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19 May 2016

Communicating on Climate Action

Energy, Government Affairs

The signing of the Paris Agreement by 177 countries on Earth Day was an important milestone along the path to turn “aspiration into action” to quote UN Global Compact Executive Director Lise Kingo (client). With the agreement signed, the attention now turns to whether 55 countries, accounting for 55 percent of the world’s emissions, ratify the agreement in order to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.” Since many countries, including China and the United States—the world’s top two emitters—have either signaled that they intend to ratify or have already ratified, it is a real possibility that the Paris Agreement will “enter into force” before 2017.

Now that a signal on climate change has been sent, the market will expect action. We can expect stakeholders to pressure governments for clear policies that align with the achievement of respective Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). For the private sector, there will be an increasing expectation across all sectors for companies to transform their operations to reduce carbon emissions throughout their value chain. We know from the 2016 Edelman Trust BarometerTM that 80 percent of the general population believes that the private sector needs to take a leading role on solving societal challenges. As a result, activities that have long been considered supplemental environmental or social programs will become elevated to standard operating procedure. Therefore, what companies do to set clear and measurable targets, improve their manufacturing and distribution processes, innovate new products or services, invest in renewable energy sources, influence their supply chain to reduce their emissions, engage responsibly in climate policy, and train employees and build partnerships with civil society will become de rigueur.

Stakeholders will also expect transparency, and as a result, what countries or companies report will increasingly affect trust and reputation-building efforts. With this as the backdrop, there are a number of key milestones throughout the remainder of 2016 and beyond where focus will turn toward new commitments and actions by all actors—state (country) or non-state (private sector and civil society)—including: the Business and Climate Summit (June 28-29), Climate Week (September 19-25) and the UN General Assembly (September 13-26) and COP 22 in Morocco (November 7-18). Each of these moments presents opportunities for countries, companies, foundations and non-profit organizations to demonstrate leadership on climate action. Expectations from stakeholders aside, differentiation and share-of-voice will increasingly be challenging from a communication marketing standpoint.

My colleague Nick Hay recently referenced a University of Colorado Boulder study that determined media coverage of COP 15 in Copenhagen (December 2009) in 50 news outlets across 25 countries was a third higher than the recent COP 21 in Paris. The breakdown of talks in Copenhagen as well as ‘Climategate,’ in which hackers exposed that scientists at the University of East Anglia had manipulated data, created drama and intrigue for journalists as opposed to the relatively smooth negotiations in Paris. With this in mind, we can anticipate that media coverage will continue to decline. No doubt that mainstream news outlets will continue to shape opinion but countries, companies and non-profits will need to explore and capitalize on alternative storytelling approaches to advance their point of view, and generate awareness and interest in their climate action efforts.

We believe that the Edelman Cloverleaf TM provides the framework for how state and non-state actors can communicate in and around major milestones and events (i.e. Business and Climate Summit, Climate Week, UN General Assembly and COP 22). To be successful, we believe that clients and prospects, particularly large global companies and high profile brands, cleantech companies advancing the low carbon future, and governments, will need to:

  • Develop social storylines
  • Embrace channel-centric thinking
  • Drive earned media
  • Create a single narrative
  • Focus on creating canonical content

Achieving the Paris Agreement took decades but the pace and intensity on climate reduction will increase in the years to come. Transparency on progress toward measureable goals will be an important element in ensuring we reach carbon neutrality by mid-century. The Edelman Cloverleaf TM capitalizes on the evolving media and content landscape and provides the mechanism for countries, companies and non-profits to communicate more effectively on climate. Stakeholders will expect it and trust will depend on it.

Written by Michael Holland, executive vice president, Edelman New York

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