First Steps into Advocacy for Integrity of Creation

How all of us can make a difference


Social justice2.jpg


“All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation” (
Laudato Si’ 14)

We are all aware of the enormous challenges that climate change poses. We are also all too aware of the failings of our political leaders to respond effectively to this threat – indeed it has only been since the COP 21 in Paris in 2015 that we seen any truly meaningful attempt to tackle this challenge. And in Ireland we have been even slower, with the Taoiseach admitting that we are “laggards”. We also know that the people are well ahead of their politicians in grasping the importance of climate change. Indeed it has only been because of pressure from active and engaged citizens that our leaders have begun to react, however slowly.

At the heart of engaging with the political system is advocacy. Put simply, advocacy is the public support and recommendation of a particular policy. It is about citizens examining what government is doing and asking them to focus on and support specific policy areas. In terms of social justice, advocacy means speaking up for those who do not have a voice – the powerless, the poor, the marginalised, and our common home – the earth. In our political system, there are many actors who have power, who have connections, who have a voice and know how to use it – often for their own self-interest. It is up to citizens to bring their experience of life to politicians, and to speak up for that which is in all our best interest – the common good.

While making a broad appeal has an important place, the function of which is often to raise awareness and place pressure on Government regarding an issue in general, to really engage in meaningful advocacy it is necessary to know the facts and to narrow the focus. We may not yet be at the level of policy-proposal, nor indeed may we ever reach that level, however, in order to be serious about advocacy it is necessary to focus on specific policy areas and fully understand the issues we believe it important to speak about – otherwise why should anybody listen to us?

Part of this process is to actually make ourselves aware of specific government actions in this area, and part will be to collaborate with people who have expertise. In order to better grasp the policy environment around climate change, our first port of call could be the National Adaptation Framework for climate change currently being developed.

The National Level

The Climate Change National Adaptation Framework (NAF) is divided into Sectoral adaptation plans:

https://www.dccae.gov.ie/en-ie/climate-action/topics/adapting-to-climate-change/national-adaptation-framework/Pages/Sectoral.aspx

There are 12 sectors managed by various government departments.

  • Seafood - Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
  • Agriculture - Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
  • Forestry - Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
  • Biodiversity - Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht     
  • Built and Archaeological Heritage - Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
  • Transport infrastructure - Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport       
  • Electricity and Gas Networks - Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment           
  • Communications networks - Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment           
  • Flood Risk Management - Office of Public Works
  • Water Quality - Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government
  • Water Services Infrastructure - Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government
  • Health - Department of Health

The planning process for several, if not all, of these sectors will include public consultations. These consultations may provide the opportunity to remark upon specific policy areas where we believe that we have something meaningful to say. However, this will be technical and we must assess whether we have the required knowledge to form a valid opinion. If not, we may ask ourselves: do we have time to learn, or better yet do we wish to collaborate with experts?

The Local level

A more manageable area for engagement may be the local level adaptation, which will be outlined in the local authorities’ adaptation strategies, as part of the NAF:

https://www.dccae.gov.ie/en-ie/climate-action/topics/adapting-to-climate-change/national-adaptation-framework/Pages/Localadaptation.aspx

The local authority adaptation strategy development guidelines were published in December 2018:

https://www.dccae.gov.ie/documents/LA%20Adaptation%20Guidelines.pdf

With regards to local authority planning, we could draw upon the EU policy of supporting city and local authority action on climate change and the Covenant of Mayors initiative which may wish to promote and use as an example of effective local action.

https://www.covenantofmayors.eu/

Advocacy involving the development of local authority adaptation strategies, for which the deadline is September 2019, in tandem the local and European elections of May 2019 could be one possible avenue for effective advocacy.

Approaches to Policy

In terms of the content of advocacy it is important to assess where we would like to see emphasis in policy.

The government policy response to climate change is two-fold:

-        adaptation to vulnerabilities (dealing with the consequence of climate change) 

-        mitigation of factors (dealing with the causes of climate change)

Adaptation to vulnerabilities will undoubtedly gain more attention from policy-makers because it will be of greater urgency as it has an immediate effect. In response, we may wish to advocate for greater policy initiatives around mitigation of causes rather than adaptation to vulnerabilities.

With regards to mitigating of factors of global warming there are two approaches:

-        a reduction in GHG emissions and the sources of GHG emissions

-        the development and preservation of GHG sinks

Taking these steps in advocacy is not as easy as penning a quick letter to our local representative or newspaper expounding on a topic on which, in truth, we may not be well informed. Taking these steps in advocacy requires our concentration and no small amount of effort. It requires informing ourselves, it requires us to conscientize ourselves, and then to make serious suggestions regarding policy. Our suggestions do not have to be large, they do not have to be overly complex, you do not need to try to save the world, or provide the magic bullet to stop global warming – and you won’t! This can be as serious and as simple as contacting your local council with a suggestion about planting trees in a council-owned unused open space; as long as the suggestion is specific, informed and well thought through. If each of us takes a small step, then before we realise it, as a society, we will have taken a big step in the right direction.

“Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” (Laudato Si’ 217)

John McGeady, OLA Justice Officer
28 February 2019