Over the last year or so, a group of us – including academics from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) and Leeds, Manchester Met and Cardiff Universities, as well as the climate charities 10:10 and Climate Outreach – have been taking stock of what we know about public engagement with climate change, and how to communicate about it in the most effective way, through the ‘Climate Communication Project (CCP)’.
There’s a lot we can be confident about
The CCP wasn’t the first time the question ‘what do we know about climate change communication’ has been asked. In fact, as we pieced together a set of 23 summary blogs on everything from the importance of crafting stories and narratives (not just facts and figures) in climate messages, to best-practice in visually conveying climate change impacts and solutions, it became clear that the social science of climate change communication is a mature, and increasingly confident field. Plus, there is now a great deal of expertise and experience from practitioners ‘in the field’ which complements the social science.
This sense was confirmed through two elements of the CCP that were new – an ‘audit survey’ of 200 climate change communication specialists, and an ‘expert elicitation’ meeting where we assessed a range of statements about different aspects of communicating climate change. A report published at the end of 2018 summarised the key messages from these consensus-assessing processes, and from the importance of connecting with public values, to a growing recognition of the need for scientists to ‘have an opinion’ on climate change (as well as communicate the evidence), it’s clear there is a lot we can be confident about.
There’s an appetite for engaging on climate change – but we need to get beyond the usual suspects
In a series of discussion groups with members of the public ‘beyond the usual suspects’ of the already-engaged on climate change (including faith and migrant communities), we found an appetite for connecting with climate change, but also a gap where community-oriented dialogue and engagement on climate change should be. Too much climate communication is still overly complex, abstract and technical, and tends to be aimed at (and consumed by) people who are already engaged.
By considering the needs of underserved people and places, we can support effective dialogue around this topic, and in doing so can inspire positive action against the negative effects of climate change on our planet and its people.
Where next for the Climate Communication Project?
By design, the first phase of the CCP was focused on taking stock, assessing the evidence base, and identifying best practice for communication and engagement. But the next steps for the CCP team will involve finding ways to put the research into practice, through training and mentoring for climate scientists, engaging diverse individuals, communities, businesses and interest groups, and supporting climate communicators like the Women’s Institute climate ambassadors.
Adam Corner is Research Director at Climate Outreach and Associate Director of the Economic & Social Research Council centre Climate Change & Social Transformations. His writing appears regularly in academic journals, international media, and in reports for Climate Outreach.