3. Communicating climate change policy
This chapter presents the analysis of responses to questions five and six, which focus on the first strategic theme of communicating climate change policy.
- The proposed approach to communicating climate change policy was welcomed by around two fifths of respondents.
- Several welcomed the recognition that “governments are often not the most suitable messenger when it comes to communicating policies to differing audiences”.
- Respondents encouraged the Scottish Government to partner and collaborate with a range of organisations and sectors from local authorities and public bodies to museums, faith organisations, industry, and businesses.
- A variety of traditional and digital media channels should be used, with the media, messages and narrative tailored for different groups. It was seen as vital to include those who are digitally excluded, least engaged, more disadvantaged or likely to be most impacted by potential changes.
- There were also requests for messaging to be simple and accessible, but also strong, clear and consistent.
Q5. What are your views on our approach to communicating climate change policy?
The vast majority of respondents (159/178) answered question five.
Endorsement of the approach
The most common theme, mentioned by around two fifths, was an endorsement of the Scottish Government's approach. This includes respondents who explicitly stated they supported, agreed with or welcomed the approach, or described it in positive terms, such as good, clear, comprehensive, proactive, flexible, and sensible. Several specifically welcomed the recognition that "governments are often not the most suitable messenger when it comes to communicating policies to differing audiences".
Partnership and collaboration
Working in partnership to communicate climate change policy was the second most common theme. Respondents elaborated on how Scottish Government could collaborate and partner with a range of organisations, from local authorities and public bodies to museums, faith organisations, industry and businesses; many respondents represented these organisations and highlighted their willingness to work with the Scottish Government. In the equality workshop, a representative of a faith group noted their disappointment that faith groups were not specifically mentioned in the strategy.
A few noted the need to engage with specific sectors, such as agriculture. Others stressed the importance of working with community organisations and suggested there could be more emphasis on this. A small number made specific points around being mindful of the resources of these organisations.
Channels of communication
The third most prevalent theme was the use of different channels and narratives for communication. Within this, some explained that a range of channels should be used, including both traditional (TV, radio, press etc.) and digital media. Most elaborated on the need to tailor the media, messages and narrative being used to ensure all parts of society are reached. It was seen as vital to include those who are digitally excluded, least engaged, more disadvantaged or likely to be most impacted by potential changes. Respondents commented on the need to: use age-appropriate channels (e.g. using social media for younger generations); communicate effectively with groups with varying levels of education and climate literacy; and to ensure materials and messaging reflect an understanding of the values, priorities and challenges of different audiences. Participants in the equality workshop asked for more information on proposed channels, as only the Net Zero Nation was mentioned in the draft strategy.
"It is very important to consider the range of demographics and audiences across Scotland and tailor communications to each of them. Different audiences have different needs, priorities and challenges, and acknowledging and addressing these separately will make communications more efficient. Different audiences also require different methods of communication – some prefer social media, others face-to-face engagement, so a range of communication methods is vital. Getting input from key audiences when planning communications is also a good idea, for example young people would be best placed to plan campaigns to engage with their peers." – Greener Kirkcaldy
Clarity of messaging
Several respondents outlined the best messaging to use to ensure communication is effective. They suggested that it needs to be simple and accessible, but also strong, clear and consistent. There were specific calls to "not talk science" and "treat people like adults" and ensure communication is translated into different languages.
Beyond awareness to encouraging action
Another recurring theme was for the approach to go beyond raising awareness to encouraging the public to take action. Respondents argued that there is already a level of awareness, but this has not yet manifested itself in behavioural changes. They suggested that communication needs to encourage people to take positive action so that different, positive behaviours become normalised.
"A general point would be that the emphasis needs to move away from 'awareness raising' to the 'need for action'. There is a real danger with the primary focus being on awareness raising that it leads to a passive response whereas if the focus was much more towards the actions that we can all take, there is a greater likelihood that this action becomes normalised amongst the general public." – Scottish Community Alliance
Honest, evidence-based communication
Several respondents called for the Scottish Government to be honest and transparent in communication about climate change. They explained this means being truthful and realistic about the seriousness of the issue, the scale of change required, and progress made. A few called for the policies being created to be fair. A small number requested a consistent, scientific, evidence-based approach to build public confidence and participation.
Clear and consistent political leadership
Respondents called for the Scottish Government to provide clear and consistent leadership. This was discussed from several perspectives. Firstly, by demonstrating to the public the seriousness of the issue and the Government's willingness to act. A few noted the importance of the Scottish Government highlighting actions that have been taken, how policy is being implemented, and ensuring the infrastructure is in place for individuals to act. Specifically, a few respondents endorsed SCCAN's suggestion that the Scottish Government's National Purpose should be re-drafted to move away from the focus on economic growth, putting a Wellbeing Economy at the centre of policy-making.
