Our social impact and communications teams are currently working on climate emergency communication and engagement strategies – turning climate emergency declarations into whole of municipality action.
Here’s what we’ve found about what it means to declare a climate emergency, and how we can bring people on board.
What is a climate emergency?
If you are increasingly uncomfortable about the climate, you should be. We need to reduce the amount of carbon we are pumping into the atmosphere at a far greater rate than we have been producing it for the next 40 years or catastrophic climate change will be a reality.
Pause and take that in. Consider all those coal-fired power stations, in every country, that never stop pumping their toxic plumes. We need to turn them all off and then find ways to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. Also consider we’ve had 200 years to create the problem, but we have only 40 to solve it.
Dotted line shows the reduction in GHGs required each year to 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5⁰C above pre-Industrial levels. (Source:University of Sydney)
That’s why businesses and governments around the world are declaring a climate emergency which constitutes:
- Making a commitment to tell the truth about climate change
- Defining a set of actions that you’ll undertake to stop global warming.
The movement is growing fast which means some good work is already out there and readily accessible. Here are a few resources to get you started:
- Visit the Climate Emergency website coordinating and sharing actions by local governments and businesses across the world.
- If you are a local government, download the Understanding Climate Emergency & Local Government guidebook (made in Melbourne!)
- If you are a business, visit the Business Declares website and join a global community of businesses such as The Body Shop and Pukka tea who are addressing climate change.
- Download the B Lab UK Climate Emergency Playbook.
However, to move from a declaration to sustained action and impact requires strategic climate emergency communication.
Most Australians want climate action
72% of Australians say that climate change is a problem for them, personally. 84% want action on climate change.
Many Australian businesses, not-for-profits and government leaders are feeling a sense of futility or frustration about climate change. Others are feeling a sense of untapped potential – a readiness to do something – conscious of their resources and capacity to apply them in helping people and nature.
Using a company’s or a council’s unique mix of expertise, knowledge and resources is a powerful way to achieve positive change, in the near and long term. A means to build a more resilient future.
Local governments are at, and attacking, the coalface.
With a duty of care to their communities, close to 100 Australian jurisdictions, representing 8 million people, have declared a climate emergency. In doing so, they make the link between the health of their communities and the health of the climate.
Local governments have a unique role to play in encouraging community effort and engagement with climate action, to build resilience in the face of the major climate changes ahead.
But people across Australia, have diverse understandings and levels of engagement with climate change. While some are actively putting in place mitigation measures, others are disengaged. This poses a challenge, but also a great opportunity for positive change.
Developing a communications and engagement strategy for a council’s climate emergency requires engaging with business, community and government stakeholders to set a vision for change and plot a path achieve it. In doing so, we set up a collaborative platform, managed by local community leaders united by a purpose, which will grow overtime.
Most importantly, this allows to move quickly from climate emergency declaration to climate action to maintain momentum and lead by example.
Climate change communications.
Our agency has worked on many environmental campaigns, and devoted time and effort to understanding what makes people who think differently, engage with climate change.
Beliefs about climate change strike at the heart of identity for many. But communication and engagement can reinforce that climate change and climate action do not mean you need to change who you are. The climate emergency speaks to what you can do to maintain the life you lead and love.
We’ve investigated and trialled well-researched techniques to communicate climate change, to drive change. Recently, we’ve looked into why engagement with COVID-19 has worked so well, and what we can learn from it to lead people to engage with the climate movement.
We know that people have different levels of engagement with climate change. Communication tactics and trusted voices exist for each. While people who are alarmed about climate change can engage well with messages around resilience, people who are less engaged may be more motivated by climate messages that touch on their own social and economic future.
Other climate change communication tactics that we’ve applied in our work include:
- Inspiring positive vision: hope is more likely to drive action than messages of distress.
- Building bridges between audiences’ values and climate change values: to find unique motivators for engagement.
- Creating and using social norms: no one wants to feel left out so we create movements people want to jump on.
- Making action easy and local: easy because people are time-poor. Local because our feelings of responsibility for the environment are greatest at the neighbourhood level.
- Giving feedback on community participation: to improve it and keep people motivated.
- Acknowledging feelings: being honest that this may be difficult to engage about, but that together we can make it work.
- Time is now: talking about the current impacts of climate change. It’s here and now, not only a future threat.
We use these insights when developing strategies to delivers the greatest social and environmental impact.
Stakeholder and community engagement.
As they say, ‘it takes a village’. A council may declare a climate emergency, but the municipality needs to understand what this means, engage with a process that is practical and rewarding. Every person, every organisation, needs to reduce its environmental footprint.
We use a combination of established community engagement approaches. These include the IAP2 spectrum, behaviour change and deliberative democracy approaches.
Our team establishes inclusive, accessible and creative environments (physical and virtual) for stakeholder mapping, deliberative decision-making, co-design workshops, broad community surveys, community activations, focus groups and place-based engagement.
To achieve climate goals, we believe councils should engage the full spectrum of businesses and residents in the municipality. The development of a communications and engagement strategy is, in and of itself, an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to engagement and advocacy as well as to better understand opportunities to further engage and work with business, residents and industry.
A Climate Emergency Communications and Engagement Strategy should have some fundamental elements adapted to the unique context and attributes of the municipality including:
- Vision and purpose
- Climate action goals and impact domains
- A strategy defining key engagement activities
- Key messages that unite people behind the actions taken
- Shared tactics, tools and resources that stakeholder can promote and repurpose for their settings
- Communication risks and mitigation frameworks
- Roadmap defining how activity and impact scale over time.
- An actionable evaluation framework linking impact to business and community benefits
- Stories – lots of them – that show how local people are making a difference
What success looks like.
Stakeholders understand their community: who they are, what they do, who they are connected to, and their level of awareness and engagement with the climate movement, intelligently informing strategic communications and engagement approaches. They endorse and support communication and engagement. With defined roles, champions take ownership over climate action, and become part of the success story.
Over the medium term, those who were disengaged but listening, see the practical merits, feel the community spirit, and can change their behaviour.
Council has a clear roadmap to successfully involve, collaborate, and empower its community to participate in climate action. And, council leadership have direction on how to leverage council’s position to drive change through supply chains, employees and contractors, and communities.