Those advocating for a fossil fuel phase out and fair energy transition must scale up efforts to tell a new story about the benefits of a fossil fuel-free world and how we get there. On behalf of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, Climate Access produced the Phase Out Fossil Fuel and Fast Track Clean Energy playbook series for India, Kenya, the Philippines, Brazil, and the United States. Climate Access partnered with the Climate Narratives Initiative to produce a similar playbook for Canada. The playbook series provides guidance on how to talk about climate change, fossil fuel threats and the need for a fair energy transition.
Overall trends from the research:
The playbooks were informed by public opinion research conducted in 2020 and 2021, media articles from regional and national outlets published in 2021, message testing via social media. Across India, Kenya, the Philippines, Brazil, Canada and the US, our public opinion analysis revealed that most people are concerned about climate change and support the development of renewable energy sources. However, views are split on the need to move away from fossil fuels and the connections between extreme weather, air pollution and fossil fuels are not being made. Individuals across the six regions are concerned about rising energy costs, but often see fossil fuels as a necessary part of an energy transition. Additionally, people don’t believe that the fossil fuel industry’s influence can be reduced. There are also key country-based distinctions across the media landscape. The media analysis showed that in India, air pollution, heat waves, and related health risks are frequently covered, but the connections to fossil fuels are not being made.
Key differences emerged in terms of how people perceive the issue and the path forward. In Kenya’s media coverage, Liquefied Natural Gas is positioned as a sustainable solution, rather than a fossil fuel that needs to be phased out. In Brazil, climate change is largely discussed through the lens of how it will impact the Amazon, biodiversity and oceans. Among the countries included in the research, those in the Global South exhibited particularly high levels of climate concern, yet report having low levels of climate literacy. For example, in India, 84 percent say they are somewhat or very worried about climate change but only 42 percent say they know a lot or a moderate amount about the topic. In the Philippines, there is limited support for an energy transition, with just a quarter of the population supporting a move away from fossil fuels. In Canada, a majority of the public wants to reduce fossil fuels (between 60-68% depending on the polling source), yet support for oil and gas production remains strong in regions with significant fossil fuel industries. There is also lukewarm support among Americans for climate and energy policies that address inequities, yet it’s important to note that the equitable transition frame resonates well with climate activists in the US.
In message testing, a positive vision of a path away from fossil fuels resonated with audiences. Messages around extreme weather were also compelling and connected with people’s personal experiences. Another top-performing frame emphasized a move away from oil and gas in a way that is equitable and just to workers and communities. Air pollution and health messages tested well across all of the countries, but particularly well in India where individuals are acutely facing air quality threats. However, messages that focused on negative industry accountability, specifically those that positioned the fossil fuel industry as a villain responsible for climate disaster, drove low levels of engagement in Brazil, India, the Philippines, and the U.S., with slightly higher resonance in Kenya.
Dominant industry narratives:
The fossil fuel industry claims that oil, gas, and coal will continue to be necessary long into the future and that renewable energy is not yet available or reliable. By positioning itself as essential for jobs and the economy, the industry asserts that it is contributing to a positive future and that expansion must take place to meet energy and economic needs. By declaring that they are part of the climate solution, fossil fuel companies promote net zero pledges despite being based on unproven, expensive technological approaches to cutting emissions that are not on scale with the size of the problem.
TIP: Avoid using the term “big fossil fuel companies.” Focus on how it is an industry facing an inevitable end that can no longer have license to produce the three products driving the climate emergency - oil, gas and coal.
A message triangle can help guide you to create a story that sticks. This tactic helps to keep things simple amidst the noise and connect the dots between what people care about and what can be done.
The Benefits (opportunity to create a fossil fuel-free world):
Lead with, or incorporate, a positive vision of a world without fossil fuels where people have access to clean, reliable and affordable energy and healthy lives. Elevate the availability, affordability and reliability of clean energy and low-carbon technologies and provide examples of how the transition is already underway.
Challenge (imperative for action):
Fossil fuels pollute our air and water and threaten public health, including workers and communities living near its production. Make the link between air pollution, climate change, fossil fuels and health as an imperative for action. Another challenge is the lack of access to energy is holding people and communities back from reaching their full potential. This could be framed in terms of meeting economic needs in the Global South as well as individuals in the Global North who face high energy cost burdens. Emphasize that fossil fuels are not needed for development or to meet energy needs given the low cost and availability of clean, renewable energy.
There are enough fossil fuels already in production to support us through a transition and enough renewable energy capacity in every part of the world to deliver global, energy, health and climate security. We don’t need more oil, gas, and coal to support us through the transition. The window of opportunity to act is still open according to scientists but it requires action starting now. This is a crossroads moment to make this choice. Put pressure on the Global North to do its fair share to accelerate a shift to clean, renewable energy and weed out the threat of oil, gas, and coal. Showcase the momentum underway already by elevating stories of local resistance into a larger, global call to action.
Countries have plans for expansion that would lock in two times the amount of climate pollution then the levels needed to have a safe climate so we're building out more of the problem. Highlight why fossil fuel companies cannot be trusted and why government accountability is needed. It’s also essential to elevate how the fossil fuel industry creates conflict wherever it goes and the global security risk related to fossil fuels that are currently funding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Amplify that it’s not an energy transition if fossil fuel-producing countries keep growing the problem.
Make the benefits of action tangible and emphasize that they outweigh the costs of inaction. One way of making this clear is to provide examples of how the transition is already underway and gaining momentum around the world. Point out the need for a plan to achieve global, energy, climate and economic security while protecting nature and health. Link these concepts together that we can deliver this type of security, take action on climate and benefit economically. Recognize the role that the global community must play in accepting their responsibility for the climate crisis as well as offering support for nations making the transition.