THE ROLE OF THE CITIZEN IN COMBATING CLIMATE CHANGE

1. A grain of sand in the desert or a drop in the ocean…citizen power!

In solving the major problems facing mankind, which are reflected in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the general public has a key role to play. As we will see later on, this does not detract from the role to be played by governments, companies, NGOs and cities. However, the citizen comes first.

Why?

The two idioms in the subheading to this section show exactly where citizen power lies: in the ability to join forces with others.

In facing any kind of major challenge, a person engaged in lone or individual analysis or searching for solutions to be implemented on an individual basis normally tends to quit out of a sense of helplessness that his isolated and insignificant efforts are of no use whatsoever.

It is another thing entirely when citizens come together to analyse problems, look for solutions and implement them on a joint basis.

2. The different roles played by citizens that can help to change the model

Every citizen plays different roles that a) when aligned with the needs of society and b) when joined up with those of other citizens, can harness the same power as a desert filled with grains of sand or an ocean filled with drops of water. However, in order for this to be possible, each one has to make their individual contribution:

  • The citizen as an employee

People can choose to work (or not to work) for a company depending on its respect (or lack of respect) for the elements included in the Agenda for Sustainable Development (in particular, in this case, its strategy as regards climate change).   If several citizens were to make the same decision, these companies would find themselves without the valuable staff they need to conduct their activities.

  • The citizen as a consumer

Each individual person applies certain criteria when deciding whether or not to consume a particular product or service. If climate change is included in these criteria, they may decide not to acquire the products or services of a company that is not aligned with the fight against climate change. If several citizens reach the same conclusion, the company’s media image will change. This will cause more citizens to follow their example and if the numbers are high enough, either the company will be affected by a slump in sales and profits, or they will be forced to change their strategies as regards decarbonisation.

Similarly, the opposite effect could be created in the case of companies that are committed to combating climate change, as both their image and their sales would receive a boost.

  • The citizen as an investor or employer

Management teams of companies, or the investors or banks that provide capital to those companies are also citizens.   By applying criteria of sustainability to their business strategies, investment decisions or the loans they grant, they can achieve significant targets that will not only help combat climate change, but also boost the other SDGs. By imposing obligations on themselves as regards sustainability in their articles of association, codes of ethics and conduct or the criteria they apply for hiring and investment, they will set an example for others, thereby broadening the reach of their decisions.

  • The citizen as a voter

The power of the electorate as a whole in choosing the political options – at European, central, regional or local level – that best understand the social agendas is evident.

  • The citizen as a politician

Political parties are formed by citizens and they can decide on the political strategy that will be followed, in particular when they gain access to power in the institutions and govern them.

  • The fellow citizen

Every measure we take is an example (either positive or negative) that is perceived by the rest of our fellow citizens.   We should not underestimate the power than this can have as regards conduct that is beneficial for the environment. In fact, this example-setting behaviour is crucial for increasing the impact of individual action.

  • The citizen as a family-member

There is amazing potential for education on values in families!   From parents to children and vice-versa. Awareness campaigns start in the family unit. When the dynamics are positive, there is a lot of be gained (new citizens that are aligned with the cause and who set an example to others). The opposite is also the case.

3. A few examples

There are several examples of measures that citizens can take to combat climate change. As mentioned previously, there is no need for heroic acts. There is even a lazy person’s guide published by the United Nations for citizens (on their sofas) with everyday things they can do to help fight climate change! Zaragoza City Council has also made an interesting video on this topic (reference)

  • Things to do at home
  • Things to do in transport
  • Things to do in leisure time
  • Things to do when shopping
  • Things to do at school
  • Things to do in the office
  • Things to do as regards your food
  • ….

3. Training and awareness plans as key elements in citizen empowerment

If citizens have a key role to play in solving the problem of climate change, first of all they need to know is what climate change is, what problems it causes and where they come from, as well as what they can do to help solve them. This will facilitate climate change to be included as a criterion for decision-making. No problem can be solved without knowledge and awareness. That is why outreach programmes are so important: in schools, families, companies, public administrations, etc.

4. A few words about our youngest citizens

The children of today will not only inherit the problems that we fail to solve; they will also receive the training we provide to them, the capacity for analysis that we teach them, their citizenship skills and the need for solidarity that is required in order to tackle the problems facing mankind in a world where all citizens unfortunately do not have access to the same opportunities. That is why it is so important for awareness plans to reach our youngest citizens, because they will no doubt be the ones that end up suffering on account of what we failed to fix – or, it is to be hoped, the ones that implement the conducts and solutions that we manage to find together, so that climate change can be halted for once and for all.