As part of our Green rights project, we have planned to increase the awareness of the general public on climate change and EU’s climate ambitions through public events, citizens’ dialogues, and non-formal methods of interaction. The primary focus of the workshops was to engage citizens, especially those from under-represented groups, to comprehend crucial priorities and actions required for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and promoting carbon-neutral behaviors at both individual and community levels. The overarching goal was to enhance understanding of climate change by capturing the perspectives of the most vulnerable individuals, adhering to the principles of just resilience and transition.
Ten debates were conducted in Turin (Piedmont) and Milan (Lombardy), big cities in northern Italy grappling with climate-related issues such as poor air quality, flooding risks, and landslides. These cities are among the 100 NetZeroCities.
Description of the workshops
Workshop 1. The first workshop occurred on June 8, 2023, at the University of Turin, with 16 participants consisting of NGO operators, volunteers in charity associations, and employees in social housing. The group comprised 5 women and 11 men.
Key takeaways from the discussion include the participants’ access to national and international information. However, their actual perception of climate change, shared among themselves, is rooted in personal experiences, such as changes in the mountain landscapes they frequent or concerns about the poor quality of city air.
Participants observed a notable increase in poverty and related material needs in Turin and the areas where NGOs operate. During discussions, participants intuitively linked this rise in poverty to the scarcity of environmental resources, particularly in the contexts of the Global South.
Regarding concrete actions, the meeting deliberated on possible individual micro-actions aimed at reducing ecological footprints. Examples include increasing the use of collective transport or cycling, reducing online shopping and overall consumption (e.g., meat), favoring local food purchases, and promoting environmental awareness in communities and workplaces. Additionally, there was discussion on the necessary guidelines in national and territorial policies essential for environmental protection.
Workshop 2. The second workshop, held on June 22, 2023, took place in Turin at the Almamater association, which provides inclusion services, including language learning, to women of migrant origin. The photovoice animation method was employed in this workshop to facilitate the participation of 29 women.
Key insights from the discussion can be summarized by the immediate recognition of the impact of climate change in the countries of origin of the migrant women (e.g., Nigeria, Morocco). Participants highlighted the challenge of relating their experiences with the effects of climate change to the Turin area, where they have resided for a relatively shorter period. In all speeches, climate change in the country of origin was cited as one of the reasons for migration to Europe, and there was a concern that this new territory might also face resource shortages, such as water.
Regarding potential actions, the participants suggested increased dissemination of information about the risks of the territory and its mitigation plans, not to induce climate anxiety, but rather to foster greater awareness. Additionally, there were discussions about potential information activities focusing on improved household waste management in the city’s working-class neighborhoods.
It is important to note that, although the participants were encouraged to explore the connection between gender vulnerability and climate change during the discussion, this aspect did not come to the forefront.
Workshop 3. On the same day, on the evening of June 22, 2023, at AMAPOLA’s operational headquarters in Turin, a combined session was held involving both online (4) and in-person (2) participants with the board of the Italian Water Sports Association (FISA). Only those physically present were considered valid participants, and all attendees were men.
Key points arising from this discussion revealed a significant awareness within the FISA National Association’s board concerning climate change in the Mediterranean Sea, particularly along the Italian coast. Concrete examples and arguments were provided, highlighting the degradation of the seabed and the loss of biodiversity. Causes were identified, including endogenous factors stemming from freshwater pollution entering the sea.
Potential micro-actions were proposed for development, involving water sports enthusiasts directly in contact with nature, such as sailors, divers, canoeists, and fishermen. Additionally, the discussion touched on critical aspects of national and European policies. For instance, concerns were raised about the absence of civil society involvement in the PNRR MER programme.
Workshop 4. The fourth workshop took place on July 13, 2023, at the University of Turin (Department of Economics) with 9 representatives (6 men and 3 women) from the beekeeping organization ASPROMIELE, affiliated with Coldiretti.
