Communicating climate change at time of COVID-19

A snapshot from TOMORROW's online meeting

In April, TOMORROW cities were supposed to meet in person in Heerlen, The Netherlands, to attend a conference and a workshop on Energy Transition. Even though all in person meetings and travels were cancelled by the COVID crisis, TOMORROW cities kept learning from each other and they met virtually by participating in two online workshop sessions organised by DRIFT. One of the sessions of the workshop, called ‘Learning from each other and building resilience in difficult times’, aimed at supporting exchange of experiences among cities on their challenges and resilience strategies in the current COVID-19 times. Each city team shared a short presentation followed by a Q&A. In addition, city teams were divided into "virtual groups" to discuss the risks and potential "openings" brought by the COVID crisis. The group session was then followed by a final plenary discussion. In the following months, we will share with you some of the main insights, inspirations and lessons learnt from this and other online sessions. 

Rethinking the way of working within local authorities and of engaging citizens 

The different city teams experienced the crisis in different ways also depending on their geographical and institutional contexts. Some of the city teams had been supported to work from home and they quickly adapted to online collaboration. Others had more challenges and barriers. The Dublin team, for example, mentioned that they managed to coordinate the online work well and they also had more time to focus on planning activities and research. Other city teams explained that the transition from the in person work to the virtual one had been more challenging. In some cases, the majority of the municipality activities had to be postponed and could not be carried on online. 

All city teams had to postpone in person citizens' engagement activities and events such as workshops with local stakeholders. In certain cases, they managed to organise stakeholder engagement sessions online while in some other teams the virtual organisation of meetings was not possible because of the lack of technological tools and capacities. While facilitating social interactions in the virtual world has been more challenging for some, other cities had also positive outcomes: they reached different and often younger segments of the population. Brasov and Valencia city teams, for example, managed to successfully involve citizens in online meetings while the Brest team organised a virtual meeting among different departments of the Municipality. 

Changing the communication about climate emergency

Another challenge regards the change of priorities of local authorities. Many civil servants working  in climate/environment departments, have been redeployed to provide emergency services. This was the case in Dublin, where the municipality’s resources shifted to the emergency activities to address the COVID crisis. This means that TOMORROW teams did not only have to change their way of working, they also had to be very innovative in developing COVID recovery strategies that would also address the climate crisis. City teams are working hard to keep the energy transition as a priority during and after the crisis. The team in Valencia, for example, created communication messages to show that the climate emergency also needed to remain a priority for the city. As shared by a representative of the Valencia team: "We need to highlight the positive aspects that the energy transition can bring and also its economic benefits". 

Making your community aware of the health and economic impacts of renewable energy and sustainability interventions might be a game changer for your city’s green future. By taking advantage of current communication and information technologies, we can still contribute to roadmapping the energy transition in time of crisis!

This blog is part of a series of energy diaries, tracing the TOMORROW pilot-cities around Europe to learn about roadmaps for decarbonisation. Watch this space for more updates...