Climate Change: The Massive Opportunity for Comms to Bridge the Gaps
— December 21st, 2022
Communication professionals feel their discipline is undervalued.*
If you’re a comms professional, you read this and probably nod. I did that when I saw the 2022/23 survey of communication leaders from AB and #WeLeadComms. It’s a revealing read about what’s keeping comms professionals up at night and what they perceive their opportunities are.
Understandably many are putting out fires and dealing with short-term challenges and trying to find time to prioritize and think. To be more strategic and have a greater impact. To be sense-makers and influence behavior change. To demonstrate the value of communications and be key influencers amongst decision-makers.
It’s what comms professionals did during the pandemic.
Another opportunity that impacts everyone at work and home exists but is not high on the opportunity list of communication leaders. Climate change and sustainability are among the most significant challenges facing businesses, governments, and society.
Only 3% thought of climate/sustainability as a significant opportunity for themselves as communication leaders. It’s not that it’s not important to comms professionals, but possibly the path to what and how we can make a difference is not clear.
The Gaps at a Glance
2022 began positively with net zero momentum building and 91% of global GDP covered by net zero commitments. Many companies prioritizing sustainability and investment commitments grew by 11% in the year's first half.
However, the Ukraine war, the highest inflation in four decades, and the possibility of falling economic growth make net zero harder to achieve. Governments and businesses are trying to balance short-term goals with the transition to net zero.
The angst we need to do more beyond commitments and move to systematic change is growing heavier and seen as a risk.
This is where communication professionals can collectively step up by helping to bridge the gap between expectations, commitments, and action.
Trends to Watch
With geopolitical uncertainty, food and energy insecurity, and potential stagnation, the global climate summit COP27 united in the vision to keep the global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “The world is watching and has a simple message for all of us: stand and deliver. Deliver the kind of meaningful climate action that people and planet so desperately need.”
It wrapped with global leaders seeking consensus on halving greenhouse emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. There were clear expectations, commitments, actions, and language gaps, particularly between the G20 and vulnerable countries.
- The G20 nations account for 80% of global emissions. Approximately half the world’s population is highly vulnerable to climate change's impact, with 15 times higher risk of catastrophe due to floods, droughts and storms.
- Accenture’s Net Zero by 2050 Global Report (2022) shows net zero is on the corporate agenda, with 84% of the top 2,000 public and private companies (G2000) by revenue planning to increase sustainability investments by the end of this year.
- Yet despite growth in ambitions, Accenture reports that 93% of G2000 companies with net zero targets will miss these targets.
- The leading 7% treat carbon, energy and emissions data as business information and use this as a basis for value creation. Their targets are science-based, have built-in methods to reduce energy use and emissions, and adopt and report against ESG frameworks.
- Kantar’s Global Issues Barometer (2022) tracks people's concerns and who they hold responsible for solving these crises. Climate and environmental issues are the third primary concern for people globally, following the cost of living and inflation (#2) and the Ukraine war (#1). Although it’s the third issue of concern, climate and environmental issues are the second most important issue people want to see solved. 78% of people want to buy environmentally sustainable products but worry they can’t afford them.
- Kantar’s Sustainability Sector Index (2022) shows that 97% of consumers want to be more sustainable, however only 13% are actively changing their behaviour
- A study in the Lancet reported that 45% of young people (16-25 years) across ten countries are finding that climate-related anxiety is affecting their daily life.
- The IPCC report reflected the human-planet connection and highlighted that sustainable changes in lifestyle and behaviour can result in a 40-70% reduction in emissions by 2050. Trendwatching identified norm-nudging initiatives to catalyze younger people to take small steps to contribute to bigger change.
- Sustainability and environmental issues are in the top ten for CEOs as they are under increasing pressure from stakeholders to do more.
What This Means for Communication Professionals
Businesses and governments have a critical role to play in building a low-carbon and climate-resistant economy, and the role of communication professionals in helping to enable this is pivotal.
What can we do as communication professionals to lean into this opportunity?
- Embrace the opportunity that climate, economic and societal impacts represent to accelerate action for a better world for us and the next generations.
- Invest in understanding climate change, the science, and the challenges, through training and education.
- Be aware of the changing expectations of consumers, society, business leaders and governments.
- Learn from those outside the profession to bring diverse perspectives to broaden understanding.
- Position the opportunity to proactively embrace sustainability as a competitive advantage that is good for business, people and the planet.
- Step up to shape the climate change and sustainability conversations in business and the profession.
- Craft and share the narrative of the journey and vision to net zero, and humanize what this means and involves.
- Empower employees to be the agents of change in the business and community
- Take the lead to advocate and seek greater support in policy change to accelerate action.
- Familiarize yourself with and share The Communicators Climate Charter. Developed at the IAB22 World Conference in NYC, designed to create collective ownership and action that inspires involvement and adds momentum.
In closing, let’s be inspired by Yrsa Daley Ward’s opening and closing lines at COP26 in Glasgow. “Nothing will be saved without you… Nothing will change without you.”
*The original version of this article is part of the “Catalyst for Climate” series by IABC
Further Reading and Resources
Vision 2050: Time to Transform (WBCSD)
https://www.chathamhouse.org/2022/08/what-cop27 (Chatham House)