Information-sharing and public engagement

The collection, management, dissemination and use of different types of information is central to climate governance. Climate governance requires the institutional capacity to effectively manage information as well as the mandate and incentive to make it public and involve outside stakeholders in its production. While some capacity barriers related to meteorological and climate modelling information are technical, others ‒ such as the fragmentation of information across agencies, or whether relevant information is actually used to inform plans and policies ‒ are more institutional. The 2010–11 World Resources Report identified the following characteristics to effective information in climate decision-making:

  • User-driven, with consideration of cultural factors and applicability to communities, civil society, the private sector and others;
  • Sufficient scope and scale to create effective plans and policies while clarifying uncertainties, limits and available opportunities;
  • Sufficiently accurate to support risk and vulnerability assessments and help define acceptable risk levels;
  • Backed by institutional infrastructure to support rapid dissemination to enable preventative action during extreme weather events;
  • Accessible to those who need it so they can adjust their actions and behaviour;
  • Given long-term institutional support and frequently updated given the timeframe of climate impacts and new information;
  • Cost-effective, given resource constraints;
  • Targeted to specific risks, vulnerable populations and ecosystems (to avoid overload and fatigue) (adapted from WRI et al., 2011).

In addition to informing individual and group decision-making, information access has long been at the centre of transparency initiatives, including right to information law campaigns, transparent budgeting and public procurement, disclosure of natural resource revenues and open decision-making processes. These ‘governance by disclosure’ approaches are notably reflected in the legally binding United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice, as well as free, prior and informed consent, eco-labelling to influence consumer behaviour and the Publish What You Pay campaign for greater disclosure of extractive industry revenues (Gupta, 2008). Notably, however, China has dramatically increased environmental information disclosure as part of larger environmental regulatory and legal reforms since 2008 (Zhang et al., 2016). More recent environmental governance applications have focused on proactive disclosure and open data, with an emphasis on timeliness, relevance and usability of information for audiences (such as communities impacted by local pollution sources) who are affected. The Open Government Partnership (OGP) ‒ a multilateral initiative of 70 participating governments and civil society that collaborates to develop and implement legal, regulatory and institutional reforms for transparent, participatory and accountable governance ‒ could be venue for expanding commitments and building institutional capacity for open and participatory climate policy implementation. OGP leadership is encouraging its members to use its collective resources and experiences to make commitments to transparent and participatory climate governance (Dagnet et al., 2015).

There is well-established body of evidence on the importance of public engagement in adaptation and low-carbon development planning and implementation. Adaptation is context-specific, and solutions require addressing multiple drivers of vulnerability, including socioeconomic, political and health-related. In its 5th Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change included among its principles of effective adaptation with high confidence: ‘Adaptation planning and implementation at all levels of governance are contingent on societal values, objectives, and risk perceptions. Recognition of diverse interests, circumstances, social-cultural contexts, and expectations can benefit decision-making processes’ (Field et al., 2014: 85). In other words, it is difficult to address structural inequalities without involving those who have been left behind. But expanding the decision-making body to include the public is also important in determining an acceptable level of risk, prioritising actions, monitoring results and providing feedback (WRI et al., 2011).

In a recent assessment of the potential for scaling of adaptation projects in rain-fed agricultural areas of India, ‘community ownership of project’ was one condition that tended to increase the likelihood (Appadurai et al., 2015). However, communities are not monoliths ‒ different members are likely to have varying levels of access to power and influence, depending on their socioeconomic level, gender, political affiliation, age or ethnicity. Civil society and communities may also face collective action problems ‒ viewing public engagement as costly, unproductive or not relevant to their immediate interests ‒ which may lead to low levels of engagement (Booth, 2012).

With regard to mitigation, climate policy may be more likely to be perceived as legitimate if civil society is involved (Bernauer & Gampfler, 2013), but high levels of public awareness do not appear to be a necessary precondition for climate policy implementation (Rhodes et al., 2014). Past PEAs of national climate change policy development in Bangladesh, Brazil and Mozambique have found that a strong sense of urgency to rapidly develop policies may be adversely impacting coordination and public engagement opportunities (Tanner & Allouche, 2011). Public awareness may increase as more policies regarding energy efficiency, renewable energy and mitigation come online. The degree to which these receive widespread public support is likely to depend on problem framing, policy design and feedback, interest group influence on the public discourse and the relative visibility and political power of pro-climate coalitions. Bernauer and Gampfler (2013) found the public was more supportive of climate change policies if civil society was involved in the process. Development partners may be able to support greater engagement by supporting civil society and community capacity-building around climate policy development, co-benefits and impacts, and opportunities to engage effectively with the government.