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The ESG Review: Does a new climate report point to the biggest communications challenge?

A new and major report into climate change has sounded another warning bell over the action needed to reduce the pace of global warming, with last year having been another record- breaker for extreme weather.

The World Meteorological Association’s report came with a “red alert” about the social, environmental and economic damage being caused. It outlined that the rapid transition to renewable energy sources offered hope, but also warned that not enough was being done policy-wise to reduce the emissions created by major contributors, including home heating and food production.

It also shared data which shows that 2023 was the hottest year ever for the planet “by a clear margin”. The Financial Times outlined the consequences of greater food insecurity, while New Scientist detailed the report’s findings of record glacier loss, sea level rise, ocean heat and sea ice loss.

The WMO is the United Nations’s weather agency.

But while this is a stark, unfiltered view of the crisis the world faces, it also had a familiar feel to it. Think back three years, ahead of COP26, and the UN’s IPCC report was headlined across major media as a “code red” for humanity. It was, at the time, the most profound report to date on the climate change reality.

The UK Government has also used the red word recently in launching an inquiry into climate change and security, to be undertaken by the Environmental Audit Committee.

Which does raise the question of how future significant reports sharing further critical data points can be differentiated, or at least avoid readers failing to grasp the significance of the information. And how to try to achieve some balance in conveying the urgency and the scale of action required, without creating panic or crippling apprehension amongst the public.

Towards the end of last year, Google revealed that in searches for climate change information online, the word “anxiety” was soaring. There have also been multiple reports into the impact of online disinformation around climate change on the collective action required.

It’s likely one of the biggest communication challenges we’ve ever seen: how to detail the severity of risk and environmental deterioration in ways that compel sustained action over the long-term, without having a counterproductive effect because people become unable to cope with harsh truths - and the media environment enables conflicting, inaccurate accounts to be presented plausibly.

There is also a parallel challenge of businesses that have committed to sustained climate action - and need to reference such third party reports to corroborate their cases for change - finding that the evidence may start to feel a bit repetitive.

All minor communications issues in the face of the enormous challenges that the world faces, but matters that may become more significant nonetheless.

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

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