Marketing + Communications

COP27 – Is the government getting its messaging right?

It’s COP27 this week. At this stage in our efforts to combat climate change, one would hope we’d have a more positive message to take into the conference. Instead, it all feels a bit glum.

The messages our governments are giving are still a jumbled mess. The public is jaded and untrusting. Even the poster child of the environmentalist movement, the ever-vocal Greta Thunberg, has shunned this year’s conference. In short, she has doubts about its efficacy.

The unfortunate truth is that we’re a long way away from where we need to be and it’s only through international action that we can get back on track. With trust in our governments at an all-time low and little progress being made since the last COP, it’s reasonable to question whether we’re getting our approach right.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no expert on how we make the drastic cuts to carbon that are needed. But I can talk with authority about messaging. After all, alongside decisive legislation and scientific innovation, it’s the messaging that drives action from the everyday person.

“The dog ate my homework”

The UK has been giving COP27 the yo-yo treatment for the last few weeks. Rishi is not going, Johnson is. Then Rishi is going again, perhaps because he didn’t want to be outdone by his fluffy-haired predecessor.

At this point, it’s laughable that the current UK Prime Minister sees the conference as unworthy of attendance. Climate change is the biggest challenge not just facing our country, but the whole human race. How important does something need to be until the Prime Minister of the UK commits wholeheartedly to attending it?

Maybe it’s a matter of not wanting to go to a meeting when one hasn’t completed one’s actions from the last one?

Let’s dispense with the hot air

Fact: the climate crisis is upon us and we’re not doing enough to combat it. The planet is the asset upon which all wealth relies and no amount of money can buy us a new one.

What we need is policy that stops us from making the problem worse. And, as always, strong leadership and clear messages.

What is this government’s position on this most important issue? To be honest, it doesn’t matter. Because the government changes often – and changes direction even more often.

What is the UK’s position on the response to the climate crisis, outside of the current government? What do our citizens and businesses need to do to adapt to climate change? This issue rises above the machinations and internal politics of Westminster.

We need clarity and messaging that everyday Arthurs and Marthas like us can put into action. We need a positive message that gets a critical mass of individuals on board and ready to do the work required.

Good communication matters

The problem (apart from the potential for untold climate catastrophe) is a communications issue. People respond poorly to negative messages – don’t eat meat, don’t drive your car, and don’t use plastic. This problem is magnified when the issue is so large and individual responses feel so small. We need more positive messages that empower people to make a difference.

As a silly-sounding analogy, consider the psychological tricks of marketing. You have a much better chance of selling your product or service when you can clearly outline how you can improve your audience’s life or business. This involves the liberal use of the pronoun ‘you’. I can’t help but think this approach is sorely missing from our messaging on climate change.

“Eating less meat can save you money and improve your health.”

“Walking more and driving less offers considerable cardiovascular benefits, helps you lose weight and reduces stress.”

“Minimising needless packaging makes products cheaper and puts fewer waste products into our ecosystems.”

But more than positive messages and clear instructions; what we need is a BHAG. A Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

A single idea that we can all get behind, that can inform both national government policy and individual actions. A phrase that reminds us all that we have limited resources available to us and we need to remain within budget – we can’t borrow our way out of this one.

Collective action needed

Cynicism and pessimism are easy in the face of such a massive thing, as is expecting “them” to “do something about it”. Surviving climate change is no longer something for “other people” to do. It’s down to every single one of us, and every decision we make in our personal and professional lives. This is about the legacy we leave, not to our great-grandchildren, but to our children. And the change we want to see within our lifetimes.

If even a small percentage of us push this sea change in attitude and efforts, this could snowball into a much bigger movement that slowly becomes the norm. From small beginnings, big things can come. When it comes to activism, when 3.5% of the population is engaged in an issue, it has never failed to bring about change.

To get everyone on side, to make sure we’re all pulling in the right direction, we need the right messaging and achievable goals to work towards.

Rishi Sunak is one leader in a long line of conservative premiers. He has a great opportunity to do what his predecessors could not. The question is, what legacy do you want to leave, Rishi?

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