Empowering Citizens to Combat Climate Change Threats: A Revolutionary Method

House Flooding Illustration

A new method has been developed by researchers to help communities prepare for extreme weather caused by climate change, such as flooding, heat stress, food shortages, and energy disruption. The researchers facilitate local community groups to understand and discuss potential climate change impacts and develop citizen-led climate adaptation initiatives.

Scientists have developed a community-driven method to tackle climate change impacts. This initiative encourages local communities to create their own ‘personal adaptation plans’ for extreme weather events and has successfully been tested in the UK, India, and Ghana. The aim is to increase climate change awareness and promote citizen-led solutions.

Extreme weather caused by climate change — such as flooding — will be easier to prepare for after scientists developed a new method that empowers citizens to identify solutions to the threats their communities face.

The approach works by researchers bringing community groups together to discuss and understand the likely impacts of climate change in a local area. In the UK, these include indirect risks such as food shortages and energy disruption as well as physical threats like heat stress and flooding.

Most climate adaptation initiatives are developed by governments or by businesses, rather than to help citizens help themselves. The new approach, published today (Thursday, June 22) in Nature Climate Change, was created by researchers from the Universities of Reading and Surrey and involves generating maps and networks that can help citizens identify solutions to the threats their communities face.

Professor Tom Oliver, from the University of Reading, led the study which also involved pilots in India and Ghana. He said: “Our hope is that such methods will ultimately be developed for widespread use. We need citizen-led adaptation planning processes in every village, town, and city so that we are prepared as much as possible for the significant impacts of climate change.”

Adaptation plans

The method was piloted in Reading, Oxford, and Wallingford in the UK. Citizens in each group worked together to discuss the actions that individuals can take to help protect themselves, their households, and their communities from the consequences of climate threats. Actions included storing more long-life food and better-insulating homes from heat to help households respond to floods and heat waves. Proactive actions included lobbying the government for action to prevent the greatest impacts of climate change.

Participants discussed their shared experiences in putting in place these actions before developing their own ‘personal adaptation plans’, identifying which specific interventions they intended to pursue, how they might achieve them, and the expected timeframe. Overall, participants found that the process increased their awareness and their preparedness for climate change impacts.

Professor Nigel Gilbert from the University of Surrey said “There are many ways that climate change impacts citizens, and this information is likely to be more meaningful when participants are co-creators in the discovery process. Adaptation plans may also be more realistic when they are identified and discussed within the community.”

Global collaboration

The method was piloted internationally, namely in the lower Volta Basin in Ghana, and the Assam region in India with support from the CSIR-Water Research Institute in Ghana and the Indian Institute of Management Nagpur in India.

Local citizens in both regions first identified the diverse threats they face from climate change. In Ghana, risks included bushfires, drought, flooding, coastal erosion, sea level rise, saltwater intrusion, and invasive alien species. Citizens decided on actions that included afforestation and storing freshwater, tree planting, dredging rivers, and blocking flood channels with sandbags.

Villagers on Majuli Island in the Assam region of India discussed major challenges from flooding and erosion impacting housing and vulnerable agriculture. Their solutions included short-term actions such as storing feed for livestock before floods and longer-term measures such as exploring alternative sources of income (such as fishing and weaving).

Participants from all three regions involved in the study shared their results and learned how their responses were applicable to where they lived. A participant from Ghana said: “I have more information on how other people are adapting to climate change in the UK and India and these are also applicable to me here in the village.”

Reference: “Empowering citizen-led adaptation to systemic climate change risks” by Tom H. Oliver, Prosper Bazaanah, Jeff Da Costa, Nabajyoti Deka, Andre Z. Dornelles, Matthew P. Greenwell, Magesh Nagarajan, Kavin Narasimhan, Emmanuel Obuobie, Marian A. Osei and Nigel Gilbert, 22 June 2023, Nature Climate Change.
DOI: 10.1038/s41558-023-01712-6

4 Comments on "Empowering Citizens to Combat Climate Change Threats: A Revolutionary Method"

  1. Why bother,the world already came to an end this week according to pope Greta thunderburger…

    • Hottan Bothred | June 22, 2023 at 10:14 am | Reply

      I understand the cynicism. We see such silliness constantly. Floods and fires aren’t climate, unless you live in the sea or on the Sun. Erosion is not climate unless dancing is too. They were always a threat, happened occasionally, and they aren’t going to go away no matter what we do. The world didn’t end, and it won’t end in six years either.

      Still, maybe the article represents a shift in understanding. Climate changes, always and naturally and we influence it, but the answer throughout human history and pre-history has been to adapt. Even now they’re not telling people to adapt to climate changes, they’re telling people to be ready for floods and fires and erosion and such. That’s good advice, even if the reasoning is indirect, with climate only influencing that risk. And if a local climate changes, overbuilt services or having prepared for the unexpected would be the way to cope over coming decades of less predictability. Personal responsibility includes resilience and understanding what to do.

      For all the climate change environmentalist bluster, I’ve only seen counter-productive actions touted like coal-powered battery-cars, and vitriol against the things that actually reduced emissions like natural gas fracking; articles like this could be the beginning of a recognition of that failure of the movement, switching to pragmatic advice that might actually help someone. There can be a little hope.

      • Gordon Chamberlain | June 22, 2023 at 8:05 pm | Reply

        Wise to seek out the best data what is being done. Then there is understanding what the tipping points means to our future.

        • Clyde Spencer | June 24, 2023 at 6:13 pm | Reply

          “Tipping Points” are a non sequitur. During the last 4.5 billion years, Earth has seen extremes of much hotter and much colder than present. Surely, if a ‘tipping point’ was possible, one would have occurred by now and we would be stuck in that climate, or everything would be extinct. However, that hasn’t happened! The use of the term is intended to scare people, even though it is highly improbable.

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