Key insights from the discussion with participating honey producers were drawn from a historical overview of the impact of climate change on beekeeping. Commencing with the first major drought in 2017 and the notable observation of changes in flowering periods, producers adapted their breeding methods. This adaptation included increasing the number of hives, altering their positioning, and introducing feeding during periods of severe drought.
Producers also adjusted their marketing strategy, placing greater emphasis on the final product’s value and seeking outlets in the short supply chain rather than at the national level. These shifts affected the balance of honey imports and exports, leading to an increased import of the product into the industry.
The discussion revealed a lack of early information about the phenomena caused by the effects of climate change and a failure of communication from national farmers’ organizations at the onset of these manifestations. Notably, growing awareness among customers regarding the life of bees and their importance in biodiversity was observed. This heightened awareness is attributed to increased information dissemination and awareness campaigns through national media channels. With regard to possible actions, activities have been identified to further strengthen and spread awareness among urban citizens about the centrality of bees in the preservation of biodiversity, starting with the youngest segments of the population, through schools.
Workshop 5. The fifth workshop, held on October 5, 2023, at AMAPOLA’s operational headquarters in Turin, gathered 7 scuba diving instructors (all men) with valuable insights into climate change occurring in the Mediterranean Sea.
Key insights from the discussion focused on the participatory observation of divers, as suggested by FISA during Workshop No. 3. Despite belonging to different schools, all the instructors unanimously agreed on their observations of the tangible and visible effects of climate change on the seabeds of the seas they have explored throughout their professional lives.
Notably, the observation highlighted an exceptionally positive impact of the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), such as those in Liguria. The Ligurian Sea now boasts the presence of 6 stretches of sea included in national and regional marine protected areas, complementing the international reality of the Cetacean Sanctuary and the 26 sites of Community importance. Existing national parks, like the Portofino Protected Marine Area and the Cinque Terre Protected Marine Area, were noted for their diverse diving spots, showcasing seabeds populated by gorgonians, red corals, and sponges. Other areas, like the Gallinara Island and Bergeggi Island, are in the process of being established, and two more marine areas have been included in the regional nature parks of the Hanbury Botanical Gardens (Capo Mortola) and Portovenere.
In addition to advocating for policies supporting the creation and preservation of MPAs, the workshop highlighted numerous micro-actions initiated by the participants. They spontaneously organize regular actions to protect the seas and introduce other enthusiasts to the sport of diving, providing necessary training to preserve biodiversity and ensure their safety while diving.
Workshop 6. The sixth workshop took place on October 20, 2023, at the University of Turin and involved 9 European students (2 men and 7 women) pursuing degrees in Global Law and Transnational Legal Studies.
The key insights from the debate, attended by young European students interested in understanding the impact of climate change from a justice perspective, centered on individual perceptions. These perceptions revolved around the places they frequented and the varying environmental challenges in the cities they came from or where they spent brief study periods. It’s noteworthy that these young students exhibit a high level of awareness regarding both individual and collective risks, often attributing greater responsibility to companies than individuals.
Consequently, the proposed actions aimed to elevate the information level of peers not directly involved in environmental justice. Additionally, there were significant aspirations for macro-level changes, particularly at the European level. The students expressed trust in institutions and their regulatory capacities, emphasizing the importance of systemic change.
Workshop 7. The seventh workshop occurred on October 22, 2023, at the union headquarters, engaging 14 senior community leaders (10 men and 4 women) from the local provincial and city branches of the SPI CGIL union.
Key insights from this discussion, participated in by seniors actively involved in citizenship and dedicated to trade union activities, stem from personal and collective experiences related to the impact of climate change. Notably, participants highlighted shifts in climate and seasonality, influenced by both industrialization and de-industrialization processes in the city area.
The seniors shared numerous experiences, including involvement in complaints about land pollution (soil, groundwater, surface water), active surveillance of isolated elderly individuals during the summer and heatwaves, and personal encounters with gender-related issues (such as women’s and neonatal health problems) attributable to air and drinking water pollution. Additionally, the union actively promotes renewable energy communities in small Piedmontese territories where local mayors are receptive to activities aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change.
