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Public Engagement on Climate Change Adaptation: A briefing for developing country National Adaptation Plan teams

This report, jointly prepared by Climate Outreach and the NAP Global Network, provides an introduction to public engagement on climate change adaptation. It makes recommendations for how to make public engagement with climate adaptation inclusive and effective, and how to make links to the Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) agenda under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement.

Public engagement on climate change adaptation


Countries will not achieve their climate ambitions without bringing citizens into the policy-making process. Public engagement is critical to the long-term success of efforts to build climate resilience through national adaptation plan (NAP) processes. NAP teams should place people—their values and identities—at the centre of decision making on adaptation. Building public support will be crucial for the adaptation actions prioritized through the NAP process to be implemented.

This joint report by Climate Outreach and the NAP Global Network, provides an introduction to public engagement on climate change adaptation; its primary intended audience is decision-makers involved in leading NAP processes in developing countries.

This report:

  • Presents a case for effective public engagement on climate change.
  • Discusses how NAP teams can approach public engagement on adaptation.
  • Presents key considerations for how to make public engagement inclusive and effective.
  • Explores four case studies of public engagement on adaptation led by governments and NGOs in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Fiji, Ghana, Kenya, and Saint Lucia.
  • Summarizes the report’s conclusions and recommendations for NAP teams on approaching public engagement with climate change adaptation. 

This article is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column. Please access the original text for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text. 

How to Approach Public Engagement on Adaptation

NAP teams looking to get started on public engagement on adaptation or to ramp up existing efforts can look to the Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) agenda under the UNFCCC. 

The report outlines the six broad ACE elements accompanied by examples of how NAP teams are already employing public engagement as part of NAP processes in line with these elements. Here, we include three examples from the report:

  • Public Participation: As part of the Costa Rican government’s process to develop the country’s first NAP, the Ministry of Environment and Energy held more than 40 assemblies and 30 bilateral meetings across the country, engaging over 150 institutions, including civil society actors, and publishing an advanced draft of the NAP for public comment
  • Public Access to Information: Tuvalu is carrying out integrated vulnerability and adaptation assessments as part of its NAP process to identify and prepare the nation and its people for the risks posed by climate change and disasters.The government has made vulnerability assessment data available to citizens through its publicly available Tuvalu National Integrated Vulnerability Assessment Database.
  • International Cooperation: The Tongan government accessed funding support from the NAP Global Network and NDC Partnership to organize a series of workshops to engage journalists, media professionals, and communicators on the nation’s priorities under the Joint National Action Plan on Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management. These workshops drew inspiration from similar workshops held in Saint Lucia and Peru.

Key Considerations for Effective Public Engagement and Communication in the NAP Process

As NAP teams develop public engagement and communications strategies on adaptation, the following key considerations can help enhance the effectiveness and inclusiveness of these efforts.

  1. Adaptation measures need to be conceived through a values-led approach in order to increase the chances that the shift in behaviour will be sustained. 
  2. NAP teams should consider how, where, and from whom people are accessing information. This includes identifying and working closely with “trusted messengers”.
  3. NAP team should ensure that messaging is nuanced, customized, and targeted. One way to do this effectively is to explore ways to segment the target audience based on multiple criteria, including their values, experiences, languages, socio-political and economic circumstances, and histories. 
  4. Gender and Social Inclusion lens is critical for outreach and communications strategies and can be integrated throughout—for example, by using audience segmentation for different target groups based on gender, Indigenous identity, age, literacy, and access to technology, among other factors.
  5. The lens of just resilience can help NAP teams embed people-centred approaches to policy-making, and ensure that the concerns and voices of systematically disenfranchised peoples and communities are part of climate change decision making.
  6. In order to establish meaningful two-way public participation in adaptation planning and action, NAP teams will have to develop (or have the ability to access support to navigate) processes and methodologies that are inclusive and safe, and address power asymmetries.
  7. NAP teams should put the communities that are at the front lines of climate change at the core of engagement strategies – this can be done by applying the Principles for Locally Led Adaptation.
  8. Climate Outreach’s Guidelines for Effective Visual Communications on Climate Change Adaptation are relevant to NAP teams as they consider how to use impactful imagery to enhance public engagement on adaptation.

Conclusions and Recommendations

  1. Public engagement is critical to the long-term success of efforts to build climate resilience through NAP processes. NAP teams must place people—their values and identities—at the centre of decision making on adaptation. It is crucial to build a social mandate for adaptation to transform our societies in meaningful and sustained ways, understanding public attitudes around climate risks, reducing people’s vulnerabilities and exposure to climate risk, tapping into cross-societal concerns, addressing political polarization, and effectively converting concern into climate action.
  2. NAP teams should look to the ACE elements to guide how they approach public engagement on adaptation. ACE provides areas for NAP teams to focus their efforts and is an important source of the legal obligation on climate change public engagement. Building strategic links between NAP and ACE processes can amplify adaptation efforts if the required political will and resources are channelled to support public engagement while fulfilling commitments under the Paris Agreement.
  3. A collection of intersecting and overlapping considerations and elements can unlock the potential of adaptation actions prioritized through NAP processes. From gender to power asymmetries, behaviour change to audience segmentation, each of these elements offers a different entry point into trying to understand people’s motivations and behaviours. Taken together NAP teams are encouraged to take stock of how each of these elements can help target interventions for wide-reaching and inclusive approaches to public engagement on adaptation.
  4. Imagery matters. NAP teams should reflect on climate visual imagery and follow the evidence on what constitutes impactful and compelling climate change visual media. Miscalibrating this aspect marginalizes the experiences of vulnerable people, which in turn can polarize attitudes.
  5. Creative and innovative approaches to public engagement on adaptation are being implemented around the world. Learning from the successes of international peers, NAP teams can draw on a rich set of experiences to pilot and apply in their own contexts. They include government-led and civil society-led initiatives, which are also a reflection of the power of partnerships and the added value of multistakeholder approaches

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