Published on October 12, 2009

What the world thinks about climate change…

By Simon Burall

Simon Burall is the Director of Involve. He has extensive experience in the fields of democratic reform, governance, public participation, stakeholder engagement, and accountability and transparency.

How do you take 44 unique events from six continents on a complicated topic like climate change and turn it into an accurate, coherent and concise document? Turns out you take a crack team of people from eight countries and lock them in a room with the results, flipcharts and laptops for two days. Last week I spent two days working in Copenhagen assembling the International Policy Report for the World Wide Views (WWVs) process. It has been both hard work and a real privilege.

The reason I am so excited about the WWVs process is that it is the first time that citizens from across the world (39 countries!) have been given a systematic say on a global issue. Climate Change is top of the international agenda right now, with many commentators seeing the upcoming Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December (COP 15) as a make or break moment to forge an international agreement. One of the voices missing at international conferences is that of ordinary citizens. Deals that will affect billions of people are thrashed out behind closed doors without considering the views of those affected. There are of course opinion surveys, but let’s be honest; those who responded may not understand or have had time to consider their responses. WWVs is different because:

  • It involved so many diverse countries
  • All events had around 100 randomly selected citizens
  • In all cases participants were provided with information and given time to consider and discuss the issues with other citizens
  • At each event participants were exposed to the same information and were asked the same questions

All this means that the result are broadly comparable across countries.

I am proud to have been part of this process and the results make for fascinating reading. Over 4,000 citizens took part and the 40+ partners have spent years of work on it. This means that it felt like a massive responsibility to make sense of and do justice to the results from individual countries.

On some levels it was obviously impossible; there was no way we can do justice to the richness of each event. Instead we settled for a more modest goal: to create a policy summary for the negotiators at the COP Conference, summarising the key messages.

The Danish Board of Technology who organised this meeting pulled together a good group, coming from as wide a range of places as Japan and Indonesia. We had a good mix: statistically minded people to tell us when we’re misusing the term ‘significant’ and to ensure that we don’t over-interpret the figures, policy people to make the text readable and punchy and of course facilitators to ensure that citizens’ views are taken into account.

In my mind the general global findings are:

  • Global citizens think that a climate deal in Copenhagen is a big priority (91% in favour) and that their leaders should joining such a deal (90% agree)
  • Citizens want to limit global temperature increases to a maximum of 2 degrees centigrade over the pre industrial level and are in many cases willing to reduce industrial world emissions by 25%-40% or more in the next 10 years (89% support these options) (both results are in line with recent International Panel on Climate Change recommendations)
  • Citizens accept that countries should have greenhouse gas reduction targets which consider their level of economic development and historical contribution to green house gas emissions
  • Citizens want some kind of international financial mechanism set up to help poorer countries adapt and mitigate against climate change as a result of the COP conference. (87% in favour of global fund)

Along the way we’ve uncovered few interesting anomalies that we can’t quite explain. For example, why did the Italian participants vote 98% in favour of a deal being made at the COP conference in Copenhagen and then 57% of them voted against signing up to it? The world average is 91% for urgency and 6% who don’t want their country to sign up! Obviously there is far more to explore, but that is for a later date…

The Policy report should be ready in a few weeks and I’ll let you know when it is available.

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