Communicating climate change: history, challenges, process and future directions

A synthesis of climate change communication methods and challenges that communicators face, including disbelief, self-interest and issue complexity.

This paper provides a history of climate change communication and discusses the challenges climate communicators face in explaining the issues; for instance, the distance the public feels between the causes and impacts and their personal lives. It focuses on the key aspects of communicating with people and gives suggestions for future methods of communication.

Key Takeaways:

  • Communication efforts need to discuss the techno-economic, environmental and moral intricacies and uncertainties of climate change more thoroughly.
  • Stronger signals, such as better leadership, uniform and steady messaging and public prioritization of climate change, need to be employed in order to emphasize the momentous challenge of climate change and the need for policy and behavior changes.
  • Climate communicators should develop compelling stories on how to help people see how their self-interests align with humanity’s and the Earth’s common fate.
  • If policy-makers and the public-at-large are to support a comprehensive climate policy, they need to understand the urgent nature and lack of an easy way out of the problem.
  • Communicating to bring about changes in social norms and cultural values, if accompanied by supportive policy, infrastructure, pricing signals and technological changes, can have more far-reaching effects than communication efforts that focus on facilitating behavioral and political engagement.
  • Behavioral changes can only occur if communication efforts are accompanied by policy and structural changes.
  • Communication efforts need to be continually tested and evaluated so that they may be updated to keep up with the changing needs of audiences.


Date: 2010
Authors: Susanne Moser
Organization: WIREs Climate Change
Strategic Approach: Audiences, Engagement, Framing
Organization: WIREs Climate Change
Strategic Approach: Audiences, Engagement, Framing

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