The interests, ideas, and institutions shaping public participation in local climate change governance in Ireland
Paul M. Wagner, Valesca Lima
Local Environment
School of Law and Government

Public participation in local governance is crucial for effective climate action and for ensuring that policies are designed in a way that respects the rights of communities. Policy developments and choices are shaped by the groups that participate, by the ideas that they hold, and by the institutions that enable and constrain their participation. This DCU research collaboration seeks to understand local climate change governance in Ireland by identifying the environmental interests and the ideas of the groups that participate, and by examining how they engage with institutionalised local policymaking processes and with the organisations that represent the officially recognised views of the country’s national environmental movement. 

Since the Rio Declaration in 1992, citizen participation in environmental action has been an important feature of how the public has engaged with the reality of climate change. States were given the important mission of facilitating public participation by providing access to information and opportunities to participate in decision-making processes. The fragmentary nature of how different states have responded to climate change over the years, including a reluctance or inability to tackle the problem, suggests that non-state actors could play a role in mobilising public opinion and generating innovative solutions. Indeed, some have argued that public participation in local climate governance is a necessary condition for addressing the crisis. Public participation in climate governance and policymaking was slow to take up, but over the years climate activism has increased at the local, national, and international levels. Popular mobilisation has increased for several reasons: more evidence on the urgency of climate change, the increasing number of international conferences and events and the “movement spillover” of the global justice movement, which has recently become involved in climate politics. It is in this context that we have focused on the groups that participate in local climate policymaking institutions in Ireland.

An analysis of survey data collected from the groups that are members of one of Ireland’s Public Participation Networks shows that a majority of groups are small, rural, voluntary, interested in a wide variety of environmental issues and have a pro-ecological worldview. Most groups follow a pro-institutional advocacy strategy at the local level, while only a minority interact with the national environmental movement, mostly limiting their engagement to the acquisition of information. This paper contributes to the literature that examines how interests, ideas, and institutions shape public participation in local climate politics.