Page last updated at 15:37 GMT, Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Climate curbs need 'people power'

By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

Residents filling sand bags (Image: AP)
Communities hit by extreme weather events can share their experiences

The battle against climate change can only be won "in the hands of the many, not the few", a top scientist has said.

Jacqueline McGlade, head of the European Environment Agency (EEA), warned the current approach left the public sidelined as "silent observers".

Political and business leaders were not able to tackle the problem without help from ordinary people, she added.

Professor McGlade said environmental policies would also benefit from data based on public observations.

"There is just no way that we are going to be able to shift ourselves to tackle the fundamental problems of the crisis without addressing public participation," she told BBC News.

By observing what was happening on the ground from more and more locations, Professor McGlade said that scientists and policymakers would get a more detailed picture of the impacts and what responses were needed.

She outlined her views during a lecture hosted by environmental charity Earthwatch.

'Silent witnesses'

However, coinciding with Earthwatch's annual lecture, an international survey of 12,000 people in 12 nations suggested that the people questioned actually wanted to see greater leadership from politicians and businesses.

People using umbrellas (Getty Images)
With training, the public can help gather observational data

The research, conducted by the HSBC Climate Partnership during autumn 2008, also indicated that most of those questioned wanted their governments to take more "direction action", such as investing in renewable energy.

Professor McGlade said these findings highlighted why it was important to encourage more public involvement.

"What we see around the world, even in China, is a yo-yo between government intervention, such as regulation and legislation, and the markets.

"It is this yo-yo effect that has created, in many cases, the boom-and-bust cycles.

"It is absolutely apparent that we need to balance that with much more explicit public participation."

In an article for BBC News' Green Room, she explained why she felt the current approach was not working.

"Sadly, the political, economic and administrative mechanisms that we design to tackle environmental concerns all too often leave citizens sidelined as silent observers," she wrote.

Green Room logo (Image: BBC)

"Information is made available as lists of figures or speadsheets that only experts can interpret.

"Imagine if all of the statistics that inform our evening weather forecasts were presented in this way; do you think they would continue to be as popular?"

Professor McGlade said the EEA had launched an initiative that it hoped would overcome these barriers.

"The EEA's online portal, which is called the Global Citizen's Environmental Observatory, will enable European environmental information to be gathered and presented in a single location.

"It will give governments, policymakers and citizens easy access to clear, comprehensible data in real time," she explained. "It is no longer sufficient to develop passive lists or reports.

"We need to engage with citizens and ask how they can inform us, and it will also give us a better indication of what we need to do to be truly sustainable."



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