Published on September 22, 2009

Kettering calling Earth: can you hear us?

By Simon Burall, Director of Involve

Gordon Brown has recently announced that he will attend the upcoming talks on climate change in Copenhagen in December to help clinch a deal. He clearly feels that by adding his voice to the negotiations he can help to move the negotiations forward productively. In this he is probably right, his international stature being as it is.

Brown’s voice will not be the only one to be heard in Copenhagen though. As with all international negotiations, experts, lobbyists, policy makers and elected officials will all be heard directly, by increasing the volume of the shouting or because of the ingenuity of the PR stunt. Vital voices have been missing though. These are the voices of the citizens around the world who will have to live with the decisions taken at Copenhagen.

On the Saturday 26th September, 100 citizens from Kettering in the Midlands will have a unique opportunity. They will be joining citizens from nearly 40 countries around the world in a day of deliberation about what action they want their governments to take in Copenhagen. The results from the deliberations will be beamed around the world as they come in providing a real time picture of citizens’ priorities for Copenhagen.

The question is why is this important? Why should we listen to the citizens of Kettering?

Polling data suggests that there is a disconnect between what citizens around the world think about the action that they believe their governments should be taking, and their own actions to either reduce their own emissions or to support those government actions, such as wind farms, which are designed to reduce national emissions.

Identifying the reasons for this disconnect between public opinion on the need for action on climate change and personal action is challenging. One reason might be because polling data does not give an insight into the views of an informed citizen . In addition, the space for the public to engage in debate, dialogue and consensus building is very narrow. Rather than there being space for rational debate, the space is filled instead with loud voices from opposing sides of the debate.

The decisions our leaders agree to take internationally, and how they implement them nationally, will affect the way we live our lives in radical ways. Engaging citizens in a dialogue about the compromises that need to be taken between, for example, economic development, personal freedoms to travel and action on climate change will help to inform policy-makers about citizens’ real priorities. More importantly, by listening to, and engaging with citizens governments will find that they have policy options which have greater support at the local and national level. These options will have greater support because people have been involved in the debate and most importantly identify that others think like them.

One hundred citizens in Kettering are willing to spend their free time understanding the evidence, the compromises and the challenges facing our decision-makers in Copenhagen in order to give their considered views. Nearly 4000 citizens from both developed and developing countries are doing the same. Are the leaders of the world willing to listen to them?

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