The impact of Covid-19 on climate change engagement

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In recent blogs, I’ve focussed on my work with the Environmental Working Group of The Consultation Institute and the need for a clear strategy.

In the time that we’ve been planning our work, Covid-19 has changed everything, and it’s certainly had a significant impact on discussions about climate change.  The points below show just a few ways in which climate change engagement strategies have been impacted.

  • A better understanding of adaptation and mitigation: in very little time we learnt to adapt (work from home) and mitigate (wear a face mask), and we did so generally successfully
  • An ability to accommodate new priorities: where society acknowledges the acute need to act, drastic measures can be implemented in a short period of time.
  • Changed attitudes: because of the severity of the situation and because people have had time to reflect, there is a renewed appreciation of aspects of life such as community and open spaces.
  • Fresh views of decision-makers: Covid-19 has changed our view of governments and their role in society, mostly in a constructive way.  Research carried out in March showed massively improved approval ratings for Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, Scott Morrison and even Donald Trump.  With heightened popularity, these leaders have a real opportunity to inspire and motivate on climate change mitigation.  And it’s not just world leaders – the same is true at a local level, with more trust for local authorities.
  • New opinion-formers: doctors and medical professionals are the new heros. Globally, they are calling on world leaders to ensure a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis and they will be listened to.
  • The benefit of clear messaging: Covid-19 shows that with clear, tangible communications and direction, people will respond. And this is not unseen in an environmental context – recycling, and a reduction in use of plastic bags, coffee cups and straws is an example of this.
  • Changing flows of information: media coverage issues such as climate change will always fluctuate in relation to the news agenda – as this data shows very clearly;  but that does not mean that it is of any less concern in individuals’ minds.
  • New ways of working together: from the Oak National Academy providing educational resources across the country, to communities showing their appreciation for carers on a Thursday night, we have worked together in many different ways.
  • Changed forms of communication: while community meetings are not possible at the moment, as we’re all demonstrating now, people quickly find ways to adapt.
  • ‘Collective efficacy’ can be effective:  the public response to Covid-19 has shown that people can act together in response to an external threat. This could be used to demonstrate that individual change is a crucial part of wider systemic change.
  • A warning about the vulnerability of society: according to an article in The Lancet, The Covid-19 pandemic should be a wake-up call that our global economy is far less robust to shocks than we have become accustomed to believing.
  • The ultimate outcome:  we now know that we can have cleaner water, less air pollution and that people can be encouraged to use more sustainable forms of transport.

Finally, a new IPSOS poll conducted in 14 countries found that 71% of adults globally agree that, in the long term, climate change is as serious a crisis as Covid-19 is. What better mandate could we have for pressing ahead with climate change engagement strategies? 

For anyone planning to engage on climate change – especially those who put in place a strategy prior to the coronavirus crisis – it’s also very important to understand how these factors have changed the environment for discussions, not only now but in the years to come.

If you’d like to find out more about the Environmental Working Group, view the web pages here or contact me directly.

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