Tips for communication about climate change

1. Understand the public you wish to communicate with

It is important not to ‘lump’ all audiences together. Different groups have different interests, background understanding, perceptions, attitudes and concerns.

2. Focus on solutions and give examples

Promoting solutions is vital in order to inspire people into action and convey that sustainable development is achievable. Avoid focusing on problems and challenges that can leave people feeling worried or confused. Instead try to motivate people and provide case studies that demonstrate an economic, social or environmental return on investment.

3. Keep it local

‘Big ideas’ surrounding climate change can be made understandable when framed in a familiar context that relates to everyday life. Ensure an audience realises that climate change is relevant to them as part of a specific social group by communicating local examples of changes and actions they can take. Providing information that is locally relevant and credible is very important.

4. Foster two-way, inclusive communication

Climate change is an issue that affects everyone, so it is important to encourage mass ownership of the problems and solutions. This can be done by engaging people in discussions, using inclusive language and showing their knowledge is valued. Acknowledge different points of view.

5. Strive for transparency and technical correctness and use trusted sources

To establish trust and credibility it is imperative to have strong informational foundations. Provide accurate information from authoritative scientific sources and update new scientific information as it becomes available to ensure climate change communication is grounded in strong roots.

6. Use examples and case studies

Stories are powerful tools that can hold people’s attention, showcase successful actions and demonstrate how to work towards solutions through everyday actions. Stories are a great platform for communicating that there is a range of simple and cheap options for behaviour change, which people can adopt. Drawing on case studies and providing a glimpse into real, tangible actions are excellent ways to highlight the achievable nature of proactive solutions.

7. Establish ‘champions of change’

Engaging respected local community leaders or “champions” can be a very effective way of encouraging behavioural changes. Keeping it local and identifying a notable figure in the community who has taken steps to adapt to climate change can reinforce that such behaviour is achievable and may be more likely to engage an audience’s attention.

8. Assess and manage uncertainty

Managing uncertainty is something we do every day, personally and professionally. While science helps to reduce uncertainty, it cannot be eliminated completely. It is important to help audiences understand and appreciate different levels of uncertainty in climate science. The 2015 update of climate projections for Australia includes confidence ratings for each of the 21 climate variables considered, along with guidance on how to include climate projection uncertainty in impact assessments.

9. Clear up unnecessary uncertainty

While some uncertainty is inevitable when dealing with science, communicators can differentiate between information uncertainty and other factors that influence decision-making, such as personal/community/government/industry values, institutional arrangements, legislative frameworks and financial resources. Audiences need to understand that often the scientific information can be relatively clear, but the difficulty will lie in determining which set of policies to choose. Climate change communicators need to ensure any misconceptions about climate science do not become subject to exaggerated complexity and media-generated controversy.

10. Emphasise core messages and make sure they are understandable and concise

It is important to keep the core message short and understandable to ensure the audience cannot miss it. This requires both careful thought at the planning stage (in order to refine the message to the concept that lies at its very heart) and it also needs to be communicated via sharp, pithy sentences that do not need to be read twice to be understood.

11. Do not focus on myths and scepticism

Attempting to address and explain the facts behind the many myths and sceptical views surrounding climate change can often have the reverse effect to that desired – the reality can become lost and inaccurate myths can be the only thing audiences retain. Focusing only on the facts of climate science is an easy way of preventing confusion.

12. Make the most of new media

New media (blogs, social network sites, twitter, etc.) offer potential to tell stories in ways that are richer than the single-faceted scope of traditional media (such as editorial pieces in newspapers). New media can combine the written, visual and aural and engage audiences in ongoing, meaningful two-way dialogues.

References

Metcalfe J (2010) ‘Communicating the science of climate change’. Hot Air Symposia Draft. Ecconect Communication , New South Wales.

Ward B (2008) ‘Communicating on Climate Change: An Essential Resource for Journalists, Scientists and Educators’. Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting, Rhode Island.

Futerra Sustainability Communications (Year not published). Sell the sizzle .

Page updated: 30th November 2016