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People’s everyday concerns should be at the heart of how local authorities talk about climate change

By Emma James on January 23, 2024

People walking on Bridlington beach in Yorkshire, England

Local councils are more trusted than national government and are closer to the reality of people’s everyday lives. That should make them great climate communicators and ambassadors – and over 300 local authorities have already declared climate emergencies.

At Climate Outreach, we can offer support to  local authorities who want to better engage with their staff and other audiences around climate change. 

Here’s what we’ve learned from running training on how councils can best reach and inspire people to be more connected to the climate conversation.

Introducing the Local Climate Engagement programme

Over the past two years, Climate Outreach, Involve, Shared Future and UK100 ran training on effective public engagement on climate change to 21 local authorities.

This programme involved training, mentoring and support, aiming to enable local authorities to deliver high quality climate engagement with the communities they know best. Making use of the lessons from the training, the participating local authorities engaged with their communities, including via online consultations, in-person workshops, meetings with community groups, pop-up stalls and community events. The engagement all centred around relevant local themes, such as nature restoration and insulating houses, which ground conversations about climate change in the reality of people’s everyday concerns. Protecting local environments resonates with people, as well as actions that help to reduce energy bills when cost of living concerns remain high.

Climate Outreach’s role was training participants on how to do great climate engagement, using our Britain Talks Climate’ toolkit. We focused on two key aspects of engagement we think local authorities need to get right:

  • Working with trusted messengers
  • Understanding your audience. 

Finding the right trusted messenger

40% of residents trust their council most to address the climate emergency and agree that they are best placed to take action on green issues.

Those figures aren’t bad compared to trust in other institutions, particularly national government. This gives local authorities the opportunity to inspire, inform and involve more people in the climate conversation. But, trust is critical for effective climate communication, so our training session helped local authorities to think about who else locally they can work with to be an even more impactful climate messenger – like local community organisations, peers, local businesses or faith groups who might hold the most trust in their community.

Understanding your audience

Local authorities also need to understand the values and identities of their audiences so they can reflect the reality of what local people care about and how climate stories fit in. Our years of research show that connecting empathetically to people’s values is what leads to meaningful engagement and trust. 

The Britain Talks Climate toolkit includes a host of insights into how to connect with the different values held by different audience segments in the UK. Local authorities (and everyone else) can use this toolkit to understand who they are speaking to, and to design communications that connect to values, leading to meaningful action on climate change. Along with this, local authorities need to get out and listen to people. Making use of the Britain Talks Climate toolkit, and getting involved in community conversation will help local authorities to really understand their audiences.

What we heard during the training sessions

Often, local authorities are communicating with many different people across their districts at once. Participants voiced the need for learning about the frames and messages that cut across different audiences. Climate Outreach shared insights into the climate stories that resonate across different audiences, including; protecting nature and wildlife, and positive messaging around health & wellbeing.

Participants also discussed the need for public engagement to be effectively resourced and championed internally. It needs to be built into funding bids to ensure there is dedicated time, capacity and resources. And, it needs to be championed at all levels of a council to encourage enthusiasm for driving this forward. 

What did the participating local authorities think?

We found the Britain Talks Climate toolkit and the seven segments a really interesting way of targeting climate communication to different audiences. The segmentation allowed us to really think about how there is no “one size fits all” when trying to communicate or change behaviours. Since the training we have started to look into whether we can apply climate segmentation to the West Midlands to help with our climate messaging.”

West Midlands Combined Authority

Since taking part in the programme, we are applying a “climate and nature lens” to our website content and editorial line. We have been referring – and referring local climate action groups – to the Climate Outreach Rural Attitudes to Climate Change report, to remind ourselves of the most effective language to use with our audience of rural parish and town councils and their residents."

Support Officer to Warwickshire & West Midlands Association of Local Councils

Invitation for bespoke support

We have a great deal of experience of working with local authorities, and we would be delighted to talk to you about how we can support you to develop an effective public engagement strategy going forward. Please get in touch via this form. Our team can offer consultancy services, and training on effective public engagement on climate change.

 

This project, named;Local Climate Engagement’ (LCE), was led by Involve and funded by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK branch) and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

One response to People’s everyday concerns should be at the heart of how local authorities talk about climate change

  1. Amy says: says:

    Hi there,

    Hope you are well. I’m reaching out as I’m interested in working with Climate Outreach to hone our Climate Engagement Strategy (due to be adopted in the next few weeks).

    I’d love to know more about the work you have done with Local Authorities over the last couple of years and to explore what opportunities there are to work together.

    Best wishes,
    Amy (Climate Engagement Officer at Merton Council)

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By Emma James

Emma joined Climate Outreach in December 2021 as a Researcher. This role focuses on helping to design and disseminate quantitative and qualitative social science research for various climate communicators including Local Authorities and Grassroots Campaigners. Emma is excited to combine research with public engagement as she loves learning from data and sharing climate change knowledge in a way that inspires action.

Emma completed an MSc International Environmental Studies degree at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Her thesis investigated the use of information as a policy instrument to encourage climate relevant behaviour. A BSc Physical Geography degree at Lancaster University and interning with the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation to research the SDGs are also part of her background. More recently, Emma worked on a climate change programme in local government.

Outside of work, Emma enjoys playing basketball and has played for National, University and Local leagues. If not playing basketball, Emma can often be found walking her dogs!

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