Another strand of discussion under leadership was to ensure actions are consistent with the messaging – a few felt that actions such as investing in high-carbon infrastructure are at odds with tackling the climate emergency.
Negative feedback on the approach
While there was broad endorsement of the approach, some respondents provided negative feedback. In these comments the approach was described as lacking vision or ambition and being too passive, vague and lacking detail. Suggestions to address these points included having more detail such as information about how the Scottish Government will collaborate with groups and organisations and spelling out the messages that will be used. Another made the specific suggestion to avoid talking about communicating 'climate change policy' as it may suggest it is a standalone policy area rather than action being taken across all policy areas. In addition, a very small number noted they did know what the Scottish Government's climate change policy was.
"I think the approach is OK but lacks vision & fails to convey the real urgency of what we're facing. Vision isn't the same as rhetoric, of which there's plenty in the approach." – Individual
"At present the communication approach appears fairly passive and a little unclear, for example it seems to suggest finding a main website and looking at that for information." – EAUC – Scotland
"It would be useful to have more information on the working with others section on the role of public sector organisations in communicating policy and any role the public sector can have in the delivery of the strategy." – Aberdeen City Council
There was feedback on the Net Zero Nation website. Broadly it was seen as a useful resource that needs more promotion and could be strengthened with additional information, e.g. details of relevant organisations and information about climate change impacts in local areas of Scotland. One felt the public would not be interested in looking at it. Other specific suggestions included: more face-to-face engagement, using environmentally friendly channels for communication, and carbon footprint calculators.
Less commonly mentioned themes
Respondents reiterated the need for positive messaging. They felt it should be hopeful, highlight the benefits of taking action and frame the arguments around outcomes people care about, for example, clean air, effective transport and local jobs.
Some commented on the importance of making policy and communication relevant to the individual. Respondents discussed weaving actions against climate change across all policy areas and making it personal to individuals and relatable to their circumstances. For example, there was discussion in the equality workshop around some of the advice provided in Annex A of the strategy which was considered unachievable by many, e.g. buying an electric car. Similarly, there was concern among participants that no consideration had been given to how it may be more challenging for disabled people to adapt to more environmentally friendly behaviours e.g. they are more reliant on cars and single use plastics.
Stressing a sense of urgency was mentioned by some. As well as general comments around the importance of communicating the need for prompt action, a few respondents argued that the emergency nature of the situation should be highlighted. Others called for communications on the scale of those used during the pandemic.
Some respondents called for greater sharing and prominence of the messaging, suggesting it should be stronger and more "in your face", and the existing approach should be strengthened into a prominent national campaign with messages "shared far and wide".
Communicating with and engaging young people was discussed. Embedding climate change action in the curriculum, working with education establishments and the youth work sector was noted. Specific suggestions included a Youth Advisory Group for communications and involving young people in designing the Net Zero Nation website.
A community approach was considered by some. Respondents broadly welcomed the strategy's recognition of the importance of community organisations but called for more detail on how they will be supported or funded to carry out local engagement.
Small numbers of respondents highlighted other themes including:
- Better use of social media and digital approaches; a few noted social media is increasingly being used as a source of information, especially by younger people.
- Calls for additional funding for organisations to be able to develop messages, raise awareness and encourage action.
- Whether a fresh approach is needed. Suggestions included using communities to design and front campaigns, discussing the negative impact of tourism, avoiding public health style messaging and encouraging greater involvement of the Arts.
- The need for local approaches and campaigns. A few suggested local authorities should publicise their plans and lead by example, and there were suggestions for linking plans to local circumstances and using local trusted voices.
- Suggestions for sharing of best practice e.g. via the Net Zero Nation website or working with teachers to share learning with their students.
- How businesses could either share their own actions on climate change, or work with the Scottish Government to find innovative ways to communicate actions.
- One suggested removing Climate Week as the example in the strategy, arguing this and other short-term events could not be relied upon to normalise action.
Q6. Are you aware of any practical examples or case studies of good practice for communicating on climate change that could be useful for informing our approach?
Two thirds of respondents answered question six. While the question asked explicitly for examples, a range of responses was received; some examples were provided without context, many elaborated on their suggestions, and others made more general comments.
A full analysis of question six is in Appendix B. In summary, the most common theme across responses to question six was organisations highlighting examples of their own work. Mentions of the work of Climate Outreach was the second most prevalent theme. Another common theme was examples of community groups and networks undertaking this work. A few similar responses highlighted the value of community-led, local approaches.
Work by other organisations was also mentioned by several respondents. The remaining themes were mentioned by small numbers; these are detailed in the appendix. In addition, several respondents provided examples of reference material such as books, reports or websites with little or no elaboration on their content or context.
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