Public participation in climate policy and action: avenues for enhancement

December 23, 2022

27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) focused on many aspects of climate policy and action. Among areas of focus was the negotiations on Action for Climate Empowerment, also known as ACE. 

Article 12 of the Paris Agreement focuses on ACE and includes key elements for ensuring inclusive, and participatory climate processes. This consists of six components which are education; public awareness; training; public participation; public access to information; and international cooperation. 

Importance of public participation in scaling up climate action

The need for public participation in scaling up and enhancing climate efforts stems from the need for inclusive and participatory processes that create transformative change for long term climate resilience. This includes interlinks with aspects such as processes which includes as key elements, access to information which facilitate participation and cooperation, and also the skills and capacities that facilitate effective contributions to the related climate processes. 

For example, in the context of an activity related to climate action, where a project is being implemented in a particular location, elements related to public participation would facilitate communities to better engage in the project for outcomes that are sustainable and addressing the needs of the communities and ecosystems that are related. This includes information being shared with communities and relevant stakeholders on the planning process, engagement of the communities at the ground-level as well as other stakeholders, and information and access to information related to the project being accessible to communities and stakeholders. 

This also refers to the engagement of the public in decision making processes, both climate policy and action. Together with awareness and climate literacy, including through education and training, public access to information, public participation could be converted to effective contributions that could lead to collective measures resulting in outcomes and solutions to the key climate threats. 

Outcomes of COP27

At COP27 of the UNFCCC, the decision related to the Action plan under the Glasgow work programme on ACE focused on the ACE Action Plan, and built on the four agreed areas policy coherence; coordinated action; tools and support; and monitoring, evaluation and reporting. 

At COP27, Parties adopted a four-year action plan under the Glasgow work programme focused on immediate action which is short-term with clear and time-bound activities. Such action will be guided by the priority areas of the work programme and takes into account six elements of ACE in a balanced manner requiring that all six elements are provided equal importance. 

The decision highlights the need for the Action Plan to be implemented in an inclusive, intergenerational and gender-responsive manner and highlights the importance of focusing on international equity, as well as the engagement of youth in climate action. The Action Plan also includes a focus on developing national ACE strategies for integrating the key elements related to ACE elements into national climate policies and plans. 

Additionally, the decision also acknowledges the rights of local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities, as well as those who are in vulnerable situations in climate related activities; and refers also to right to development, gender equality, and empowerment of women. 

Intergenerational equity and youth in climate action

Youth form a key stakeholder of ACE actions, and the importance of intergenerational equity in scaling up climate action is widely understood. This includes the skill development and transfer; as well as capacity building conducted with contributions from different generations building on their knowledge and experience which contribute to identifying solutions to climate threats through collective actions. 

Focusing on youth in climate action could play a key role in addressing the needed impact of scaled up climate related efforts. This could include scaling up impact of climate activities through education, awareness and training; engagement of key stakeholders in public participation by better engagement of youth; as well as enhancing the access to climate information. 

Youth could play a key role in guiding action through enhanced climate literacy and skills, as well as through their contribution to innovative and transformative efforts at local, national and global level. Inclusion of climate change as a key component into education systems could lead to capacities amongst youth as well as the public that could provide opportunities to guide countries towards climate-friendly and sustainable economic empowerment that builds on pathways focused on just transition. 

Sri Lanka’s Climate Prosperity Plan

At COP27 of the UNFCCC Sri Lanka launched the preliminary report of the Climate Prosperity Plan. The Prosperity Plan focuses on as a keystone and hallmark project the establishment of Sri Lanka Climate University that interlinks with one of the six elements of ACE, education. 

The Climate University is aimed at being a hub for tertiary education with a focus on capacity building and knowledge enhancement on climate change. Further focus includes the capacity and skills for green and climate-resilient, as well as climate-focused jobs. 

Additionally, the programme focused on establishing the Climate University aims to have by 2035, an education institution with a capacity to host 35,000 students. As per the Plan, activities related to the establishing of the Climate University is scheduled to commence in 2023 and aims to leverage US$20 million over 12 years.

ACE in Sri Lanka

Integration of ACE elements and strategies into climate policy and planning processes at national and local level will help contribute to inclusive, participatory, as well as multi-stakeholder powered climate actions for Sri Lanka. This would also facilitate building avenues for enhancing climate literacy including awareness and outreach at all levels, thereby opening up avenues for informed decision making related to climate action at all levels. 

Public participation and access to information being a focus on climate policy and action could ensure for inputs from the ground-level and communities that are most vulnerable to climate impacts. This could help generate evidence on climate change facilitating the policy process to gain insights on the key priorities and needs for long term climate action. Additionally, training, skill development and capacity building interlinked with international cooperation could scale up economic empowerment, generation of employment building on just transition, and support in mobilizing climate finance for the country. 

Concentrating on ACE and its elements could guide the way for inclusive, participatory processes through enhanced climate literacy and education, and actions that are led by multi-stakeholders including youth and climate vulnerable communities building on informed decision making and holistic public participation. 

Note: This article has been published on The Morning as part of the author’s weekly column.

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About the Author
Vositha Wijenayake

Vositha is an attorney-at-law specialising in public international law, with a focus on international environmental law, UN human rights law, refugee law and EU law. She has over a decade of experience in working on climate change, at national and international level. Vositha is a member of the national expert committee on climate change adaptation of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, national expert on vulnerability and adaptation measures for the Third National Communication of Sri Lanka to the UNFCCC for the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, and is a delegate focusing on compliance, adaptation, loss and damage, and gender for the Sri Lankan delegation to the UNFCCC since 2016. She is also a consultant to the UNFCCC national adaptation plans and policy unit, and worked as a country support consultant to the UNDP NAP Global Support Programme. Vositha has an LLM in public international law from University College London, and an LLB from University of London. ‍