Are the public ready for net zero? Recommendations for building a positive public discourse
Source: Climate Outreach
Author(s): Chris Shaw, Adam Corner, Jamie Clarke
There is currently a lack of research into communicating the concept of net zero and why it is needed, but existing insights on climate change communication suggest the phrase net zero is a technical one that will not resonate well with the public. The purpose of this report is
to test these assumptions, and make recommendations on the best ways to connect the issue with the public. Insights are based on the results of reviewing relevant literature and undertaking qualitative research with centre-right groups in London and Gloucester. The report includes a
set of recommendations and guidance on effectively communicating around the net zero target itself, and what it means for people’s lives over the next 30 years. Public buy-in for policy support will be essential in order to minimise push back from opponents. Getting this buy in will mean identifying the right messages, messengers and campaign approaches which speak to values held across the political spectrum.
While few constituencies outside of climate policy specialists are likely to be aware that the UK’s decarbonisation goals are shifting from 80% to 100%, the consequences for livelihoods and lifestyles could be significant. It is here – around the ‘challenging’ topics of travel, diet and home heating – that public apathy or resistance may be encountered if carefully considered communications are not in place. For a centre-right audience (who were chosen as the focus of this research because historically they have been the least supportive of climate change policies), this means constructing public-facing campaigns around net zero ‘upwards’ from core centre-right values, rather than ‘downwards’ from the technicalities of the policy target.
This approach – connecting the policy with the more tangible and immediate concerns of people’s lives – will build broader and deeper understanding of the changes underway than could be achieved through facts and figures alone. Grounding the communications strategy in the audience’s values, showing them what is at stake, and forging a bridge between the science-policy discourse and the everyday things that matter to people, will give people an investment in the strategy. This will make it more difficult for politicians to backtrack on the commitments made for a decarbonised future.
Building on a significant in-house knowledge base on engaging diverse UK audiences on climate change, Climate Outreach analysed the (limited) existing public-facing communication around the net zero concept, and ran two discussion groups (‘Narrative Workshops’3) with members of the UK public who hold centre-right political values and views.
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