Põim Kama: Green transition requires clear communication

Põim Kama.
Põim Kama. Source: Private collection

To boost support for the green transition it is first necessary to illustrate gains and benefits on an individual level and through what first affects people, Põim Kama writes.

Panelists of a recent Riigikogu Foresight Center conference were asked whether they rather believe in technology or austerity when it comes to the green transition. The fact that the answers went both ways proves that the question has merit – faith is a factor.

The more complex and knowledge-based the problem, the more emotional arguments are left outside the door. But this might be a mistake and work to hold back processes as widespread public support for various solutions usually depends on emotions, trust and faith as opposed to rational and scientific argumentation.

There is more and more talk of just transition and the involvement or exclusion of groups in society, even though this still mostly concerns the regional, technological and economic dimensions. I believe we must equally address exclusion in terms of information, knowledge, trust, understanding and acceptance.

Attitude and bearing depend on faith, while the latter in turn depends on available information and whether we trust it. Moreover, whether we understand the topic, whether it seems sensible and useful. The problem of echo chambers and tunnel vision caused by an abundance of information and its simultaneous encapsulation affects the green transition just like it affects all other social processes.

Relevant scientific information is held by a relatively small group of experts and decision-makers, while it fails to reach the majority of the population in a comprehensive form. Society lacks broad-based understanding of the green transition's nature, what is planned to achieve it as well as the benefits and need.

Rather, the green transition has turned into a label or slogan which every interest group is populating with content that suits its particular needs. As put by Bill Gates, the barrier to change is not too little caring, it is too much complexity. And the concept of the green transition is just too complex for people to grasp. Abundant and at times conflicting information, as well as conscious attempts at misdirection and manipulation, only adds to the confusion and manufactures mistrust.

Those effecting change, whether we're talking about legislators, scientists and developers, businesses, local governments, are not acting in isolation or laboratory conditions. Their success depends on support from the surrounding social, political and economic ecosystem. Lack of this kind of support, negative public opinion or insufficient clarity work to hold back progress and render making important decisions more difficult.

That is why it is important to also focus on, next to technologies and policies, honest and clear communication that works to reduce confusion. We need to raise awareness by equipping people with clear, valid and sufficient information in place of misinformation. Otherwise, change will run aground on the reefs of bewilderment and mistrust – lack of faith to put it simply.

How to measure whether communication is sufficient and effective? First, we need to ask whether the necessary information is reaching enough people consistently and in a legible form. Or whether we find ourselves in a situation where in order to have even a semi-coherent picture of the green transition one needs to make personal efforts of looking up information, weighing its credibility, comparing it to alternative sources etc.

The latter option is just too difficult. People who wake up confident that they will get to the bottom of the green transition today and then set about hunting for available information number few. Because constant, sufficient and appropriate information is in short supply, we need to admit that opinions and attitudes concerning the green transition are largely based on news that can penetrate the rest of the information noise – the feeling that the green transition is something we have to do because the EU demands it, accompanied by news of all manner of bureaucratic curiosities.

To boost support for the green transition it is first necessary to illustrate gains and benefits on an individual level and through what first affects people. Whereas it needs to be kept in mind that the goals of fighting climate change, maintaining or restoring biodiversity might come off as too far or too abstract. Especially if they are accompanied by calls to austerity – altering one's habits and dialing back consumption.

Instead, a convincing argument could be found in the economy and boosting prosperity. In the words of Tea Danilov, head of the Riigikogu Foresight Center, "Broader social acceptance can only arrive once we have figured out a way to carry out the green transition in a way to benefit the Estonian society and economy instead of hurting it."

Green investments have a direct and measurable positive economic effect. Money already prefers green things, including green pension and investment funds, green loans and other financial instruments. Managing environmental effects is an argument that finds traction with consumers, investors, partners, which trend is only set to deepen.

A recent Foresight Center report found that Estonia's best opportunities lie in developing green technologies and taking them to foreign markets. Therefore, the competitive ability of Estonia and our economy depends on our success with green policies and technologies.

Next to the public sector, adjusting green claims and communication is also a task for businesses. Environmental friendliness is a sales argument, while one's claims need to be accurate and verifiable. Because over half (53.3 percent) of claims made in the EU about products' environmental properties are vague, misleading or baseless and 40 percent of claims unfounded, the European Commission has initiated a green claims directive bill aimed at boosting the credibility of environmental claims.

While I'm not sure whether more bureaucracy and planned disciplinary measures constitute the most motivating solution, the need for more clarity and transparency is obvious.

The public sector can serve as an example and lead the way. While the government sector's communication has been uneven, lacking consistency and fragmented between ministries and agencies so far, the incoming climate law will provide an impulse for more orderly communication and phrasing central principles therein.

The private sector has called for the climate law to provide clear communication, including explanation of causes, goals and effects. As put by Kai Realo, chairwoman of the Estonian Employers Confederation, "the lion's share of obligations is shouldered by entrepreneurs, while society as a whole must be willing to make the green transition effort."

The new climate law gives both the public and private sectors a chance they must not miss. The time frame for achieving climate targets is extremely tight, and it is impossible without broad-based public support.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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