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Chitsa, M.; Sivapalan, S.; , .; Lee, K.E. Citizen Participation and Climate Change. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 20 June 2024).
Chitsa M, Sivapalan S,  , Lee KE. Citizen Participation and Climate Change. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 20, 2024.
Chitsa, Mufaro, Subarna Sivapalan,  , Khai Ern Lee. "Citizen Participation and Climate Change" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 20, 2024).
Chitsa, M., Sivapalan, S., , ., & Lee, K.E. (2022, March 31). Citizen Participation and Climate Change. In Encyclopedia.
Chitsa, Mufaro, et al. "Citizen Participation and Climate Change." Encyclopedia. Web. 31 March, 2022.
Citizen Participation and Climate Change

Citizen-led mitigation and adaptation are key to climate policy advancement and acceleration, particularly within an urban development context. The top-down approach requires the development of clear action plans for the involvement and engagement of citizens to accelerate bottom-up climate mitigation and adaptation efforts within the urban context.

citizen participation citizen attitudes community climate-resilient

1. Introduction

Climate change is a notable deviation in established climatic conditions, to increasingly erratic or inconsistent climatic conditions [1]. Some of the indicators of climate change are shifting weather patterns, extreme weather conditions, and an increase in weather-related disasters [2]. Climate change mitigation and adaptation each manage different aspects of future climate-related risks. Mitigation focuses on how to reduce the number and levels of potential hazards caused by climate change, eliminating the biggest threats first. Adaptation focuses on the ability of citizens to cope with climate risks by reducing the consequences of the level of actual harm [3]. It must be noted here that much research has been conducted to strongly suggest the complementarity of adaptation and mitigation. The benefits of managing climate risks by the integration of adaptation and mitigation measures have become very evident in different studies, at various scales of operation [4][5]. As such, these notions of the complementarity of adaptation and mitigation of climate change influenced the focus of the study, leading the researchers to include both aspects. Climate change mitigation and adaptation stem from concerns over the state of the natural environment by the government, local authorities, and the public [6]. Climate change mitigation and adaptation are concerned with understanding the dynamics between the natural environment and anthropogenic activities. As such, anthropogenic activities that exacerbate inefficient energy production and consumption and waste generation need to be adjusted to ensure that the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will not continue to be a threat to the future generations [7].
In Malaysia, the effects of climate change, development planning, and the lack of good natural resource management have been reported as some of the major hindrances toward successful climate change mitigation and adaptation [8]. Common climate change indicators in Malaysia are excessive flooding, frequently in the inland, riverine areas and coastal areas [9]. Recent studies have also reported that flooding incidents in Malaysia have been on the rise, recording monumental damage to the environment and infrastructure [10][11]. This has also been confirmed by studies conducted by the National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia (NAHRIM), which state that more severe flooding in inland and riverine areas can be expected as climate change persists [12]. The NAHRIM studies have also confirmed that climate change is also the major cause of droughts that emanate from a lack of natural sources of water that have been displaced by the shifting climate patterns in Malaysia [13].
There is much effort by local authorities and governmental agencies in reducing the impacts of climate change in Malaysia. For instance, large cities like Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and the Iskandar Development Region in Johor Bahru are already on their climate mitigation and adaptation initiatives, with plans to achieve smart city status [14]. These cities have also taken to using technology to advance climate mitigation and adaptation efforts [15][16]. The Johor State has a total of 2,923,898 vehicles. Based on a projected population figure of around 28.725 million, the Malaysian person per car ratio of 2.95 persons/car is thus considered to be relatively high. Since most of the vehicles use fossil fuel, this is a clear indication of high CO2 emission from the vehicular sector, particularly from privately owned cars and motorcycles in Johor alone [17]. In Kuala Lumpur, the construction of smart tunnels that serve as both roads and channels to divert floodwaters is also one of the steps taken toward climate change adaptation. The Storm Water Management Model (SWMM) is a widely used urban stormwater model developed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA, Washington, DC, USA). As Kuala Lumpur is mostly affected by floods, the SWMM was of use, as it has a wide range of applications, including hydrologic impact assessment, catchment discretization, runoff quantity and quality modeling for short- or long-term periods, and urban floods and drainage modeling that could be useful in flood regions. These have been a breakthrough approach to reducing flooding incidents in Malaysia as well [18].
