PRmoment Leaders PA Mediapoint PA Assignments PRCA PRmoment Awards Winners North Creative Moment Awards 2024 PR Masterclass: AI in PR

ESG News Review: Is communication making a difference to climate change?

In these times of political polarisation, misinformation, AI-generated imagery and general information overload, I’ve become pretty fond of BBC’s Verify.

Yes it can appear to have a touch of know-it-all smugness, but coming across the Beeb’s ubiquitous fact-checking and investigative service in the middle of a conventional news story can be an important dose of reality, particularly on the big issues where other major media can deliver a more distorted view.

There is surely no more important an issue than that of climate change and what is being done to limit its impact, particularly when it comes to carbon emissions.

This BBC story this week on the progress the UK has made in reducing emissions—and the policies, pledges, and degree of behaviour change that can further or limit future ambitions—was such a good read.

It gives the main facts, verifiably, on what causes emissions, what has been done in the past few decades to lower them and what action is being taken to continue on that path towards 2050.

But what the piece doesn’t really do is answer the question posed by its headline: whether or not the UK is actually on track to meet its net zero targets.

It stops some way short, but points to the country having made big strides since the 1990s in several critical areas, notably in moving away from coal-fired power stations to generate electricity. It also points to a more complicated outlook for a continued downward trajectory over the next couple of decades, and poses several major questions about the policies and investment required to deliver it.

There have been several big articles recently that present a mixed, if overall positive, picture of the level of emissions reduction that has been achieved.

The UK Government was dealt a blow (yes, another one) when the High Court ruled that its climate action plan was unlawful because it lacked evidence of policies that will be sufficient to reduce emissions to the level legally required.

The Economist reported that European “emissions fell by a steep 15.5% in 2023, largely driven by reductions in carbon from electricity generation and industry” in an article about why EU emissions are dropping so quickly, concluding that carbon pricing is already having the desired effect.

Bloomberg’s editorial board, in this in-depth piece, seems to agree, coming down firmly on the side of carbon pricing as a way of driving corporate change. “The price of oil has driven immense human endeavour. A price on carbon emissions could do the same,” it said.

But then there’s the question of how best to motivate consumer and householder change. According to a United Nations Development Programme post, this week, there may be some fundamental flaws in how the collective action needed to tackle climate change is being communicated. It listed translating messages for different audience groups, making it human, co-creating messages, checking sources and “adding a dash of hope”. They may seem obvious points, but are nonetheless fundamental if communication is going to inspire, reassure and engage people in their everyday lives.

Which is why, perhaps, the success of communication in driving positive climate action seems to be a mixed bag. The helicopter view is that the big long-term policy calls and fundamental changes in cutting the biggest emissions are making a difference, and the message is getting through that those measures - by governments and businesses - are beginning to work. Meanwhile, communication that encourages supportive action by individuals has to date delivered less impact and remains relatively unsophisticated.

That’s one opinion at least. Although BBC Verify may struggle to fact-check it.

The ESG News Review is written by Steve Earl, a Partner at PR agency BOLDT.

Sign up to our weekly ESG related stories by completing the form below.

* All fields are required

Important: Once completing the form we will send you a confirmation link which you will need to click on to confirm your subscription. If you do not receive this email within a couple of minutes please check your spam folder.

Please be assured that we will treat your details with care. We will never sell your details to any third parties and we will never bombard you with unnecessary email alerts.

By signing up to alerts you consent to us sending you twice weekly subscriber emails. You may manage your preferences at any time by emailing or clicking the "manage preferences" link within every newsletter.