What If Citizens Around The World Could Decide How To Act On Climate Change?

FILE - In this Tuesday Jan. 20, 2015 file photo, a plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, N.H.
FILE - In this Tuesday Jan. 20, 2015 file photo, a plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, N.H. Federal regulators are moving ahead with a court-ordered environmental review of a Colorado coal mine's permit that, if extended, could save the jobs of about 220 miners. It's not clear if regulators will challenge the court's order to consider the impacts of coal mining on climate change - an order that could set a precedent that might endanger other mining projects. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

What if the world’s citizens had a voice in the Conference on Climate Change, which will take place this coming December in Paris? In order for public opinion to play an active role in the outcome of negotiations, the doors to the grand event of COP21 must be opened to all. Such is the task to be undertaken on Saturday, when this debate, under the banner of World Wide Views on Climate and Energy, will take place around the world. The debate is already being called one of the largest exercises in participative democracy that has ever been carried out.

Over the course of 24 hours, over 10,000 anonymous participants spread out over five continents and 83 countries (from the Fiji islands all the way to Phoenix, Arizona; from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe) are going to simultaneously debate the issues of COP21. Even Nepal, in spite of the recent tragic events, was keen to confirm its participation. At the end of this day, each participating country will send to the French headquarters the results of a questionnaire about the crucial issues that must be resolved during the Conference on Climate Change in December. Do we need to act now against global warming? Should rich countries contribute more than poorer ones? Is it necessary to impose restrictions on the United States?

Already tested on a smaller scale in 2009 and 2012, the initiative is exceptional both for its scope and its goal -- to obtain in real time a picture of the world’s “environmental consciousness.” This “picture” will then be sent to all the conference's participants (politicians, NGOs, experts, etc.) to try to influence future decisions, starting with the intermediary negotiations in Bonn, Germany.

“Only the mobilization of citizens on a global scale will allow for successful negotiations in Paris,” said Christian Leyrit, president of the National Commission of Public Debate (CNDP), which is co-organizing the event.

A Rigorous Methodology To Guarantee Fair Results

To make this impressive challenge possible, to achieve near-simultaneity (only the time difference will result in a delay in putting up results) of scientifically comparable responses, the CNDP has joined with the French institution Public Missions and its Danish equivalent, the Danish Board of Technology, two organizations specializing in the issues of participative democracy.

Sustained logistically and financially by the United Nations, the French Ministry of Environment and the Association of French Regions, these three organizations have settled on the only protocol of its kind in the world. In each participating country (some are organizing several debates elsewhere), one or several teams were formed beforehand to encourage consultations under similar conditions at all ends of the globe.

Panels of 100 citizens have been selected using objective criteria reflecting the social demographics of each country (sex, age, origin, geographical breakdown). Another criteria for participation: not being a member of an NGO or of an organization already working on environmental issues.

Before and during consultation, all citizens will be given training in written and video formats in order for them to understand the issues and the key terms of climate negotiation.

Whether she be Senegalese, Chinese, Cape Verdean or French, each debater will have at her disposition the same factual elements to form her opinion. “The whole idea is to place laymen citizens in the position of COP21 negotiators,” explains Frenchman Yves Matthieu, co-director of Public Missions.

France On The Edge Of Its Seat For The Global Debate

As host country of COP21, France is obviously on the edge of its seat when it comes to both organization of and participation in the citizen debate. The initiative has received emphatic support from Francois Hollande and from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ministry has put its network of French embassies at the initiative's disposal to find local co-organizers around the world. The Ministry of Environment has set aside a financial budget to help the less wealthy countries finance the operation (welcome costs, catering for the participants, transport expenses, etc).

From Paris’ perspective, the budget of this spectacular plan is estimated to cost $1.2 million euros, which is in addition to the sums incurred locally by each participating country (this data is unavailable). Participative democracy, especially on a global scale, has its own cost. But it seems worthwhile, said Bjorn Bedsted, co-director of the Danish Board of Technology. Because, as he reminds us, “It is truly the citizens of the world that are going to have to live with the consequences of the decisions made at COP21.” Even more of a reason to give them a voice and to listen to what they have to say.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost France and was adapted for an American audience.

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