Collective climate action: Effective stakeholder engagement for building climate resilience

February 3, 2023

In Sri Lanka and across the world, climate change affects many sectors, organizations, population segments, and communities. To take effective and scaled up action that could mitigate climate change, and address impacts of climate change, it is important that stakeholders at all levels need to contribute to climate action. This includes finding inclusive, collective and innovative ways to manage climate-related risks. 

However, while these different stakeholders each have their own roles to play in addressing climate-related risks, their actions are not independent of each other and often rely on collaboration, partnerships, and exchange of information. Therefore, participation and inclusion are important parts of any comprehensive risk management framework.

Climate change is a vast and complex phenomenon that interacts with other processes across various levels, for example sustainable development, biodiversity conservation, or management of the COVID-19 pandemic. If diverse actors work together and support each other’s efforts, this can unlock synergies that amplify the effectiveness of climate action and create co-benefits in other areas.

Stakeholder roles and responsibilities

Each stakeholder has a role to play in climate action, and they have different responsibilities, mandates, capacities, resources, and challenges. This includes government entities, the private sector, universities, research institutions and think tanks, civil society organizations, community groups, media, youth, and others. Some of these actors engage exclusively on the local level or national level while others cut across two or more levels with their actions, or perform cross cutting actions which would have connections to all levels through different thematic focuses. For example, actions related to research and evidence connecting at all levels of actions; gender-responsive actions; and impact assessments. 

Government entities, from line ministries to specialised departments and local authorities, create the enabling environment for climate action. Laws, policies, plans, regulations, guidelines, standards, certifications, and similar processes guide and support stakeholders in the implementation of risk management and adaptation measures. In addition, public awareness and understanding of climate risk as well as the availability of data, information, technical expertise, human resources, and finance are key enablers for resilience. 

Within this national and local context, research, policy development, and interventions can benefit from participatory and inclusive processes. They can be supported and scaled up through a wider group of stakeholders through collective expertise, with evidence from the forefront of climate change, and voices of vulnerable communities and groups. Broad stakeholder engagement can be strengthened by designating focal points, instituting quotas for representation, enhancing access to information, conducting open planning processes, and other mechanisms.

It is vital to involve key actors as well as vulnerable groups, which in many cases include women, youth, the elderly, the disabled, migrants, informal workers, smallholder farmers, fishers, small businesses, or day labourers.

Gender and climate risk

When dealing with climate risk, men and women face different challenges. It is important to understand and integrate these gendered differences into climate processes. Women and men often operate within a complex web of role models, norms, traditions, cultural expectations, laws, institutions, and self-images. They have different access to and control over land, resources, equipment, assets, and information; different household roles; different labour profiles; and different degrees of decision-making power. This includes policy and planning at all levels. For example, women often face different challenges and have different vulnerabilities due to existing social and economic vulnerabilities. These challenges can be exacerbated in case of scarcity or disaster events, for example when it comes to allocating water, rationing food, or finding safe shelter during displacement or evacuation. 

However, beyond challenges, gender also connects to different capacities and contributions, for example in the form of specialized knowledge and skills or through traditional practices. Risk management and resilience-building should therefore be conscious of and responsive to gender-related differences regarding issues and constraints, but also in terms of potential contributions and opportunities.

Youth and climate risk

Similar to other vulnerable groups, children and youth are affected by climate risk in different ways. They are often more vulnerable to direct and indirect climate impacts on the individual as well as the community level, including impacts on food security, infrastructure, the education system, livelihoods, and employment. Compared to adults, youth tend to be more sensitive to shocks and less secure in terms of formal or informal risk management mechanisms.

Besides their specific nutritional and developmental needs, young people could face impacts on their education and livelihoods as well as their savings, land, or assets; they might lack knowledge and experience on how to access help or share risks; and they might not have the same ability to participate in decision-making spaces or associations.

It is important that youth and children are a focus of climate action, and their voices are taken into account. It is important to understand and integrate solutions that would focus on their wellbeing such as social protection mechanisms. While communities would face climate impacts collectively, the impacts of climate change would be different on different groups of the community. Due to this, it is important that the needs of each group are understood through a collective and participatory process, which would contribute to solutions which address the needs of all who are vulnerable to climate change.

Private sector in climate action

While government, civil society, academia, youth, and vulnerable groups are important to engage, it is the private sector also has an integral role to play in climate action. This could be through collaborative efforts on scaling up existing climate action, as well as introducing innovative solutions to address climate impacts through their industries.

In many cases, the private sector is considered a key actor in climate finance. This includes funding and co-funding climate change-related projects as well as collaborating to provide sustainability and viability for larger projects building on policy and planning processes at local and national levels.

It is further important that climate risks are understood in relevant economic sectors and integrated into business planning processes. Evidence and research on climate risk, mapping of risk for different sectors, and economic empowerment that integrates climate risk into processes at all levels is vital for building a sustainable economy. In doing this, the contribution and engagement of the private sector into climate action processes would be of vital importance as well.

Inclusive and participatory stakeholder engagement

Multi-stakeholder engagement that includes all relevant actors and vulnerable groups is key to addressing climate risks in a holistic and comprehensive manner. Shocks to sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, or trade have the potential to ripple through the economy and cause collective and compound losses, making it a priority to prevent or mitigate them to avoid negative consequences. However, all sectors could face climate risks at different levels. And it is important that all stakeholders are aware of the risks and threats, as well as part of the building of solutions to address them.

Enhanced climate literacy, capacity-building would of importance to ensure that all actors are able to contribute effectively to climate action. This includes climate communication to all stakeholders based on research and evidence, and also in a manner that is accessible. Media and communicators, as well as organisations working on outreach and engagement could play a key role in scaling up these efforts and facilitating improved engagement of multiple stakeholders. Collaboration and exchange can consist of sharing information and keeping communication channels open; it can happen through joint or mutual capacity-building, coordination meetings, and documentation of good practices; or it can take the form of actions that are implemented together, build on each other, and work towards the same objectives.

Climate risk is cross-cutting and affects multiple sectors and stakeholder groups at once: therefore, solutions to risk management should be holistic and involve different actors to make the best use of their capacities, avoid duplication of efforts, and ensure that all can contribute to solutions that leave no one behind.

Note: This article has been published on The Morning as part of the author’s weekly column. 

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About the Author
Vositha Wijenayake

Vositha is an attorney-at-law specialising in public international law, with a focus on international environmental law, UN human rights law, refugee law and EU law. She has over a decade of experience in working on climate change, at national and international level. Vositha is a member of the national expert committee on climate change adaptation of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, national expert on vulnerability and adaptation measures for the Third National Communication of Sri Lanka to the UNFCCC for the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, and is a delegate focusing on compliance, adaptation, loss and damage, and gender for the Sri Lankan delegation to the UNFCCC since 2016. She is also a consultant to the UNFCCC national adaptation plans and policy unit, and worked as a country support consultant to the UNDP NAP Global Support Programme. Vositha has an LLM in public international law from University College London, and an LLB from University of London. ‍