How PR Pros Can Prepare for Climate Communication

The climate conversation has changed, and as communicators we need to change with it.

After years of lost opportunities, climate is embedded as a priority in every U.S. government department. And increasingly it is central to executive visibility platforms. The pending federal infrastructure program is widely seen as a massive climate bill. Build Back Better includes green jobs too.

In addition, climate is getting more attention globally. Last month, the G7 nations agreed to increase action on climate change and renewed a pledge to raise $100 billion a year to help impoverished countries cut emissions.

Important for communicators is that corporate leadership is front and center during this new moment. PR pros urgently need to evolve climate communication to match the moment, and set the narrative for the decade ahead.

Calendar Alert

More immediately, the next 6 months include several important events: the UN General Assembly, Climate Week and COP26. We need to ensure the right conversations are occurring and that new voices are heard.

Companies need to show up, prepared to take part in a very different, intersectional conversation about climate and justice. As communicators we must connect climate with race and gender, philanthropy, jobs, social good and the recovery.

It’s clear that we can’t return to the same ways of communicating, or to the same messages. If we’re building back better from COVID-19 with infrastructure and ESGs, let’s do so with climate communication.

Here’s how:

Draft an ESG Plan

We are at a moment where business leaders are reckoning with their role in making an impact and how they speak out around critical societal issues. The public will call out and judge senior executives on their commitments to climate progress and how they communicate a vision about climate.

Companies need to have an ESG plan to meet stakeholder expectations on climate. Stakeholders include everyone from investors and boards to employees and customers.

Connect Race with Climate

In this moment of reckoning for social justice and DEI, let’s talk about race and climate. Climate justice is racial justice. We need to raise awareness of how pollution disproportionately touches BIPOC communities and insist this ends. In addition, we should craft messaging about the importance of emerging green jobs in these communities.

And as cities emerge from the worst of the pandemic, we need to prioritize messages about access to transit, food access and regenerative agriculture.

Highlight People and Communities

Similarly, climate communicators must keep spotlighting impacted communities. We’ve seen how natural events spurred by climate change like the CA wildfires change the public narrative.

In addition, we should tell stories about front-line activists like Nemonte Nenquimo, who launched a campaign to stop the auction of thousands of acres of Ecuadorian rainforest–and won.

Connect Data with Giving

Let’s keep the spotlight on philanthropy. Only 5 percent of philanthropy worldwide goes to environmental causes, including climate. Far less goes to women-led, BIPOC-led and front-line organizations. Content and programming that uplifts and highlights this is critical.

Careful on Global Temperatures

Global temperatures are rising, with ice-shelf loss continuing at a massive rate. 2020 was meant to set off the decade of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, but the pandemic intervened. We’ve lost real time.

Most alarming is the suggestion that holding global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees is no longer attainable. Giving up on 1.5 means giving up on lives, and on bioregions. And as communicators, it sends the wrong message that we can keep moving the goalposts on climate targets.

Ravi Sunnak is EVP, sustainable development goals, Porter Novelli