We recently released ‘Young Voices’, a major new report looking at young people’s attitudes to climate change. Supported by the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics, it is the first study to ask young people themselves how to engage their peers more effectively, and to propose and test new climate change narratives specifically designed to engage 18-25 year olds.

As part of this report, we also produced our first ever podcast. It includes recordings of real life young voices offering illuminating comments on how campaigners could do a better job of connecting with this age group.

Commenting on the study, Dr Adam Corner, Climate Outreach’s Research Director, said:

Our research suggests that many young people care deeply and passionately about climate change. However, there has been a collective failure to talk to young people about climate change in a way that inspires them. Too many assumptions have been made by communicators, which haven’t been tested. Working directly with young people we have been able to trial a series of narratives about climate change, providing valuable insights for anyone interested in improving communication about climate change with this group.

The findings revealed that many current climate engagement strategies may be failing to reach young people.

Some of the key findings and recommendations from the report include:

  • For young people, climate change is fundamentally about the ‘here and now’ – describing the effect it will have on future generations, as campaigners and scientists often do, undermines the urgency of the problem.
  • Young people want to hear how climate change relates to (and will affect) those aspects of their everyday lives that they are passionate about - but communicators must take care not to ‘trivialise’ the issue by failing to link the ‘personal’ to the ‘political’.
  • Fighting organised scepticism is mostly seen as a waste of energy by young people – scepticism is relatively uncommon among the young and talking ‘solutions not science’ is a much better approach.
  • Young people often find it hard to talk about climate change with their peers - there was a fear that talking about climate change would set them apart as ‘preachy’ or ‘un-cool’.
  • There is widespread doubt that there is a ‘concerned majority’ among the general public who support action on climate change - communicating a ‘social consensus’ on climate action may be just as important as the scientific consensus.
  • Young people have very little faith in mainstream politicians – so it makes more sense to ask young people to challenge (not support) politicians on climate policies. Campaign messages should clearly set out what needs to be done – who, when, where and what young people can do to make a difference – and which policy prescriptions support this.
  • Climate jargon is unfamiliar and off-putting – phrases like ‘managing climate risks’, ‘decarbonisation’ and ‘2 degrees’ are seen as hollow and vague. People want to hear about specific policies and how these relate to protecting the things people love and are passionate about.

‘Young Voices’ uses Climate Outreach’s unique ‘Narrative Workshops’ method, which explores study participants' values, aspirations and views on climate change before formulating different ‘narratives’ for testing (short pieces of written text that use different language to describe climate change and climate policies). This allows careful attention to be paid to the words and phrases that people respond positively to, and provides a vehicle for building on the core values that underpin public engagement with climate change.

A longer version of this report, produced to inform the Grantham Institute's Communications Strategy for 2014/15, is also available. It includes a longer literature review, some additional data analysis, and a fuller description of the recruitment and workshop methodology, including further analysis of the role of participants’ values.


4 responses to “Research reveals current climate engagement strategies are failing to reach young people

  1. Having listened to George Marshall earlier this week as part of Manchester Science Festival, one could make a case for the main conclusions of this report applying to many more people than the 16-125 age group.Indeed it is hard to see anything specifically ‘youth’ in the responses ( on a personal level I have three children who sit in this age group as well)

    It may therefore be misleading to suggest that there is something specific that needs to be done in relation to climate change and young people.

    I have yet to read the whole report, but is there also a class/location/belief system/gender dimension that may link to or cut across the age related finding? George ‘s work from the USA seemed to suggest that these elements could be as strong if not stronger than the age focus.

  2. As the Time-Warped Tyrannosaur I’m aiming via my blog


    at the non-expert and perhaps younger audience on climate change.

    My strategy is – keep it clear, easy to read (average adult reading age in the UK is 9 years) and break things into very small parts.

    Good luck in your efforts, ‘Homo snackiens’….. I will eat you last!

  3. I highly appreciate the findings in this report. Climate change is becoming a serious factor in agricultural production especially to Ugandans whose economy depend largely on agriculture. Efforts really have to be done to have everyone play a role towards mitigating climate change in the countries.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *