What are our key messages and how will we communicate them?
National public attitude surveys (1) indicate that most people are aware of and, indeed, worried about climate change. Unfortunately most respondents identify the destruction of rain forests (a bone fide cause) and the hole in the ozone layer (definitely not a cause) as the responsible agents thus distancing the problem from their personal sphere of influence. Given that in the UK emissions from the domestic sector are second only to those from the electricity, gas and water supply industries (2), it is of concern to note that only 20% of respondents identified the use of energy in the home as a major contributory factor. These national findings are mirrored in the results of the Devon Voice citizen’s survey conducted in Devon in September 2004. If the Council is to meet its declared commitment to tackle climate change, there is a need to increase the awareness of members, officers, partners and the public of their individual contribution to global warming and climate change, and to transfer ownership for action from Government to citizen.
Action on climate change consists of two complementary activities. The mitigation agenda is concerned with the causes of global warming and promotes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The adaptation agenda is concerned with the impacts of a changing climate on society, the economy and the environment, and promotes activities to reduce vulnerability to extreme weather events and other longer term changes in our climate. The focus of this communications plan is the mitigation agenda as it is something we know we have to do, it is measurable and it can be started today without the need for detailed regional and local climate impact and vulnerability assessments for which the science is not yet mature.
The strategic objective of this communications plan is:
“to make climate change relevant to the members and officers of Devon County Council, to our partners and, most importantly, to the people of Devon so that we can all understand why making a personal commitment TODAY to reduce greenhouse gas emissions both in the home and at work is of enormous importance.”
1) DEFRA’s Survey of Public Attitudes to Quality of Life and to the Environment: 2001.
2) Page 30 of The Office of National Statistics Environmental Accounts, Spring 2004.
The challenge is to engage people in the climate change debate in order to break down some of the barriers that prevent personal action and to connect people to the role that their lifestyle and their professional working activity plays in the problem. Thereafter, there is a need to persuade them that they can make a difference in terms of their own lifestyle choices and in mobilising communities for political, social and economic change. Whilst some individuals may achieve short term financial savings through energy efficiency measures and the like, individual and collective action taken today is almost entirely for the benefit of future generations and communities. Climate change action is therefore an ethical/moral issue requiring cultural change at both the personal level and across communities.
Part I – Explaining the Science and “myth busting” – “What is likely to happen and over what time scale?”
There is a considerable volume of ill-informed and emotive rhetoric surrounding the climate change debate which is not helpful in promoting individual and collective action. Such rhetoric, regardless of whether it is based on fact or fiction, promotes the broadest possible spectrum of climate change outcomes from an impending shut down of the oceanic thermohaline circulation – the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift – producing Arctic conditions in Britain within 20 years, through the full-on sceptics view of “it’s not happening” to the apocalypse associated with a runaway greenhouse effect threatening the very survival of life on Earth. The issue is further confused by debate centred on the hole in the ozone layer and, more recently, by the spurious connection with tsunami events.
Within this maelstrom of conflicting information it is difficult to see how an individual can identify what constitutes a meaningful personal contribution i.e. the very thing that is needed if we are to be successful in stabilising the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases by significantly reducing emissions over the next 30 years or so. Somewhere on this continuum is the considered and moderate view of the majority of the world’s climate scientists which must be used to inform personal, community and corporate decision-making.
The first step must be to provide an uncomplicated picture of this considered view. The statement at Box 9 is the basis for such a message.
Part II – Making the Connection with Lifestyle – “You are the cause….”
As we need to start the process of promoting far reaching cultural change, the best place to start is at home where individuals have ownership of the decisions they make and the things they do and buy. Moreover, given the relative contribution of the domestic sector to the UK’s emissions profile, there should be considerable scope for making a measurable impact on emissions (not climate) at the regional level. By focussing on producing a carbon footprint for the home environment, households could be challenged to make small cuts to help meet UK targets.
The Government is looking for a 60% reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2050. Starting in 2005 that target could be met by making a 2% year-on-year saving for the foreseeable future. On the face of it such a target would not appear too onerous for most households at least initially. A carbon footprint calculator could provide households with the most likely (no cost/low cost) ways on how to reduce emissions and the likely benefits both in emissions and financial terms. Such an approach could also be used in schools and the workplace to produce more formal carbon audits and annual carbon balance sheets.
Part III – Promoting a Response – “….and the solution.”
The final key message concerns the contribution that each individual can make. The Energy Saving Trust has produced a number of killer facts that demonstrate the concept of “together we can make a difference”. For example, if everyone boiled only the water they needed to make a cup of tea instead of filling the kettle every time, we could save enough electricity in a year to run more than 75% of the street lighting in the country! The aim must be to get everyone doing something along these lines or, at the very least, thinking about doing something.
The problem is that many people do not identify activities like home composting, lagging the loft or hot water tank, cycling, recycling and leaving the TV/VCR on stand-by with climate change. A reasonable approach might be to produce a list of everyday activities that contribute something to reducing emissions or adapting to the likely impacts. Most people will find something on that “caring for the climate” list that they are already doing. By default they will join the climate change action club, begin to feel positive about their contribution and start to look for other ways to contribute.
Whilst the UK Climate Change programme was initiated in 2000, there has been a growing realisation by Government of the need for a co-ordinated climate change communications campaign to change public attitude. A national Climate Change Communications Strategy (3) was commissioned by DEFRA in 2004 and was made public in Feb 2005. Amongst its many recommendations is the establishment of a new fund, starting in financial year 2005/06, to support climate change communications at a regional and local level. In addition, the strategy recommends the publication of a toolkit to help local communicators. Whilst the details of this activity stream have yet to be agreed, the DCC climate change communications plan must organise its communications programme along the lines proposed in order to attract funding when it becomes available.
The three key areas in which the national approach should influence our local campaign are as follows;
• Principles of climate change communications. These principles are known colloquially as the “rules of the game” and are reproduced at Annex A to this plan.
• Selection of target audiences. The strategy recommends public target goups should be divided into three major groups – youth, homeowners and the disadvantaged. The DCC strategy has selected homeowners as its first target with the following objectives:
• To identify climate change as a current and UK issue.
• To increase confidence that climate change can be acted upon.
• To draw mental links between climate change and other key issues such as health and employment.
• Branding. Whilst DCC has adopted the strap line “Make a Climate Change for the Better”, this will need to be supplemented by the proposed national branding once it has been agreed.