Five Types of Climate Engagement to Accelerate the Transition to Net-Zero

A more participatory relationship between governments and the communities they serve can accelerate the shift to net-zero emissions by reducing misinformation, improving decisions and maintaining public confidence and legitimacy through the challenges ahead.

Innovations in climate engagement are currently taking place around the world, building on decades of learning and experience to generate public input that is representative, informed and actionable. These public participation processes engage residents, citizens, under-represented communities and stakeholders in shaping actions and decisions to address climate change. Although not mutually exclusive, each of these five categories highlights a specific purpose and approach to climate engagement that may be helpful for governments to consider when developing their engagement strategies.

1. Citizen deliberation to work through trade-offs and find hidden consensus using representative mini-publics 

Internationally, the OECD has identified a “deliberative wave” of citizens’ assemblies and similar processes that, since 2010, are increasingly transforming how countries and sub-national governments engage citizens. These processes use modern engagement approaches to address critical shortcomings in conventional engagement by seeking out participants who reflect the full diversity of their communities, creating conditions for informed input, building empathy to reduce interest-based polarization and presenting actionable recommendations to decision-makers that can increase the democratic legitimacy of climate action.

Examples: Climate assemblies in Denmark, France, Scotland, United Kingdom and Gdańsk, as well as through the Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future.

2. Relationship-based engagement to advance shared goals and climate justice in partnership with affected communities

Relationship-based engagement seeks to work in partnership with communities to build mutual capacity, inform decisions and advance shared goals over the long-term. This work sets aside objectives to engage large volumes of individuals or curate randomly selected groups, with the understanding that self-organizing and community-based groups also have important roles to play in the democratic process.

In the field of climate change, relationship-based methods are particularly important when engaging those populations that will be most impacted by climate change, as well as for advancing principles of equity and climate justice with historically and currently marginalized groups.

Examples: Cycles of Resilience, the work of Kota Kita in Indonesia and Women’s Climate Centers International.

3. Place-based engagement to increase relevance to participants’ daily lives and unlock the agency, networks and capacity of local groups

Place-based engagement has a range of benefits, including supporting the principle of subsidiarity, allowing residents to explore climate science through their own lived experiences, sustaining participation by engaging residents through sources of personal identity, and making connections between climate action and co-benefits such as health and community-building. While place-based engagement processes can still inform decision-making and may have similarities to other forms of climate engagement, they are especially well-suited to connect with existing community networks and build localized movements for climate action.

Examples: Green participatory budgeting projects in more than 15 cities worldwide, CityStudio, and the Polder Model.

4. Large-scale engagement to crowdsource ideas and co-create narratives across wider populations

Public opinion can both motivate and constrain decisionmakers. Large populations also can be a powerful force in taking collective action, imagining creative solutions or building shared meaning and narratives. Although governments typically cannot engage large numbers of people at the same level of depth as more focussed climate engagement processes, they often use large-scale methods as important tools to collect information, make better decisions, earn trust and work towards increased consensus at the population level.

Examples: Unified New Orleans Plan and The Big Climate Conversation.

5. Systems-oriented engagement to increase opportunities for learning and impact using iterative approaches and multiple engagement channels

Systems-oriented engagement allows governments to tackle “wicked problems” in ways that are both deeply democratic and highly systemic. Features of this approach may include:

  • Choosing sponsorship and governance models that maximize credibility and influence across the system
  • Framing questions that invite participation from all impacted groups and that allow participants to identify co-benefits
  • Using systems approaches and iteration to enable learning, identify leverage points for change, and allow groups to respond to each other’s ideas
  • Blending the use of deliberative, relationshipbased, large-scale and place-based engagement tools to broaden the reach of democratic exchange, co-create new narratives and shift behaviour across the wider system

Examples: Healthy, Clean Cities Deep Demonstrations program and The Global Climate Assembly.

To learn more about the five types of climate engagement and the case studies mentioned here, read the Can Public Participation Accelerate the Transition to Net-Zero? report.

Dialogue Dispatch


Dialogue Dispatch is our community of practice newsletter where we share updates on our team's knowledge exchange activities alongside inspiring case studies, suggested readings and practical tools for people and organizations working to transform the field of democratic participation.

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