Anne Marte Bergseng is Project Manager - Climate resilience and social change at ClimateXChange.
Scottish Mediation defines mediation as: “a flexible process that can be used to settle disputes in a whole range of situations. […] The mediator helps parties work out what their issues and options are, then uses those options to work out an agreement.”
Over five days at the end of August, I attended accredited mediation training with a group of people working across climate change engagement. In addition to learning about mediation we explored how the approach may be applied to conflict resolution around climate action.
We need to take action at pace to transition to a net zero, climate-ready future. That comes with considerable potential for conflict. Indeed, many engaged at both a local, national and global level have found themselves in the middle of heated and intense conflicts that block progress and harm those involved.
Conflict and disagreement are part of life. By understanding how conflict escalates to the point where the two sides see no way forward, it is possible to avoid trench warfare.
Conflicts about local climate action can follow a well-known conflict escalation pattern: an issue becomes personal through antagonism, labelling and stereotypes; this leads to defensiveness, other issues are draw in, communication breaks down, mistrust spirals, ending in polarised camps that do not see any possible solutions other than defeating the adversary.
What mediation offers is a structured process that has the potential to help climate practitioners manage and work through the potential conflicts involved in delivering climate action.
These skills and techniques can be used to bring people with divergent and conflicting views together, to work through challenges constructively, unlocking new ideas and seeing conflict as an opportunity for positive change.
Change is difficult
Individuals and communities can feel helpless and hopeless in the face of climate risks like sea level rise or increased flooding. Rapid and significant change is scary and unsettling.
Anger, loss and grief are all natural feelings that are important for us as individuals that other people acknowledge.
We are all often more intent on getting our own point across rather than listening to someone else’s. As a result, people tend to talk in parallel, neither really listening to the other, which leads to more frustration and greater anger.
Mediation gives participants space to reflect on their feelings before refocusing on going forward in an agreed way.
Creative problem solving
Solutions in a mediation process come from the participants. The process can help unlock and facilitate people’s ability to identify and discuss new and unexpected solutions, and gives them an opportunity to make concessions gracefully, without pushing them to admit fault or back down.
This gives back agency and brings a constructive focus on the opportunity for innovation and creativity.
Climate action needs creative problem solving where people can home in on what they gain rather than what they may lose.
So, while a formal mediation process may not be the answer to how we reduce the number of cars on the road or how to avoid wars over access to water, by finding new ways of unlocking progress on challenging issues, mediation seems a useful tool in our climate action acceleration toolkit.