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Blog: Climate Outreach Inspiration at the UN

By George Marshall on June 4, 2015

Full-size UN logo

It’s a little daunting to be billed as the “inspirational speaker”: a title guaranteed to create performance anxiety! I gave it my best – trying, despite a heavy cold, to be enthusiastic and entertaining as I shared Climate Outreach’s communications research with over a hundred national delegates at the climate negotiations in Bonn on 2 June.

It was a huge honour – and genuinely a surprise – to be invited by the United Nations Secretariat to open two days of intergovernmental discussions on Article 6 of the Climate Convention. This calls on governments to “implement educational and awareness programs, public participation and training”.

Article 6 was long disregarded: an appendix to the guts of a treaty about reducing emissions. However, as the process crawled into its third decade with painfully slow progress, negotiators came to accept that progress can only be built on the background support of a public who understand, care, and demand political action climate change.

Article 6 is still largely focused on formal education and training. No one could doubt that scientific understanding and technical skills are important. But, I argued, these are not sufficient to motivate people to support strong action. I introduced Climate Outreach’s perspective: that we need to generate nationally distinctive and socially shared climate stories. These should be built on people’s values and experiences, and support a positive vision of a better society. People must feel, I said, looking at the name plaques around the room, that we act on climate change because that is who we are here in India, Philippines, Dominican Republic, Poland.

Article 6 still has a long way to go. The first step is to drop its technical heading and find a fresh identity. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres is encouraging everybody to propose new names – something pithy and appropriate. So send us your suggestions and we will pass them on, or tweet them with hashtag #article6. It’s your chance for UN immortality!

In this short video shot at the UN, George shares some of his thinking about climate silence and what we can do about it.  

By George Marshall

George is the co-founder of Climate Outreach and now works as an independent consultant. He has 35 years experience at all levels of communications and advocacy – from community level protest movements, to senior positions in Greenpeace and the Rainforest Foundation, to advisory roles for governments, businesses and international agencies. He is an award winning documentary maker and writes regularly on climate change issues including articles for The Guardian, The New Statesman, New Scientist and The Ecologist.

He is also the author of two books, Carbon Detox (Hamlyn Gaia, 2007) and Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, listed by Esquire as one of the ’15 essential books on climate change’. Go to George’s Wikipedia page for more information about him.

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