Topics: Impacts and adaptation, General
Type: Collaborative publications
Publication date: 2017



Authors: Luke Bevan
Published: April 2017

Executive summary

NewspapersAn expert roundtable was held at 58 Princes Gate, Imperial College London, on the afternoon (14:30 to 21:00) of 16 January. It was organised as part of a three-month project funded by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Accelerator Grant.

The event, chaired by the Rt. Hon. Lord Deben, was an opportunity for researchers and practitioners to come together and take a strategic look over the current state of Climate Narratives in the UK, and discuss opportunities for future collaboration and research.

Key Findings

General Findings

  • There has been a great wealth of research into how to communicate climate change effectively and how audience segmentation can be best achieved.
  • There are many examples of small-scale public engagement studies however there has been little testing undertaken on a broad, large scale societal and geographical scales.
  • Fear of failure and a lack of political will has held back these kinds of efforts.
  • Overarching narratives[1] are likely unfeasible and incongruent with our understanding of the heterogeneous systems of values and perspectives that exist within wider society. However, there is definitely scope to increase the societal scale at which strategic narratives[2] are developed, tested and used; up from the community scale to the scales of values groups, such as faith-based organisations. Narratives with an appeal that overlaps audiences may have the power to facilitate cooperation and provide foundations for public support for climate mitigation policies.
  • Individuals and organisations need to be prepared to make mistakes that can be learned from as they create Strategic Narratives.
  • Often advice around climate communications has suggested linking climate change to other related issues, such as health or energy security; relating disparate themes is part of the power of narratives and facilitating engagement with audiences that may otherwise be uninterested in climate change is important. However, this may become problematic when the climate narrative begins to omit climate change altogether. Pragmatic advice on how this moral quandary about avoiding ‘climate by stealth’ whilst maintaining engagement in communications is urgently needed.

Specific Findings

  • Narratives around the falling cost of renewables may be gaining traction. However, they are not a panacea for gaining broad-based public support for investment in renewables and should be treated with a healthy caution.
  • The IPCC could reframe its work as reacting to the needs of decision makers, rather than reacting the problem of climate change itself.


  • There is a clear appetite for additional discussions in which the implicit assumptions of communications efforts can be properly debated and challenged in an interdisciplinary setting.  There is also the need to develop capacity and collaboration in the community across different disciplines.
  • A forum is needed to allow communicators and narrative practitioners to discuss processes, what works, difficult communications challenges and share salient research. A future workshop, in an informal setting with small-group discussions, was suggested ot be of use. However, progress in this field must proceed without periodic meet-ups being necessary and further funded research is required. 
  • Communicators should be aware of the need for a “Brexit-Positive” narrative around climate change.


  • Work urgently needs to be put into the development of methods for the testing of large-scale narrative development and subsequent well-strategised implementation of these and testing.  A focus is needed on what metrics to use to assess the effectiveness of different narratives over different timescales.
  • Research should be done into how different sectors and audiences view narratives, and the extent to which they can be determined to be effective.  Again the development of the relevant metrics to allow this to happen needs to be developed and longitudinal studies undertaken to assess resonance of different narratives amongst audiences.
  • What are the most effective narratives to engage with ‘brexit-voting’audiences? What are the values systems of these audiences in relation to climate change?

DownloadStrategic narratives in climate change roundtable report

The roundtable event and this report were organised as part of a three-month project funded by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Accelerator Grant.