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Reports & guides | 26 May 2022

‘Fairness’ in UK climate advocacy: a user’s guide

With the cost of living soaring, questions about what is ‘fair’ in climate policy are more important than ever before. Have a look at our new guide’s 8 principles for communicating fairness in the context of UK policy.

One of the driving factors influencing whether citizens support climate policies is whether they view them as fair. The good news is there is more shared ground around what people think about fairness than may sometimes seem to be the case. But fairness does mean different things to different communities, and can be a polarised and highly emotionally-charged concept. Climate advocates must navigate this complex terrain with authenticity and empathy to avoid derailing not just individual campaigns but also wider public support for the low-carbon transition.

This new guide builds on our previous work on the key theme of fairness, and provides climate campaigners and advocates with 8 evidence-based, practical principles for communicating around fairness in the context of UK climate policy. 

This work is based on Britain Talks Climate, which is grounded in More in Common’s Core Beliefs model. We are grateful to the Samworth Foundation and John Ellerman Foundation for their support of our Climate Engagement Lab programme, which produced this guide.

Several members of our team shared key insights from the guide, with a guest introduction by Chris Venables from the Green Alliance.

This guide recommends that climate campaigners and advocates:

1. Ensure fairness is embedded in campaign planning and development 

Fairness is too charged and fundamental an issue, and the pitfalls of getting it wrong are too great, for it to be dealt with as an afterthought. While not every policy change can – or even necessarily should – be fair to everyone, successful communications need to understand and attempt to empathise with different perspectives from the off . In particular, big differences exist between left- and right-leaning audiences’ perceptions of what fairness really means .

2. Find out whether your campaign messages will be perceived as fair, and by whom

What people think about ‘fairness’ in the abstract can be extremely complicated and messy, but it is likely to be more defined when reacting to specific ideas and proposals. Ask not only the campaign’s intended audiences, but also people who may not so readily agree, what they think about what is being called for, in practice. Left- and right-leaning audiences often have different perceptions of whether fair means treating people differently according to their circumstances, or treating them the same. 

3. Call for local and national governments to give people a meaningful say in how policies are designed and who they benefit

Evidence from citizens’ juries and public assemblies shows that an engaged public that has been genuinely listened to is more likely both to support climate action and to feel that it has been devised in a fair way. If possible, advocates could model this approach to participation in their own campaign development, perhaps by building in mini citizens’ juries.

4. Don’t duck the difficulties that some people may face during the transition, but ‘pass the mic’ to trusted messengers who can reach audiences and communities that activists cannot 

Many audience segments, particularly those that feel that governments and elites don’t work in their interests, don’t trust rosy, abstract promises of a ‘fair transition’. Allow real and tangible benefits to be described by diverse voices that represent ‘people like me’, who are able to bring to life climate impacts, empathise with the fears about net zero policies and authentically speak to how those policies are in fact benefiting them. 

5. Ground communications in commonly held views that the less well-off should pay less, and future generations matter

Use areas of consensus to create fairness messages that will appeal to a wide audience. 

6. Present the potential for the climate transition to act as a counter to the unfairness of life in Britain today

Many net zero policies, like insulating the homes of the fuel poor, can be presented as a way to address inequality. 

7. Be aware that the British public does not instinctively share the same sense of deep unfairness that drives climate justice campaigners 

People are, however, open to many of the key principles that lie behind climate justice analysis. Countering this is likely to require focusing on awareness raising around how, and why, climate change has a disproportionate impact on certain groups. 

8. Position accelerated UK action and leadership as something we should be proud of, no matter what countries like China or India are doing 

Net zero opponents often describe UK action as ‘unfair’ if others aren’t pulling their weight. But the impetus to move away from Russian gas will help position more renewables, insulating homes and reducing energy waste as in the national interest. This will particularly appeal to highly patriotic audience segments such as Loyal Nationals and Backbone Conservatives.

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