Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR
“Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah, blah, blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah.”
Greta Thunberg’s statement about global leaders' promises to address the climate emergency and sustainability issues is accurate – they’re words that sound great but haven’t led to concrete action. It’s surprising because the cost of doing nothing is greater than preparing for the climate emergency now, but the urgency and need to act on these issues haven’t been communicated well enough.
We don’t need to wait for complex scientific reports or conferences to communicate about climate change and sustainability issues. The latest release from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report gained significant attention from global media outlets – for the first time in its 33-year history. Yet by waiting 33 years, the report’s seriousness has been watered down and the risks of living in a world hotter than 2°C still appear like a distant reality.
But why is the media waiting for the release of a complex scientific report to communicate about these issues? Albeit an incredible source of truth, the report was written for 195 world leaders to agree to climate science facts before engaging in negotiations at the United Nations. It wasn’t written for any other audience and especially not the general public.
One could argue the report received attention this year because public perception and awareness about sustainability have increased, but it was also the first time in the IPCC’s history that human activity was stated as the leading cause of global warming. The communications about COP26 are easier to engage with, but again, the language is complex and conservative.
We can’t assume the overly positive “there’s still time” narrative will inspire change. Arguably that narrative has downplayed the importance of the global issues we face, and too much positivity has brought about complacency. We need to remain hopeful, but we need to tell complete truths about the disastrous situation millions of people face, and will increasingly face, every day.
Everything must be done to prevent crossing 2°C of global warming.
We need to engage those who know how to communicate the best. The full power of corporate lobbying, marketing, and PR agencies should be shouting about the radical action that’s needed to transform our world. Obviously, action has to match talk, but we need to hear from diverse regional voices and opinions to understand what’s happening (and what’s not), engage wider audiences, and push the boundaries to create change.
There can’t be an expectation or perception that climate change and sustainability are reserved for intellectuals who read large, lengthy reports or scientific articles. Equally, ‘snappy social media’, where topics are reduced to one-liners and comebacks, don’t get the right message across either.
We have less than 10 years to address these hugely complex, systemic issues. So let’s not make it so difficult to understand that everyone gets confused and disengages.