Citizens engaging policy-makers on air quality and climate change
How do we get to the scenario in the top-right hand corner of the above image? A scenario where a given city is both ambitious about its clean air and climate change policies and its citizens are involved in the decision-making process? That is the question sustainability scientists have been grappling with for a number of years, and that the ClairCity project sought to explore. Drawing on the latest social and political science and pollution modelling, the research team set to work in understanding the context of their partner cities and regions, engaging citizens through various creative means to gather their preferences, and presenting the outcomes to key city decision makers to influence decision making*.
Around 820,000 citizens were involved in some way or another, with approximately 8,500 directly engaged. The project spoke with people on the streets, at festivals, on webinars, and through various formal and distributed dialogues across each city or region to increase representivity. There was a mobile game, videos of people’s lived experiences, and various schools’ lessons and activities, all designed to spread the ClairCity message and capture the voice of citizens. The project was the largest of its kind and perhaps one of the most creative.
And what did it find out? An overwhelming willingness by citizens to change, and a real appetite for greater policy ambition and speed of implementation. For instance, citizens that drive today, largely want to drive less in the future and choose more sustainable alternatives for their commuting, shopping and leisure trips – across all cities and regions. Many want to choose renewable fuels in the future also, although cost is a big barrier for some cities across Europe. In some cities a lack of awareness on certain sources of air pollutants, in particular wood burners, may be a limiting factor to citizens’ ambition – or alternatively, citizens may not feel able to challenge authorities to do something about these issues and therefore choose not to raise them**. All in all, the willingness was there, but more often than not barriers existed to prevent change from happening sooner.
When local citizens’ top policies were presented to policy makers in their city or region many agreed with their level of ambition, although in some instances they were slowed down, largely as a result of cost. As always with politics, a lot of negotiation and compromise is involved, often bound tightly by purse strings. However, as has been shown in Amsterdam, sometimes you can get a situation where the local government is so ambitious that its citizens are rushing to keep up.
As ClairCity comes to a close in 2020, Covid19 has proven to be a window of opportunity in which to accelerate air quality improvements across Europe. While an awful tragedy, the pandemic opened up fertile ground to push for more ambitious walking and cycling policies. Although the intention was to make places safer for public health (and indeed air pollution worsens coronavirus), the result is still the same – fewer cars on the road and more people on the streets. In The Netherlands they initiated Holiday Streets, in London, England the Mayor committed himself to making central London one of the largest car free spaces seen anywhere in the world, and in Milan, Italy they announced plans to turn 35km of streets to make more space for cyclists and pedestrians. And to ensure the environmental message wasn’t lost, Extinction Rebellion activists took cycle lanes into their own hands in several cities across the UK.
Ultimately, we all have a part to play in acting on these issues. Beyond individual change and technofixes, real momentum can be built through joining together as communities to amplify the message and show the will of citizens, and if done in dialogue with people in positions of power, there is a chance policy may begin to change.
As a result of the ClairCity project, we’ve produced a whole host of resources to support such groups! We have an Educator Pack full of lesson plans and activities, including postcards to send to people of influence and Clean Air Top Trump cards – print them out and use in your next schools outreach day. There’s also our Community Activator Pack, for activists old and new, wishing to reach more marginalised voices and champion their voices in decision-making. Every person’s actions makes a difference, but by joining together we can have a unified voice of the many to bring about change.
Join us this Thursday for our final webinar, which will see organisations from across Bristol sharing their experiences of engaging diverse audiences around these issues and championing their voice to influence decision making.
*Find out more about the process here: www.claircity.eu/our-story
*Find out about the priorities of citizen’s in each of our cities and regions here: www.claircity.eu/reports