Research Paper
Communication Working Group

Proven Principles of Effective Climate Change Communication

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Climate change is a complex, interdisciplinary issue, and effectively communicating climate change requires combatting misinformation and reaching across divides to engage people in action.

The Communication Working Group of the Commission on Accelerating Climate Action developed 12 principles for effective climate change communication, ranging from communicating consensus on climate change to framing climate change as an in-group issue. Using examples from across the media landscape, the two publications of this working group highlight needed changes to the ways that climate is discussed broadly. 

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American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Table of Contents

Communication Working Group White Paper

12 Climate Change Communication Principles

Principle 1: Prioritize a Climate Frame in News

Example 1: Using a climate frame to communicate about a heatwave
Example 2: Commitment by New England Journal of Medicine Group

Principle 2: Communicate Consensus

Example 1: Graphically communicating climate consensus
Example 2: Communicating consensus through a pictograph
Example 3: Dramatizing climate consensus
Example 4: Communicating consensus through analogy

Principle 3: Change Social Norms

Example 1: Opower’s use of social norms to incentivize reductions in energy use

Principle 4: Overcome the Spiral of Silence (If You Believe It, Say It)

Example 1: Actively engaging reporters and the media

Principle 5: Emphasize Nonscientific Identities

Example 1: Emphasizing a familial identity—Science Moms

Principle 6: Frame Climate Change as an In-Group Issue

Example 1: Emphasizing a shared cultural/political identity—New Climate Voices

Principle 7: Make Messages Locally Relevant

Example 1: Using a credible source to highlight local impact
Example 2: Providing tools to help meteorologists localize
Example 3: Providing broadcast meteorologists with educational resources

Principle 8: After Priming an Accuracy Motivation, Encourage Audiences to Draw Their Own Conclusions

Example 1: Engaging audiences through role-playing and simulation

Principle 9: Combine Hope with Actions

Example 1: Deploying a problem-solution narrative structure—Good Morning America

Principle 10: Help People Take Action Themselves

Example 1: Identifying individual action
Example 2: Identifying adaptive action—The risk-response frame

Principle 11: Demand Accountability

Example 1: Reaching audiences in an unanticipated venue

Principle 12: Encourage Commitments in the Form of Accountable Climate Action Plans

Example 1 (corporate): Greenhouse Gas Protocol
Example 2 (municipal): Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy
Example 3 (non-profit): American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment
Example 4 (health care): Health Care Sector Climate Pledge
Example 5 (accountability): Global Fossil Fuel Divestment Commitments Database
Example 6: Tying personal to institutional accountability