The National Adaptation Plan (NAP) to climate change which is taking a stepwise adaptation approach in its development and implementation strategies is also a major element that is assisting in addressing climate change in Malaysia [19]. Government agencies and higher education institutions are also taking steps toward climate change via the development of long-term climate change research projects in support of the government’s development and planning of climate policies [20]. In addition, the year 2020 marked the end of Vision 2020 and the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016–2020). Measures for mitigation the of, and adaptation to, climate change, as well as disaster risk reduction, are the main focal point of both the Eleventh and Twelfth Malaysia Plans. The fourth core initiative of the plan was to promote Sustainability and Development Resilience Through Green Growth [21].
Interestingly, feedback on the 12th Malaysia Plan launched in September 2021 suggests that there may be a potential lack of local dialogue on urban emissions and climate change mitigation, relating to the central role played by individuals and local communities in climate change mitigating efforts, and the bottom-up community engagement can lead to sustainable urban living solutions for climate resilience and mitigation [21]. The Twelfth Malaysia Plan (12 MP) is a shared prosperity initiative focusing on three issues, namely empowering the economy and achieving a sustainable environment whilst focusing on social reengineering, which is defined as strengthening security, wellbeing, and inclusivity in the 12th Malaysia Plan [22]. The economic empowerment dimension will address new ways of achieving growth and the Industrial Revolution 4.0. The environmental sustainability dimension will cover, most importantly, the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change. The most critical dimension, which is strengthening security, wellbeing, and inclusivity, will focus on the enhancement of societal values and building a resilient Bumiputera community, with improved wellbeing of the people. The third social reengineering dimension is a call for more consideration and involvement of the society pointing toward more community engagement and a bottom-up approach to sustainability and climate-resilient communities through community building [23].
Despite these developments, it has been predicted that the sea levels in Malaysia are expected to rise with the cumulative sea-level rise at 0.05 m from 2015 [24]. This may result in the loss of coastal land amounting to 3700 square kilometers [25]. An estimated 1.5 million people will be directly impacted by this phenomenon, and the losses are estimated at 13,804,597.40 United Stated Dollars [26]. Calls for clear guidelines purposed for climate change mitigation and adaptation for the local citizens are now prevalent.
For a successful implementation of mitigation and adaptation strategies, the perception and voices of the local citizens need to be prioritized in mobilizing communities for bottom-up climate action. Perception refers to a way of thinking or understanding. As defined by Van den Ban [27], perception is the process by which an individual receives information or stimuli from the environment and transforms it into psychological awareness. Perceptions of climate change have often led to either positive or negative responses from citizens. This being the case, there are a few studies that discuss the lay citizens’ attitudes as perceptions of the citizens toward actual participation in climate change mitigation and adaptation [28].
In Malaysia, there is much discussion on the role of local authorities and governmental efforts in reducing the impact of climate change. The National Climate Change Policy is a guide for the ministries and government agencies that assists in the integration of climate change for its successful implementation in local policies [20]. Principle 2 of the second strategic thrust of the policy focuses on adopting a balanced adaptation and mitigation for climate-proof development, sustainability, and strengthening environmental conservation [29]. Such policies are predicted to be more effective when policy-makers are aware of their citizens’ attitudes to the subject matter [30]. For a better facilitation by the government and stakeholders in solving the disasters that emanate from climate change more holistically, more attention should thus be focused on creating positive perceptions on the part of the citizens on climate change for better mitigation and adaptation issues [31][32].

2. Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in Urban Malaysia

The results from the study measuring respondents’ in-depth knowledge on climate change and how to respond to it indicate that most of them believed they were “not sure” about climate change issues. In tandem with the theoretical orientation of this entry, awareness is crucial in creating positive attitudes toward actual behavior. This means that with this level of awareness, there is a limited capacity for active involvement in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. This translates into the first stage of the Transtheoretical theory, which is rather low. In the Transtheoretical model of behavior change, a state where an individual has no awareness or intention of behavior change is the pre-contemplation stage, which is the first stage of societal behavioral change. Awareness is the prerequisite of behavior change which brings out the actual behavior change [33]. Citizens will not be able to exhibit positive attitudes toward climate-change-related issues when their awareness level is low. Climate change mitigation and adaptation are citizen-centered and thus require a high awareness of the subject matter within the community for a successful implementation. Aminrad et al. [34] also found that where the awareness of climate change is high, citizens are more willing to participate. This is similarly suggested by the results of the study that showed that most of the respondents do not attend initiatives on climate change that are organized by their local authority due to a lack of awareness of both the subject matter and the programs organized. Lack of awareness has also led to passive attitudes in retaining mitigation and adaptation information and efforts. This will result in poorly executed local programs and possibly a waste in the resources channeled toward mitigation and adaptation efforts.
When asked whether citizen participation is encouraged in their city, the respondents responded with the highest record of not being sure. This may be attributed to the fact that most citizens have been reported to have inadequate knowledge of climate issues. The citizens’ participation in climate policy formulation processes is low. The Transtheoretical theory underpinning this entry defines awareness as one of the early stages before an individual can participate in its second stage, which is the contemplation stage [35]. As a result, the inclusion of citizens in the policy-making process will be ineffective, as they would not be able to provide useful contributions without knowledge of the policy subject matter. This also explains why most of the respondents found climate policies too complicated for them but still showed a high interest in being involved in policy formulation procedures. The results show that more efforts should be channeled toward more climate knowledge and education for the Malaysian urban community, to enable effective climate mitigation and adaptation measures [36].
There is currently little to no knowledge on climate-related mitigation and adaptation initiatives among the urban community respondents that took part in the study. Despite Malaysia facing climate-related disasters in the past, there is an indication that among the respondents, there are some who are yet to master enough knowledge on climate-related issues. Though the results indicated the respondents’ acknowledgment that climate change is real, they remain passive about learning more on the subject. This explains why there is little participation in climate-related initiatives at the community level, which eventually leads to less resilient communities. The Malaysian government, through the LA21, has introduced a raft of policies to help combat climate change [37]. However, as indicated in the results of the study, the respondents have little knowledge of these existing policies. This could indicate possible policy misinformation. For policies to be effective, the public needs to be aware of the policies and their implementation in their communities. Hence, the inclusion of the public in policy formulation procedures can be a possible recommendation to minimize or possibly eliminate passive attitudes from the public. However, knowledge of the subject matter is still a prerequisite for involving the public in these processes.
As posited by the TPB, perceived control on matters that affect the communities could help create positive attitudes among the public. That is, for the public to be more involved in climate-related issues and policy-making in their communities, they must be motivated to participate. Motivation to participate can be achieved, according to the TPB, by having positive attitudes and the idea that the citizen has control over the process at hand. With the results indicating an interest to be involved in policy-making, this entry anticipates a creation of subjective norms whereby a culture of lifestyles that support positive climate adaptation and mitigating communities is encouraged. This theory posits a chain reaction of events stemming from positive attitudes in creating climate-resilient communities. According to a study conducted by Marans [38], policy-makers are concerned with creating policies that enhance the quality of life of the citizens. However, this will only be achievable if the citizens are actively involved in the policies and not just perceived as a silent recipient of what policy-makers propose. According to another recent study, conducted by Kaffashi and Shamsudin [39], subjective norms are the most influential factors on individual intentions. Other factors that influence an individual’s behavior intention are their moral obligation, attitude, and environmental concerns.
Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation shows and describes how empowered public institutions and officials tend to deny power to local citizens. Also shown is how levels of citizen agency, citizen control, and power can be increased [40]. As the respondents have indicated the need to have partnerships with the local authorities in climate-related dialogues, power will be distributed between the citizens and power holders through negotiation. This could set an ideal ground for citizens to view their opinions during policy-making processes. Citizens would also have shared decision-making responsibilities.
Citizens’ inclusion and their level and degree of power during policy-making processes are a major aspect in creating effective policies and thereby building climate-resilient communities. Communities need to have an opinion of what happens in their everyday lives, especially when it comes to dealing with possible life-threatening climate disasters. As the residents are the first respondents to the disasters, it is only sensible that they are included in the dialogues that discuss solutions to any future disasters [36]. This will help create effective solutions other than only including the residents in the implementation stages of these solutions. Respondents have recorded an interest in the increase of the level of power they are given in the climate change dialogues, according to the results of the study. This is also confirmed by Kaffashi and Shamsudin [39], where it was found that it is necessary to introduce programs that promote a sense of perceived behavior control in society. This is also posited by the TPB theory as one of the factors that can influence actual behavior changes in citizens. Having control over decisions that can possibly influence citizens’ everyday lives will create positive attitudes toward an active involvement in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. Thus, as this entry reports, if citizens are given control over policy making processes, this will cultivate positive attitudes toward the actual successful implementation of the policies designed for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
In the year 2021, Malaysia has made great strides in actions toward climate change. The Ministry of Environment and Water (KASA) launched, on the 3rd of August 2021, the Third Biennial Update Report (BUR3) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The BUR3 showcases the predicted human-caused carbon emissions and reductions in sectors like energy, industrial processes, and products used (IPPU). Also showcased were agriculture, forest use, and other land use (AFOLU) and waste sectors. The estimated period has been stated as 1990 to 2016. Also reported were the mitigation actions with their effects in the year 2016. The submission of the BUR3 report in 2020 was aimed at meeting Malaysia’s obligatory emission reduction goals as a Party to the UNFCCC. An important aspect of the launch of the BUR3 report for the study is the renaming of the Malaysia Climate Change Action Council in December 2020. Having the public sit in such councils would help to increase the level of power the citizens will have in climate change dialogues and cultivate a positive attitude toward mitigation and adaptation efforts locally.
Overall, the study explored the attitudes of Malaysian citizens toward citizen participation as a tool for measuring climate policy effectiveness. Local initiatives on climate change by Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) are mostly affected by current policies. Most programs organized by CBOs have been mostly ineffective, given the restrictions that are imposed by policies governing mitigation and adaptation efforts locally. The translation of policies at local levels has been unclear due to the inadequate representation of the communities in policy-making procedures at state levels. There is a need for policy reform that will enable clear guidelines to include more citizens in policy-making and enable a clear translation of policies at the local levels.


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