Several possible local micro-actions were discussed, particularly those targeting the elderly. These actions aim to inform citizens about the risks of climate change and possible mitigation measures. Moreover, the workshop emphasized the importance of structured dialogues with other local organizations and authorities.
Workshop 8. The eighth workshop unfolded on October 30, 2023, at the Opera Cardinal Ferrari, a charitable organization based in Milan. This session involved 35 homeless people, including some living outside Europe, who are users of the day center. Similar to Workshop 2, the photovoice animation method was employed to facilitate the participation of these disadvantaged citizens.
Key insights from this discussion, attended by numerous homeless individuals, some facing mental disorders, revolved around their direct experiences with climate change. These experiences were gleaned from their lives on the streets and the extensive journeys through various territories on foot and in shelters. Participants shared encounters with climate change both in the city of Milan and their respective places of origin, including major heatwaves, the tropicalization of the climate, risks of tree felling, poor soil permeability, and an increase in pests. Notably, participants cited the rise in bedbugs as an effect of climate change, expressing dissatisfaction with the lack of responsiveness from authorities tasked with detecting and addressing the issue for public hygiene.
Despite their challenging circumstances, participants proved to be active, informed, and sensitive to the issue. They proposed small activities aimed at addressing their needs from public authorities, although these authorities were perceived as distant and difficult to reach.
Workshop 9. Conducted on the same evening as the previous one, this workshop engaged 19 volunteers and social workers from the Opera Cardinal Ferrari center.
Key insights from this discussion were drawn from both personal experiences of the participants and the collective experience gained through volunteering at the Opera Cardinal Ferrari in Milan a historical and vital reference point for the homeless in the city.
Regarding awareness of the effects of climate change, participants shared significant personal experiences, mirroring those expressed in the first workshop held in Turin. Notably, the connection between the increase in poverty, the demand for essential services, and the effects of climate change in Italy or the users’ original territories was not immediate.
The workshop generated numerous proposed activities, particularly with a significant impact on the approach to aid. For instance, suggestions included the distribution of drinking water with heightened awareness of plastic use and a reduction in packaging for the emergency kits distributed.
Workshop 10. Conducted on November 13, 2023, this workshop engaged employees from private companies and the university, with 13 men and 7 women in attendance.
Once again, personal experience emerged as the primary filter through which participants understand climate change. Even those with a higher educational background consistently grounded their knowledge in experiential data. University professors noted a high awareness among a significant proportion of their students, albeit sometimes sector specific. Awareness was also noted to be high regarding individual behavior in transportation but lower when it came to clothing purchases. Similar to other workshops, some participants leaned towards attributing more responsibility for climate change to companies rather than individuals.
The workshops were organized from June to November 2023, in line with the needs analysis and objectives outlined by the Green Rights project. Identifying the most pertinent and pressing needs and priorities in combating the climate crisis served as the initial step in guiding discussions with citizens. To engage groups facing language barriers and the most vulnerable, the photovoice method was employed. With photographs, this method conveyed an awareness-raising message by stimulating individual and communal emotions and fostering heightened awareness.
The Outline for conducting the debates with vulnerable people was the following:
1 – Free expression on what climate change is.
2 – Questions to stimulate debate:
- Have you been informed about it?
- Have you already experienced climate change?
- If you have not experienced it directly, do you have any idea how it affects you or could affect your daily life?
3 – Projection with evocative images
- Melting of glaciers
- Heat waves
- Park closed due to danger of flooding, falling trees due to rain or hail
4 – Free debate on the photographs.
5 – Open questions:
- What can we do to adapt to or mitigate climate change?
- To secure ourselves when there is a threat of flooding, heavy rain, hail… we must…
- To make ourselves safe when the heat is very hot… we must…