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The Framing of Climate Action in Ireland: Strategic Considerations

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing policy-makers today, and Ireland’s record on climate action is widely accepted as being disappointing. Part of the explanation for this lies in the uncertainty about what action Ireland can and should take, and uncertainty about how acceptable any climate action will be to various groups in society. In this context of uncertainty, how a problem is framed can have a significant impact on subsequent decisions taken to address that problem.  This Secretariat paper examines if and how the framing (or reframing) of climate action can lead to more progress in this challenging area.

The paper takes a behavioural political science approach and looks at the impact of four factors – irrationality, ideology, interests and institutions (the four I’s) – on climate action policy as understood  by policy-makers and decision-makers. It then examines how the framing of climate action might prompt more shared understanding of climate action, and address the barriers to progress presented by the four I’s. The paper suggests that framing should be actively considered in the design of communication and social-change campaigns. To assist such efforts, the paper then (i) outlines how a policy frame can be constructed and some of the pitfalls which may emerge along the way, and (ii) recounts the experience of two international climate action framing exercises.  The paper reviews seven relevant Irish national policy documents and reports that there is no one dominant framing here.

In the second half of the paper, the opportunity for a strategic framing exercise for climate action in Ireland is examined.  Framing climate action as ‘resilience’ might drive climate action. It is a familiar frame, used recently in Irish enterprise policy and as such might resonate with enterprise policy actors. The paper provides an examination of how, when, and by whom a new frame would be established in Ireland. Key aspects of such a strategic framing exercise include: the need to clarify the frame’s meaning; to consider potential misuse of the resilience term; to avoid promoting an unrealistic win-win narrative; and to be aware of the limitations of the resilience frame.

In its conclusion, the paper points to the critical importance of recognising and addressing the need for a shared understanding and the impact of the four I’s of irrationality, ideology, interests and institutions, and makes the case for strategic policy framing as one response, acknowledging its pitfalls.  While there is potential for a strategic reframing process in Ireland to help decision-makers, it is a process that must not be undertaken without careful planning and execution, as well as determination. Should that be potential be realised, a strategic framing exercise could help policy-actors and decision-makers in Ireland devise and take climate action which would move us closer to our stated ambition in this crucial area.