagement around Climate Change

We brought the panel together for a conversation at the end of November. To kickstart the meeting, Chandrima Padmandhan, Senior Associate at CPI Europe and co-author of this research shared some of the key findings. We then asked panellists for their thoughts on how we might get people more engaged in climate change, what opportunities and barriers exist around climate action, and what more businesses and governments could be doing.

Here are some of our key reflections from the latest meeting of the People’s Panel.

People want to take action, but they face many barriers

One of the key themes to come out of the discussion was around the different barriers that can stop people from making more environmentally friendly decisions.

Many reflected that there isn’t always the opportunity or access to the right infrastructure to enable people to take action. Cameron Reid, a Project Officer at the charity Sustrans, reflected that “you can train someone to ride a bike, but if you don’t have the cycling infrastructure and safe cycle lanes for them to ride on, they’re not going to take up cycling.”

Victoria Hollins, a BBC London Journalist, echoed this. “We moved to the countryside because we wanted our kids to be able to walk to school and not get the car. I really want my kids to be able to cycle here, but it’s lethal. I’d like to be able to go to the council to make a suggestion to put in a cycling lane, but the process is quite complicated.

“In the same way, I’ve moved into an old house which is freezing. I don’t want the central heating on all the time. I’ve been looking for help for 6 months now to work out how I go about insulating my home properly. I can’t find builders, or get any help from the council. There is a feeling of frustration and lack of ability to make change. I really want to make these changes and reduce our carbon emissions, but I don’t feel like I have the tools to do that.”

Cameron also reflected on his experience growing up in the North Highlands and the disparities in transport infrastructure between cities and more rural areas. “Where I’m from, there are really irregular buses, and few trains. I’m not surprised that people drive a lot when it’s so much quicker than public transport. It’s another one of those examples where you might have the capability and motivation to make more sustainable decisions, but the opportunity isn’t there.”

There is a feeling of frustration and lack of ability to make change. I really want to make these changes and reduce our carbon emissions, but I don’t feel like I have the tools to do that.

Cost was also highlighted as a key barrier. Adnan Qureshi, a retired Detective Superintendent, talked about when he was looking to purchase a car. “I wish I could have been in a position to buy an electric car, but they are much more expensive.”

John Bretherton, a retired civil servant, also said that “cost is important. I went on a group trip to Inverness. The cost was £120 return by train, in comparison to return flights which were £38. The train is more eco-friendly, but the cost was not worth it, so we went on the plane.”

Carmella, Communications Associate at CPI, also shared her perspective. “It’s so expensive to make sustainable choices day to day. I’m very conscious about fast fashion, for example. The charity shops in London, I can enjoy them and you can get good stuff. There are also lots of shops that use sustainable materials. But, they’re also so expensive. In comparison, my parents live in Stoke and they don’t have any of those options at all. They have to shop in places where there is fast fashion and it’s cheaper. Shops can make it harder for you to make good choices.”

Government and businesses have important roles to play

The panel agreed that governments and businesses are vital to efforts to tackle climate change. Jessica Russell, Co-production Champion from Southend on Sea, said that “there’s definitely a role for local authorities, which is underestimated. My local authority is promoting initiatives to support small local businesses and change some of the consumerist behaviour that favours fast fashion. But I also think that businesses themselves have a big role to play. Where they lead, the politicians will often follow.”

Patch Hyde, owner of a fudge shop in London's Greenwich Market said that government incentives and legislation can really help encourage behaviour change. “You can have higher taxes, but also positive incentives to support people to reduce their carbon emissions. For example, removing taxes on electric cars to make them more affordable and cost-effective.

“Similarly, we have thousands of really clever people in the UK. But are they incentivised to go and work on creating batteries to support us to move to low-carbon transport systems, or do they go and work at high paying banks? More needs to be done to incentivise them to work on these urgent global challenges where they may be paid less, but they could make such a positive difference for everyone.”

Jessica Russell sharing thoughts on the role of businesses Jessica Russell sharing thoughts on the role of businesses

Communications is a key element in effective public engagement on climate change

Our own research highlighted the importance of communications, particularly in how you frame the message, the legitimacy of the messenger and how the values and identities of the audience can impact how they interpret communications.

Panellists also discussed the important role that communications has to play. Adnan commented, “the key thing is communication. I love this idea of having a traffic light system on packaging that indicates carbon emissions to help people make more environmentally friendly choices. For example, if you were to go to a clothing store and there was a red mark on the label for the trousers you’re about to buy. Those diagrams and colours, they’re easy to see and that could really make you stop and think before you make a purchase. Visual imagery is key and could help people make better decisions.”

I love this idea of having a traffic light system on packaging that indicates carbon emissions to help people make more environmentally friendly choices.

Other panellists, like Victoria, also reflected that governments could be better at providing clear information to the public. “Part of the issue is that people aren’t sure how they can effect change, there is a sense sometimes of ‘I don’t know what to do to make a difference.’ A lot of people I know would love to be told the top three things they could do in their lives to make a real difference in reducing their carbon footprint. That simplicity could be so powerful and could get people to act.” 

Change is possible

Despite the many challenges, the group was hopeful that change is possible and that they had been seeing more people taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint.

Patch said “we can be pessimistic and think, ‘oh, what’s the point if X countries aren’t taking the same steps to tackle climate change’. Or, you can make an example and hope that others will follow you. My fudge shop is a vegan fudge shop. That would not have existed 20 years ago. Now it’s a great selling point. If you make a good example and you can show that economically and socially it works in your country, then I think, a vast majority will follow. You have to have hope”.

Victoria agreed. “Things are changing. Some things may feel like low level social movements, but they do make a difference. I know quite a few people who are only buying from charity shops or wearing second-hand clothes now because it’s started to be a ‘thing’. I was also chatting to a friend this morning. She tells her kids that they can’t have stone fruit from this point in the year, because if you have that you’re importing it from somewhere at a great cost to the environment. The messages are starting to get through that we need to make significant changes to our lifestyle and habits.”

John also cited the example of the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces in the UK: “I never thought the government would be able to stop smoking in pubs and restaurants. When they announced it, I thought they’d never do that and that people wouldn’t do it. To stop it on all public transport, in restaurants and bars. It is possible to legislate and change can definitely be made. They can do it if they persuade people it’s the right thing to do.”

Cameron Reid reflecting on his own experiences Cameron Reid reflecting on his own experiences

This will be a crucial decade for climate change and there will certainly be difficulties ahead. But, hearing from our panel, it’s clear that there is a growing desire among people to take action and reduce their carbon emissions. If we can keep people and communities at the forefront, and maintain the pressure on the world’s governments, businesses, and institutions to deliver ambitious climate action, then there’s real hope for the future.

This was the last People’s Panel meeting for 2021. We hold these meetings to ensure that our work and research is informed by and resonates with people who have different relationships with government. We've started this discussion here in the UK, but are very interested in people's experiences from around the world. For any comments or questions, of if you’d like to get involved with our People’s Panel, please get in touch with Amy at amy@centreforpublicimpact.org.

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Engaging the Public on Climate Change

Are you interested in finding out more about how we can successfully transition to net-zero by 2050? We partnered with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to conduct research and build our understanding of different approaches to engaging the public on climate change.

Read the report

Written by:

Aurora Horwood Head of Communications, Europe
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