The challenge of changing the media narrative on climate change
The Institute of Development Studies aims to change the dominant media narrative on climate change – and show that this is an issue above all of justice and equality.
Sophie Robinson explains the strategy behind their climate justice campaign.
The media landscape in 2021 is set to be dominated by the big ‘c’s of climate change, COP26 and Covid-19. But, for those working in communications there is another one – competition. How to secure engagement and attention of time pressed journalists, politicians and social media activists against a backdrop of an unrelenting news cycle with ever increasing numbers of organisations offering comment.
Our aim at the Institute of Development Studies is to shift the focus of climate change to recognise one of the most easily overlooked elements of the issue – climate inequality.
Typically, world leader events and government initiatives on climate change have been dominated by technological solutions but when it comes to the impacts of climate change, research shows the issue is fundamentally one of (in)justice. The worst impacts of climate change and our ability to adapt to them are felt unequally globally and within countries because of the structural injustices that cause underlying poverty and inequalities.
This poses an immediate challenge that our communications activity in the year ahead is aiming to address. Here are five principles we are following in order to gain cut through and engagement with our climate justice research:
1. Be inclusive
We are leveraging IDS partnerships and our reputation for participatory action research to meaningfully involve marginalised people. This includes creating participatory videos and photo stories that bring to life the issues relating to inequality. In this way, we should all walk the talk on inclusivity, sharing stories and ensuring those worst affected are represented, in our content, events and podcasts
2. Inspire rather than despair
There is clearly a need to highlight the urgency of the problem of climate injustice and to communicate the ‘so what?’, ‘why now?’. But, this must go hand in hand with providing constructive solutions and suggestions for those with political power to do things differently. For us, this means working with researchers to identify then communicate actionable recommendations which can then be illustrated with real life stories from inspirational people globally. With so much negativity in the news media, not least due to Covid-19 and lockdown life, this aims to meet the demand from journalist and influencers for positive stories.
3. Get social
Develop communications that are ‘social first’ and designed to engage with audiences that are active on social platforms. To do this, we’re applying insights from our social media monitoring platform to understand Twitter conversations, hashtags, topic virality and the top influencers by climate theme, in the UK and beyond. By understanding the dominant conversation topics, and the most engaging posts, we’ll develop creative social media content that in tone, theme and style is as engaging and effective as possible.
4. Pitch based on insight
When reaching out to journalists, bloggers or podcasters at this intensely busy time and with high competition for stories, it will be even more vital to remember best practice for story pitches. Presenting a clear, compelling story in one line, and remembering who, why, what, where, when, so what? This is alongside being clear on what is being offered – interviewee, case study, report, images, all tailored to be relevant to the contact. Through a combination of media trained spokespeople and a steady drumbeat of commentary with creative stories, we will cut through to key media for policy audiences and aim to build awareness of our messaging.
5. Be risk aware
Building relationships with influencers and working in wide-ranging partnerships as we do at IDS, including academics, community groups, businesses or activists can also bring risks. Ranging from reputation management, including being viewed as too political, to social media abuse towards your organisation, spokespeople or case studies, it makes it critical to have a robust approach to potential risks. At the outset of our climate justice campaign, we’ve completed a risk review and ongoing will evaluate how our messaging and content is being received. This includes considering how content could be interpreted from different external viewpoints with this insight being fed into future messaging.
Applying these principles, our ambition over the year ahead is to move the debate on climate change to achieve greater recognition that the issue is fundamentally about justice. We hope to influence the dominant narrative on climate change among policymakers and the media, widening it beyond the technology-based solutions to focus on those in the world most at risk. We hope it serves as an important reminder that in our ‘race to zero’ carbon emissions we mustn’t further harm the lives and livelihoods of those already suffering its worst effects, or exclude them from finding the solutions.