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Our research, in collaboration with the University of Cardiff, revealed two narratives about climate change that elicited broad agreement across the political spectrum and reduced scepticism amongst centre-right participants: a focus on avoiding waste as a critical part of saving energy, and patriotic support for the UK’s flourishing low-carbon energy technologies. In contrast, ‘climate justice,’ which is a compelling narrative for many on the centre-left, does not resonate well with the centre-right.
Our press release below provides more information on this new study.
Accompanying this peer-reviewed study is a new practical guide, in collaboration with The Climate Coalition, which provides language to use and avoid to engage people from across the political spectrum.
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‘Great British Energy’ could fuel conservatives’ passion for climate change action

New peer-reviewed study pinpoints climate language that appeals to centre-right voters

Using language around “Great British Energy” could become a valuable tool for climate change communicators to inspire and engage people right across the political spectrum. A new study by Cardiff University and Climate Outreach reveals that language around British low-carbon energy technologies and the idea of avoiding waste resonates strongly with people of right-of-centre political views. Click here to view the article (valid until 1 March 2017).

The peer-reviewed study, authored by Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh of Cardiff University and Dr Adam Corner of Climate Outreach, involved over 2,000 people from across the political spectrum. It finds key uses of language which resonated with everyone, particularly those with centre-right values:

  • patriotic support for the UK’s flourishing low-carbon energy technologies, and
  • a focus on avoiding waste as a critical part of saving energy.

Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh says: “This is the first study to explore how different ways of talking about climate change can engage different voter groups in the UK. It shows that the language we use really matters to either encourage or discourage discussion about tackling climate change.”

Dr Adam Corner, Research Director of Climate Outreach, comments: “At a time when political polarisation and division is growing, climate change is increasingly still seen as a ‘left wing issue.’ This makes it difficult to build support for climate change among people who are politically conservative.”

Professor Corinne Le Quéré FRS, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and Professor of Climate Change Science and Policy at the University of East Anglia comments on the research: "Climate change affects everyone. It is critical that the risks and opportunities are understood by all of society, so that effective responses can be put in place. This new research on how to engage across political spectra could greatly help engage society more broadly, to everyone's benefit."

The research was carried out in two parts. The narratives around climate change focusing on ‘Great British Energy’ and ‘avoiding waste’ were derived from a series of in-depth discussion groups with centre-right individuals across the UK, plus previous research from Climate Outreach. Then, a large-scale survey of over 2,000 people compared these centre-right narratives with a more typical environmentalist narrative focused on the concept of 'climate justice.’

The centre-right narratives actually elicited broad agreement from across the political spectrum and, more importantly, significantly reduced scepticism among centre-right participants. Meanwhile, the 'climate justice' narrative polarised audiences along political lines and was only endorsed by those on the left.

“The left-wing narrative around climate justice is one which dominates the global debate around climate change, so it is perhaps not surprising that conservatives feel disengaged,” adds Adam Corner. “Fairness and justice is a good way of motivating some people, but our research suggests that to reach people on the right of the political spectrum more effectively, communicators should focus on ideas like avoiding wastefulness in energy use and a patriotic sense of investment in the energy system. The sooner communicators can connect with what people really care about, the sooner we can take this issue out of the research lab and into our daily conversations.”

“Tools for a new climate conversation: A mixed-methods study of language for public engagement across the political spectrum,” by Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh and Dr Adam Corner is published in Global Environmental Change, Volume 42, January 2017, Pages 122–135.

For further information and images please email leane.delaigue@climateoutreach.org.

Media contacts

Cardiff University - Julia Short, Communications & Marketing: Tel: 02920 875596,
Email: ShortJ4@cardiff.ac.uk

Climate Outreach - Leane de Laigue, Head of Communications: Tel +44 (0) 1865 403 172, Email: leane.delaigue@climateoutreach.org

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework ranked the University 5th in the UK for research excellence. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University Chancellor Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise encompasses: the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences; and the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering, along with a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff’s flagship Research Institutes are offering radical new approaches to pressing global problems. www.cardiff.ac.uk

Climate Outreach are climate change communication specialists, bridging the gap between research and practice and helping to widen engagement across a broader spectrum of society. A charitable company, Climate Outreach was founded in 2004 to increase public understanding and awareness of climate change. Visit www.climateoutreach.org

The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research is an active partnership between the Universities of East Anglia (headquarters), Cambridge, Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford, Southampton, and Sussex. It conducts research on how to respond to climate change and is committed to promote informed and effective dialogue across society about the options to manage our response to climate change. www.tyndall.ac.uk

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