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Re-thinking climate change communications for charities

17 February 2021

by Media Trust



As part of our Weston Communicating Climate programme in partnership with Garfield Weston Foundation, Jeremy Mathieu, the BBC’s Sustainability Advisor, delivered a Climate Storytelling Masterclass for charities working in this space. Here are the key takeaways.

Climate change is fundamentally complex. It’s not the science though that is complex so much as what we, as a society, are going to do about it. How do we transition from being a society that is fundamentally unsustainable to one that is truly sustainable and resilient and where everyone can thrive?

What makes this all even more challenging is that all of the changes it would take to make us sustainable need to happen at the same time and we all need to be moving in the same direction or we’ll get nowhere.

One of the key barriers to mobilising positive collective action is that many climate change organisations have been so preoccupied with describing the problems, they haven’t been able to spend time and energy on enabling people to imagine what success would look like.

If we want to move the public to embrace meaningful action, it’s important to acknowledge the emotional dimension and that different people are at different stages of processing climate change. There’s a wide spectrum where some people are feeling hopeful, motivated and excited while others are angry, upset, overwhelmed or feel guilty. And there are also people who aren’t able to process the concept of climate change at all.

Cutting through the complexity

Firstly, most adults don’t understand the science behind climate change or how to cut through the complexity in order to explain it to young people. And this is hindering their ability to take meaningful action on the topic, as well as not supporting those young people who are increasingly suffering from climate anxiety.

Secondly, we are lacking a positive vision for the future, in which we’ve fixed the problem. We know too much doom and gloom leads to inertia if we don’t feel like we are able to contribute to the solutions and to a more positive outcome for all this.

The key challenge is how we change the current lens on climate change away from describing its messy complexity to a conversation about transitioning to a thriving, resilient and sustainable society.

How do we make it happen?

No one can fix the climate crisis on their own. And whilst individuals have a huge role to play, we need to move from individual action to collective action with communities, businesses and government all playing their part.

First, we need to believe that this positive outcome is possible! We need to really imagine and visualise a thriving, sustainable future. The language needs to change to talking about building and creating, rather than sacrificing, and from cutting carbon emissions to building a green society.

Three principles to follow when crafting your message around climate change

When creating your messaging, it’s important to remember agency, community and transitioning.

  • Agency – how do you give people a sense of agency so they believe that their actions matter and that they are an important part of the solution?
  • Community – how do you create a sense of community, that we’re all part of something bigger and encourage collective action? We also need to be mindful that communities need to be both diverse and inclusive.
  • Transition – how do you acknowledge we’re not going to crack this overnight and that on our journey towards sustainability, we’re going to have to let some things go, which can be difficult.

Ideas on how to engage with the media

It’s important to weave in the sustainability transitioning angles to non-environmental stories to help people to connect the dots.

Obviously, Covid is everywhere at the moment. Not only are news outlets focusing on it, people have all sorts of Covid-related worries about their jobs, health and feeling isolated. Think about how you can include a sustainability angle and present stories around the economy, healthier cities and more connected communities in a green way?

Where does your organisation fit in the build up to COP26 in November? News outlets are going to be interested in fleshing out the big concepts in a tangible and practical way. Can you provide human stories that link up to the policy changes and government pledges in a way that people can understand and relate to?


Image credit: Jörg Farys / Fridays for Future | Fridays for Future 25.01.2018 Berlin | Creative Commons License | Image Source

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