December 13, 2021

How Transparency, Accountability and Public Involvement Can Help Deliver Climate Action


Scotland’s Climate Assembly rounded off its busy event schedule at COP26 on Thursday 11th November with an important insight into the necessity of citizen participation in tackling the climate emergency. The event ‘How Open Government Principles can help deliver Climate Action’, held at the Nordic Pavilion and in partnership with the Open Government Partnership (OGP), brought together Ministers from around the globe to emphasise the importance of transparency, accountability and public involvement in enabling climate action, and to take questions from Scotland’s Climate Assembly and the Children’s Parliament.

Chair Yamide Dagnet of the World Resources Institute was joined by four panel members; Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights, Krista Mikkonen, the Finnish Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Gintarė Krušnienė, Lithuanian Vice-Minister of Environment, and Patricia Fuller, the Canadian Ambassador for Climate Change.

Opening the event, Mr. Harvie emphasised the importance of Citizen’s Assemblies as an innovative model in contributing towards a democratic process that is both fair and transparent in Scotland, drawing on the work of Scotland’s Climate Assembly and the Children’s Parliament as a tool to “bring in fresh perspectives from people who often have barriers to accessing formal decision making processes - people who are often further away from economic [...] and political power”. “We’ll still need to keep on challenging ourselves and learning to do better” Mr. Harvie went on to state, “but just today, we’re announcing that one of the recommendations from the Climate Assembly on banning single use plastics - we’re taking action to implement that [...] we are really committed not just to listening, but that voices are heard and are having an impact, allowing us to share power effectively across Scotland”.

Following the announcement that the Scottish Government will be acting upon the Assembly’s recommendation to ban single use plastics, Harvie concluded that it is initiatives such as Scotland's Climate Assembly that have facilitated a richer debate around climate change policy and in turn has strengthened Scotland’s commitment to the Open Government Partnership. The OGP is a global partnership that brings together government reformers and civil society leaders to create action plans that make governments more inclusive, responsive and accountable. Scotland joined the OGP in 2016 as a ‘Pioneer Programme’ member and is currently finalising its third Open Government Action Plan for the period 2021-2025. This will be the first time that Scotland has included commitment to climate change in its Open Government work.

On a similar note to Mr. Harvie, Ms. Mikkonen emphasised Finland’s commitment to transparent communication between the government and the general public, focusing on Finland’s current work in inviting vulnerable and marginalised groups to climate policy discussions, including Finland’s youth population and the indigenous Sámi people. Ms. Mikkonen explained that these voices are amplified by their presence in regular legislative proposal meetings that are held across the country, in accessible locations such as local libraries, and held in multiple languages if required.

“It is crucial to state how important citizen engagement is to really find the effective climate solutions and to reach the targets that we talk about in this conference” adds Lithuanian Vice-Minister Krušnienė, “because as a matter of fact, actual emission reductions are made by decisions of people of households and of businesses, so it's it is crucial that the targets are being cascaded down [...], the most effective solutions come as a bottom up approach”. Lithuania is currently championing an open data approach that allows the general public to access and scrutinise government procurement data and green procurement policies.

Canada, a member of the Open Government Partnership for over ten years, has also launched an open data platform in order to strengthen the country’s commitment to transparency, accountability and public involvement. As of March 2021, Canadian citizens are able to access over 140,000 government records on the cumulative effects of climate change and are encouraged to use this database as an educational tool for both adults and children.

After the opening discussion, the panel took questions from Climate Assembly members and members of the Children’s Parliament regarding what has been done, and what more could be done, in each of the panel member’s respective countries to support the involvement of the general public in climate action. Starting the Q & A session, Nadia, a 13 year old member of the Children’s Parliament from West Lothian, wanted to know how each of the four countries were teaching both children and adults about climate change. “How are you listening and acting upon children’s ideas?” followed Tyler, a fellow 12 year old member of Children’s Parliament.

All panel members were in strong agreement regarding the necessity of climate education throughout the age ranges, providing various examples of youth involvement schemes in each respective country, and drawing special attention and commendation to the increasing action of youth from around the globe in tackling the climate emergency. As members of Children’s Parliament, Nadia and Tyler were some of the youngest official observers at COP26, and were eager to bring to light the importance of children’s participation in climate dialogue.

Following questions from Nadia and Tyler, Andrew, a member of Scotland’s Climate Assembly, enquired about how the panel engages and acts upon local and national participation processes, such as the Climate Assembly. Mr Harvie was quick to highlight Scotland’s participatory budgeting scheme, which allows local communities to decide how money is going to be spent in their area. “If you engage people at a local level, if you give people the ability to [...] decide for themselves” Harvie concludes, “you can avoid some polarised debate and make local decisions that work really well”.

The Scottish Government’s early announcement of the backing of the Assembly’s recommendation to ban single use plastic is a positive step forward as the Assembly waits for a full Government response to all of the 81 recommendations actioned by its members. Scotland’s Climate Assembly will receive a full response to their report from the Government in the coming weeks, and will meet in February for a final weekend to discuss its output.

You can watch a full recording of the session here.