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COP27: Communicating in a Climate Crisis

COP27 feels like a very different affair to last year’s event in Glasgow. Political developments over the last 12 months, the choice of location, and the global energy crisis combined mean that delegates have travelled to Sharm El-Sheikh with significant headwinds facing the negotiations. Even the hosts admit that it has posed a daunting task. Before the conference, the UN reported that since COP26 only 24, out of the 193 countries that have acceded the Paris agreement, had submitted their updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which lay out each country’s plan to work towards its climate goals.

COP27 Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt 2022


Why has climate change taken a back seat?

This lack of progress has been influenced by Europe’s poor energy supply and sky-high inflation, which has led several countries to make a U-turn on years of energy policy and order the ‘firing-up’ of mothballed coal power stations. On top of this, a landmark China-US climate agreement was revoked in August, and financial aid to developing nations has significantly slumped over the past 18 months.

If progress was already limited, a string of recent reports from the likes of the International Energy Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme have shown the scale of action still needed to prevent climate disaster. According to their findings we are on track to reach 2.8 degrees of warming by the end of the century and there is “no viable path” to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.

At this critical juncture in our planet's history, the impetus behind reversing climate change seems to have stumbled. There is clearly a growing contingent of climate action advocates, but polling shows that climate change has taken a backseat amongst the public amidst the global cost-of-living crisis and longer-term worries about economic growth (Source: SEC Newgate).

What does all this mean for strategic communicators? 

It’s time to re-think how we talk about climate change. Achieving the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees will require sustained, global, cooperative action, across all parts of society, on a scale never seen before. Reframing the climate crisis, COP27, and net zero, in ways which repeatedly connects to a wider audience by outlining the potential for developing the economies of the future, is critical to ensuring the level of engagement that will be needed.

Historic failures in climate action and policy have been, to some extent at least, failures of communication. Climate change suffers from the full array of cognitive biases that humans exhibit – present focus, loss aversion and optimism to name a few. It is for this reason that communication around climate change and events like COP27 is so important and is currently proving so difficult.

At Madano, we can see the huge opportunities for those who know how to talk about climate action, at a time where it is struggling on the global stage. We believe that some principles for businesses, journalists, and members of the public talking about COP27 and climate change should consider the following:

  1. Be ambitious and show climate leadership – the response to Rishi Sunak’s initial decision to not attend COP27 was deeply negative, forcing a swift U-turn. Climate leadership is most under the spotlight on issues of adaptation and loss-and-damage, where developed nations are looking to governments and businesses from countries such as the UK. We believe that those who answer this call for help will be recognised in the long run.
  2. Recognise the benefits that rapid climate action can have for the economy - the race to net zero is a race for jobs, growth, and the lion’s share of the market. Investment in renewables, hydrogen and clean tech is internationally mobile, and so countries who don’t create an attractive investment landscape risk losing out on the opportunities a green economy has to bring.
  3. It is never too late - whilst there are undeniably climate tipping points, which we are fast approaching, rising temperatures are a continuous, not discrete, scale. Any reduction in future warming will help to limit the impacts of climate change. Repeated “last-chance saloon” rhetoric is only going to lead to issue fatigue. We should concentrate on practical, politically achievable steps that, together, can have a huge collective impact.
  4. Be solutions-orientated, not problems-orientateda recent study shows that solutions-focused journalism is positively associated with greater levels of support for climate action, as it allows journalists to communicate climate change dangers without depressing support.

Issues of implementation, adaptation and loss-and-damage are taking centre stage. The pressure is on industrialised nations to show climate leadership, but some may yet again show reluctance, to deal with short term crises. Against this backdrop, it is on us to communicate climate action and show climate leadership while demonstrating the practical benefits, not least for economic growth, that the clean economy of the future will bring. Doing so won’t only safeguard businesses, but perhaps also our planet.

Want to learn more about our work in Net Zero Transition? Get in touch.

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