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Private Citizens Meet on Climate Change

FILE- Students join other environmental activists in a coastal clean-up along the shores of Freedom Island to mark World Earth Day, April 22, 2015 at suburban Las Pinas, south of Manila, Philippines.

On June 6, hundreds of citizens in 80 countries will have a chance to voice their concerns and learn about climate change. The comments and opinions will be considered when the next Climate Change Conference is held in Paris in December.

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The citizen consultation and deliberation process is called World Wide Views. It’s an effort to raise awareness about climate change and other issues. Organizers said it’s better suited for discussions on environmental matters than traditional surveys or focus groups – and that it will “help close the widening gap between citizens and policymakers.”

World Wide Views is described as a “global citizen consultation that provides decision-makers with a unique insight on complex governance issues that are debated and negotiated at global venues, such as the U.N.” It’s been in use for climate conferences since 2009.

University of Helsinki Adjunct Professor Mikko Rask has studied the consultation process. He said while supported by the U.N., the consultations are actually organized by the World Wide Views initiative

“It’s a network of research institutes, environmental and other NGOs, assessment institutes and maybe some ministries, as well. But the coordinator, real coordinator, is [the] Danish Board of Technology that used to be a parliamentarian body that provided advice to [the] Danish parliament,” he said.

The day-long event in 80 countries features groups of 100 randomly selected people discussing major issues facing the climate.

Rask said the process is superior to surveys and focus groups because of the high level of ignorance among the public about environmental issues. For example, a poll shows only 44 percent of Europeans know the meaning of biodiversity. A simple definition is the variety of different types of life found in specific geographic locations.

He said, “If citizens lack sufficient information, how can you survey their opinions?”

“Questions and issues of climate negotiations are really complicated and not available for [the] the public to start reflecting without any kind of background information. So, you cannot survey what folks should think about problems of biodiversity.”

So, the group meetings will also be used to raise awareness.

Rask is co-editor of a new book entitled "Governing Biodiversity through Democratic Deliberation." The book contains evaluations by 30 international researchers on the role of the citizen consultation process in environmental policy.

“[The] majority of the articles are analyzing this new process that tries to provide an alternative for complex environmental issues by allowing the informed reflection by randomly selected citizens," he said. "So, there are students of political sciences, science and technology studies, who are analyzing how the process was conducted in different countries, how reliable the method was.”

The book does find some problems with the World Wide Views consultations. Researchers say the method often relies “too heavily on numerical information, while ignoring local perspectives.”

Rask said that “since the U.N. is interested in more democratic decision-making, the local perspectives of different countries should be integrated more closely into global policymaking.”