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What I’ve learnt from a year at Climate Outreach

By Rachael Orr on February 1, 2024

Progress is imperfect but it’s still progress. Our CEO, Rachael Orr, shares her thoughts on her first year at Climate Outreach as we come up to our 20th anniversary. She reflects on where we’ve been, what our sector looks like and what our job is going to be in the coming decade.

Rachael Orr speaking at a report launch at Calouste Gulbenkian London office.
Photo credit: Lauren Armstrong

It’s been a WHOLE YEAR since I joined Climate Outreach!

And what a fantastic organisation it is. One of the real joys this year has been hearing this in my conversations with our partners and funders. “We love your work”, “we use your research all the time”, “the Britain Talks Climate research is the scaffolding for the sector”. It’s such a testament to the intelligence, insight and innovation of the staff, past and present.

When you join an organisation that’s already really well known and established, I think your main job is to keep thinking about what’s next. How can we build on what we’ve already done? How can we keep innovating? How do we build on our reputation?

Climate Outreach is 20 this year. A coming of age, if you will. Having spent a lot of time in the last year talking to my super team, to our wonderful trustees and to our stakeholders and donors about what we do next, I am more convinced than ever that one of our biggest tasks is listening and explaining.

We have a goldmine of brilliant research. But too much of it is hidden away in PDFs somewhere on our website. We need to get it out there. We need to get it to the people who need it – the people in all jobs and walks of life who are increasingly communicating about climate every day.

Climate Outreach was very astute in thinking in 2019 about how we better communicate with the centre right about climate change. That task has never been more important – if climate becomes a politicised issue, or seen as only something activists or people of the left care about, we don’t make the progress we need to. Again, we need to take the work we did at that time and see how we can develop, build on it, and use it.

It’s also been fascinating joining the ‘climate sector.’ It is a sector with so much passion and talent and energy and innovation.

But it is definitely a sector lacking in diversity. I’m a white middle class woman. The sector looks a lot like me. And we don’t really seem to be grappling with this. To be uncomfortable about it – to be asking ourselves difficult questions about what we really need to do about it. Other parts of the social sector that I’ve worked in and know about are. As a result, I think we still make climate very far away from people’s everyday lives. It isn’t. But talking to, listening to, being closer to, people from all walks of life, faiths and social backgrounds is absolutely critical in the coming years – and something we at Climate Outreach are absolutely intent on doing.

My other big reflection on joining this sector is that it is one where there is huge progress. I’m sure if you’ve spent decades working on climate change, and if you spend your days immersed in the science of how fast the world is warming, how bad these impacts are and how bad they could get, that must be really hard to see.

If you work on climate change and you are struggling to see progress, please go and talk to people working alongside refugees and people seeking asylum, or people experiencing homelessness or domestic violence or poverty. So much of their campaigning in the last decade has had to be pointed at stopping things that are already bad being even worse. And believe me, those wins have been really hard fought.

So I am very aware that progress on climate is very much imperfect progress. I know that we need far more ambition from everyone – starting, urgently, from governments. But there is progress everywhere you look.

In the coming year, Climate Outreach is going to be doing more to spotlight this progress. We want to seek out and share the stories of people, organisations, nations who are already doing great things – and especially where people are at the heart of this progress.

But my overriding feeling after a year at Climate Outreach is that our job in the coming decade is that we need to shift the topic of climate from ‘the thing’ to underpinning ‘everything.’ This is a story that has been told by scientists and activists. Now it needs to be told by all of us. That’s always been Climate Outreach’s mission – and something I’m really excited to build on in the coming years.

By Rachael Orr

Rachael is the CEO of Climate Outreach. She works closely with the board to ensure effective governance and growth of the organisation and with our senior leaders in defining and delivering the organisation’s overall strategy, goals and impact.

Rachael has spent her career in the voluntary sector in leadership roles combining a deep commitment to social justice and to public engagement. She has run campaigns for Shelter, led programme and campaigning work at Oxfam and currently serves as Chair of Trustees at the Refugee Council.

It was in her last role, leading a network of housing associations, that Rachael really appreciated the huge gap in public awareness and engagement on climate change – and the huge opportunity to fill this gap. Housing, like many sectors, is in a race to decarbonise, and the sector is still really developing its approach to community, resident and public engagement. Rachael firmly believes that Climate Outreach is uniquely placed to help many sectors fill this gap.

Rachael is a mum to two young children so most of her spare time is spent playing schools or superheroes – and tidying up. She spends any time she gets to herself running, cycling and going to the theatre.

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