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Understanding Citizens' Views on Climate Mitigation: Perceptions, Preferences and Political Engagement with Climate Policy Post COP24

Qualitative
 
Climate Change
 
Communication
 
Political Engagement
 
Presenter
Brenda McNally
Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin
Authors
Brenda McNally
Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin

Abstract
Post COP24, climate policy development and communication initiatives are both urgent and require societal engagement. However, as a complex, multi-dimensional challenge, involving trade-offs between financial, technological and social processes, mobilising widespread public support and involvement with climate action will not be easy. An important starting point, therefore, is to understand citizens’ views on different levels of action and what citizens believe should be done (Tvinnereim et al. 2017).

Exercises in deliberative democracy, such as Ireland's Citizen Assembly, provide one approach to engaging citizens with policy-making. Aimed at addressing Ireland's ‘Climate Laggard’ (Little and Torney 2017) status by putting Ireland at the vanguard of action on climate change and contributing to deeper citizen participation with climate policy, this initiative, produced a majority vote for a Carbon Tax as one of its 13 recommendations. Despite this, deliberative processes characterised by rational, evidence-based debate to achieve consensus about societal challenges have also been critiqued by scholars as instrumental and exclusionary exercises (Blue 2015). In particular, Blue argues that they ‘can constrain imaginative engagement with present and future socio-environmental change’ when these processes frame climate change within dominant understandings of natural sciences (i.e.) close down deliberation by negating marginalised perspectives.

As a result, this presentation examines how citizens’ views are collectively formed outside deliberative settings, in order to begin to make sense of the possibilities for wider societal action. It reports on the findings of freely formed conversations about different levels of mitigation action in Ireland and a short survey of media use in climate policy debates. In doing so, this exploratory study offers insights on socially contextualised discussions informed by the changed media landscape, the rise of populism and the Post Truth moment.

The presentation provides empirical data based on four focus group discussions highlighting the gendered, generational and occupational preferences for climate mitigation policy as well as data on how these different groupings perceive and negotiate climate policy debate. The research also includes survey data of media consumption and information-seeking patterns across these groupings. Together, these findings enable nuanced examination of the opportunities and barriers for citizen engagement with climate policy and the communications challenge of building just transitions.

The Irish case study, whilst unique, enables reflection on the relevance and value of deliberative processes for environmental policy-making, by comparing the focus group discussions with the outcomes of the citizens’ assembly. The recommendations were unusual in advancing majority support for a Carbon Tax (in contrast to other European states) and for being transformative, albeit within the discourse of growth-based norms.

The research presented in this paper was funded under the Environmental Protection Agency Ireland Climate Call 2018 (No. 2018-CCRP-DS.19).

Blue, G. 2015. Framing Climate Change for Public Deliberation. What Role for Interpretative Social Sciences and Humanities? 'Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning'
Little, C. and Torney, C. 2017. The politics of climate change in Ireland: symposium introduction. 'Irish Political Studies'.
Tvinnereim et al. 2017. Citizens preferences for tackling climate change. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of their freely formulated solutions. 'Global Environmental Change'.
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