Crunch time for business and government to communicate on climate 


  • Graham Reid, SVP, Head of Sustainability, UK


Graham Reid, SVP, Head of Sustainability 


It takes just a cursory browse through recent climate-related stories to understand that we are living through one of the most complex and conflicting periods for comms professionals, where even established and incontestable facts – like irrefutable climate science – can be challenged.


As we approach COP28, the challenges of effective climate communication intensify, and understanding the landscape is important.


Key climate narratives lay down gauntlet to government and business at COP28


Through analysis of over 1 million social conversations and news data points on climate topics, we wanted to better understand the dominant storylines – or narratives – in this space. It is a diverse and interconnected landscape [Fig. 1], where these narratives influence how stakeholders perceive corporate and government actions. We used AI to link together recurrent narratives and found three consistent threads in the climate crisis conversation. All three are charged with scrutiny and cynicism.


First, we saw a challenge to net-zero policies, asserting that policies are either meaningless, fraudulent, or both. Secondly, there is a clear narrative that corporate influence is impacting climate legislation (and not often for the better), and thirdly, a narrative that policymakers are overreaching on legislation – pushing a climate agenda where it isn’t warranted.


These narratives are important because they will be the context within which any announcements at COP28, or within the climate space, will be judged.


Yet another announcement to drive the cynicism?


It was interesting to see was how corporate and government communications on climate topics influence the conversation. In a highly divisive conversation landscape, we saw both the left and right sides of the debate co-opting any and all stories in media, simply to validate their own position on climate change.


What can brands do?


Corporations face a delicate balancing act. To effectively communicate on climate actions, they should consider these four recommendations:

  • Corporations are blamed for both complying with government mandates and for not lending support to ambitious climate policy. To generate positive engagement, focus on developing cooperative messages that reinforce a distinct role for each sector at industry level.
  • Pro-climate activists are demanding action and increasingly attacking corporates for greenwashing. Focus on demonstrating incremental progress against long-term goals to earn positive stakeholder engagement.
  • Turning down the volume on climate messaging opens-up accusations of green hushing. Position small wins and smart pivots as positive momentum and fodder for collective learning.
  • Extreme activists on both sides will always find a reason to attack corporate and government action. Assess the risks of all statements. Be prepared to mitigate criticism from entrenched views. Focus your effort on the ‘moveable middle’.

And what now for COP28?


It’s clear from this analysis that governments and businesses will need to play close attention not just to what they want to say, but also to arrive at the conference ready to listen.


For brands participating, effective communication means grasping the dual narratives and playing a convening role at COP28 and beyond. By demonstrating their value, fostering collaboration and sharing successes, they can make a meaningful impact in the climate calendar.