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2024 is the tipping point for climate comms, marketers must trust the science

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By Mitali Mukherjee | Director of journalist programmes

January 18, 2024 | 5 min read

Mitali Mukherjee of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism believes 2024 is a huge year for sustainability messaging. Now climate represents a business risk, marketers must face the science.

Climate

We’ve entered 2024 hot off the heels of COP28, the most controversial summit to date, from the presidency itself to the final wording of the agreement. This is against a backdrop of news coverage showing that 2023 was the hottest on record and while, as I write this, the UK experiences some of its worst flooding and storms in history.

Most people reading this will have clients that have set net-zero targets. Companies and governments are under enormous pressure and scrutiny – from investors, the media, consumers and employees – to show they’re addressing climate change. And communicating this has several implications for marcomms professionals.

First and foremost, communications must be led by the science. This applies to everything, from using science-based targets to who leads the communications. Marcomms professionals are often the first ‘audience’ for their clients and are tasked with making sense of complex information. This is still more important than ever, but we must consider the reality – they aren’t climate experts. A reverse-engineered approach is needed where the science underpins the communications and where green claims are validated by objective, independent sources. Not only does research show that audiences trust scientists more than any other source for climate information, but, more importantly a science-based approach ensures the strategies are genuine.

This is particularly relevant when we consider that concern for climate misinformation is at an all-time high. In short, people are overloaded and overwhelmed with climate information and don’t know what to believe. This often results in total mistrust or disengagement.

Healthcare is an industry that we can learn from in this respect. With the stakes being high, healthcare communications are both evidence-based and highly regulated in Europe. A similar approach could be applied to climate.

Secondly, how we communicate about climate needs to fundamentally change. We’ve come a long way from the days when addressing climate change was merely a CSR exercise. The needle has moved well and truly on – climate change now represents a material risk for businesses. Practically speaking, this means moving away from activist language and moving towards the language of investors.

Finally, let’s not forget that marketers also need to play a role in lifting our spirits. Because, let’s face it, climate change is overwhelming and depressing. There’s a need for stories that highlight the individuals, organizations and communities actively striving to find solutions to the climate crisis. As natural storytellers, this is an exciting opportunity for the industry. But, as you’ve probably guessed, these solutions need to be rooted in science and backed up by evidence to ensure they’re genuine or they risk completely undermining a client’s reputation.

The need for clear, concise communication over the next 12 months will be critical. Marcomms professionals have an opportunity to raise awareness and understanding of climate change and inform public discourse, voting decisions and policy signals through their work. Let’s use our skills for the better and take a science-first approach.

Mitali Mukherjee is the director for journalist programmes at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University. The Institute’s ‘Climate Change News Audiences: Analysis of News Use and Attitudes in Eight Countries’ study is available for marketers here.

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