Public participation in climate policy decisions

Some of the core challenges of climate change are failures of decision-making.

Public participation in climate policy decisions

Some of the core challenges of climate change are failures of decision making. Decisions on transitioning energy sources to renewables, legal and human rights implications of climate-driven migration, and the relative safety of new technologies for carbon removal are often divisive, but timely public deliberation could help mitigate future conflict. These issues lack an obvious “right” answer and governments are reluctant to make decisions out of fear they will generate controversy or backlash from the public. Resolution is needed sooner rather than later – it’s estimated that environmental migrants will exceed 1 billion by 2040 and in the same period more than half of the world's population will experience high or extreme water stress.

Using collective intelligence to aid deliberation can help to address stalemate by convening people with opposing views, values and preferences and giving them tools that help to identify shared priorities for action across political divides. There is evidence that these methods can reduce polarization, increase satisfaction with policy outcomes and help to build trust and the perceived efficacy of public institutions.

public participation


How might collective intelligence address climate policy decision gaps?

Climate assemblies and Deliberative Polls® are already being used by governments worldwide to understand public policy preferences on contentious issues. In Ireland, assemblies were used to find consensus and define legislation on marriage equality and abortion – two topics that previously divided the country. Some governments, mostly in the Global North, have started to use collective intelligence to help deliberate on climate policy. In the Republic of Korea, a Deliberative Poll® informed the country’s policy on nuclear energy. When 60 percent of the nationally representative sample of 500 citizens voted to resume construction of nuclear stations, the government reversed their decision to decommission the sites. Polling or assemblies can also be used to inform climate policy priorities at the international level. In 2020, the Global Assembly selected 100 representatives from across the world to debate different options for climate action. Together, they wrote the People’s Declaration for the Sustainable Future of Planet Earth that was presented to world leaders at the COP26 conference that year. Dozens of smaller community assemblies debated the same issues alongside the main global assembly, facilitated by local grassroots organizations worldwide. Overall, more than 1,300 people from 41 countries participated – making it the largest public deliberation on climate policy to date.

Digital games are an alternative way to bring climate policy scenarios to life, allowing members of the public to examine trade-offs associated with policy decisions and offer their preferences for future adaptation or mitigation strategies. They offer a fun and accessible way for people to engage with serious policy decisions. For example, The Strategy Room, developed by Nesta in collaboration with Fast Familiar and University College London, combines digital storytelling about future climate scenarios, deliberation and interactive polling to engage citizens in selecting preferred pathways for achieving net zero in their local areas. In 2023 it was used by 12 municipalities in the UK to identify the most appropriate and popular climate policies that should be prioritized for implementation in their region, engaging over 630 members of the public. The World Climate Simulation is a role-playing game that invites participants to imagine they are taking part in international climate negotiations. It uses a simulation tool called C-ROADS, built on up-to-date climate models, as an input for policy discussions between stakeholders. It’s been played by both high-level decision-makers and mixed stakeholder groups including members of the public. The results have been used by high-level officials in the US government to support both internal policy discussions and international negotiations.