On 12 October 2022 COMPAIR organised a joint workshop titled Achieving a Green and Just Transition with Citizen Science: The Case of Air Quality. Below is a summary of the event that was co-organised with SOCIOBEE and CITIMEASURE at the European Week of Regions and Cities.
As cities prepare local Green Deals to achieve net zero, it's important to focus on different co-benefits this transition may bring. These include health gains and climate justice for people who tend to experience higher exposure to issues such as air pollution.
To explore how citizen science initiatives on air quality can shape policies and behaviours to achieve healthier air for all, COMPAIR organised a joint workshop with other EU-funded projects SOCIOBEE and CITIMEASURE as part of the European Week of Regions and Cities 2022.
The workshop started with short presentations about each project. COMPAIR’s was delivered by Susie McAleer, Managing Director of 21c Consultancy, who emphasised that in order to leave a lasting impact, all members of the urban social fabric must work toward a common cause, not just governments and industry, but also the scientific community and citizens.
COMPAIR’s engagement methodology is designed to promote horizontal collaboration between all members of the quadruple helix community, with a special focus on citizens from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. By going the extra mile on inclusion, COMPAIR aims to amplify the voices of groups that have traditionally been more exposed to urban air pollution due to their socioeconomic status or other vulnerabilities linked to age, gender and health. By inviting these groups to COMPAIR, not only are we spreading the benefits of citizen science more equally, we also increase the chances of their opinions being heard by people with decision making powers. This is important since knowing that your opinion matters can motivate people to change their attitude toward policies (e.g. Green Deal) and the kind of behaviours they promote e.g. cycling, walking, plant-based diet, public transport, green energy.
COMPAIR presentation at #EURegionsWeek
Before going into the breakout sessions, participants were asked several questions about their location, profile, and knowledge of concepts like citizen science and air pollution. Most of the people were from Brussels, with the rest joining from the Netherlands, Greece, Spain, and the UK. 73% said they worked on a citizen science project. 8% said they are experts in citizen science. There were also some who said it's the first time they heard about citizen science (18%). Answering the question about the main sources of air pollutants in their city, the majority of participants selected traffic. This was followed by agriculture, factories, and refineries.
COMPAIR’s breakout session followed a scenario format where people had to help an imaginary city move forward with the CO2 agenda and at the same time deliver co-benefits to citizens e.g. better air quality, more cohesive communities.
You’re a resident living close to an industrial harbour. A reference station is far away. Due to distance, it measures ‘average’ air quality for the area, but you and other residents know the situation is ‘bad’ where you live. Not only in terms of air pollution but also noise, with lots of heavy duty vehicles entering/leaving the port 24/7, especially at night. You and others tried to speak with local decision makers, who keep saying they need more evidence to act. After several futile attempts, morale among residents is low. You keep thinking..
Soon you learn that your city was officially selected to join the 100 climate-neutral club. A new person from the local authority reached out with an offer to move forward on the issue. The city needs to prepare a Climate City Contract soon, so this work would directly contribute to the Local Green Deal. Now you have to co-design a community led governance (CLG) programme with two main stages: issue analysis and policy input.
After the scenario presentation, the ensuing discussion was stimulated through several probing questions on Mentimeter.
Q1: Try to imagine yourself in this scenario. How would living next to a busy port affect you? In answering this warm-up question, people said they would feel frustrated by the dirt and pollution, and worried about their kids' health. They would feel depressed and want to know if they are the only one experiencing these problems. One participant said they would always be hearing the background noise, and feeling the need to act to make the place more healthy and friendly.
Q2: What things should be considered in the early stages to design a successful CLG programme? For instance, which issue is more important: air or noise pollution? How to encourage participation since morale is low? How to move forward in general? Here, participants indicated the need to consider local history and past experiences. What happened before? Were there any results? Some participants said it would be important to encourage participation, by showing cases in other parts of the country that have had a positive outcome. They also said that it's necessary to convince citizens that they have the right to clean air, and to use it as a motivation to act. In addition, the impact of planned interventions on specific demographics should be carefully studied to avoid any adverse effects later on, and that this is best achieved through carefully crafted surveys and open consultations.
Q3: Can Citizen Science help with traffic and air quality monitoring? What added value can it provide? Most participants thought that Citizen Science, through the provision of low-cost sensor networks, can help fill data gaps as regards air and noise pollution. Two specific sensor types used in COMPAIR were mentioned i.e. the SODAQ sensor for measuring air quality, and the Telraam device for measuring traffic. Participants noted, however, that Citizen Science can help but only to the extent that collected data is bias-free and scientifically sound. More generally, people thought that participation in measurement campaigns can help bring different communities together, thus increasing social cohesion.
Q4: What specific green measures can help against pollution in a port? How can CLG be sustained? To answer this question, participants had to think of measures that could reduce CO2, pollution, or both. Specific recommendations include
Electrification of port equipment
Greening rail tracks
Electrification of ships
Switching to low-sulphur fuel
Providing onshore electricity to power up ships so they don’t need to burn fuel
Keep a permanent Citizen Science network
Use dashboards to visualise, compare, monitor change
After the breakout sessions, everyone reconvened in the main room for a debrief and open discussion. You can find out what other groups did in the on-demand video below.
Before closing the workshop, participants were asked whether they learned something new/interesting. Everyone overwhelmingly voted yes. The final question of the day sought to find out how likely, after attending the workshop, participants were to join or start a citizen science project. 67% said very likely, with 33% answering maybe.
Looking at these numbers, we hope that the workshop managed to show the potential of citizen science to be a powerful driving force behind the green and just transition. We strongly believe that Citizen Science can create a space where local actors can work collaboratively on urban challenges like air pollution. If managed successfully, Citizen Science projects can drive change in policies and behaviour across Europe, leading to better air for all while also supporting the decarbonisation agenda.