Communicating climate change adaptation
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Communicating climate change adaptation

By Alice Wojcik

This practical “how-to” guide introduces the concept of values-based climate change communication for adaptation. It provides clear, concise summaries of the principles of engagement, combined with practical examples of how public bodies in Scotland can use and tailor these principles in their work.

The guide is primarily aimed at staff within public bodies who want to communicate more effectively on climate change adaptation within their workplace, to external stakeholders and to members of the public. However, it will also be of use to those in the private sector, third sector and other communities who need to communicate the challenge of climate change adaptation.

The text below is a summary of the principles in the guide.

  • Pay close attention to your audience’s values: Values are the bedrock on which attitudes to climate change are built. Use a values map to help identify the values of your audience that you want to engage with.
  • Frame your messages in the right way: Look for the overlap between the values that are important to your target audience and values such as “protecting the environment” and “helping others” that are crucial for building longer-term support for tackling climate change. Frame your messages so that they build a bridge between the values of the audience and the values of a more sustainable society.
  • Overcome the “psychological distance” of climate change: Who are you trying to engage with? What are the things they are passionate about? How can you make climate change adaptation relevant to their lives? Identify the interests of your audience and think about how climate change affects them.
  • Don’t focus on “doom and gloom”: Emphasising the benefits of climate adaptation policies is much more effective than pointing to the risks of not adapting.
  • Extreme weather can be a powerful opportunity to engage on climate change: Use sever weather as an opportunity to discuss preparing for future events and emphasise the benefits of adaptation using the powerful narratives of resilience, community pride and mutual caring that often emerge during the experience of severe weather events. 
  • Promote the health benefits of adapting to climate risks: Connecting climate change with health problems which are already familiar and seen as important – such as heat-stroke, hypothermia or asthma – can make the issue seem more personally relevant.
  • Try to engage across the political spectrum: Scepticism about climate change is more common among political conservatives. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Use language and “narratives” that have been designed to appeal to the “right”, as well as the “left” of politics – for example by focusing on conserving the beauty of the countryside or improving the health and wellbeing of communities.
  • Harness the power of social norms and social networks: Representatives of diverse social communities can communicate with their own groups better than any politician or public figure. People respond well when they see that “people like them” are also taking climate adaptation seriously. Promote social norms on climate change wherever possible. 

Source: weADAPT.


Clarke, J. and Corner, A. (2014). Communicating climate change adaptation. Adaptation Scotland and Climate Outreach.


Photo: In May 2020, communities around Uganda’s western Rwenzori mountains “found themselves facing a twin humanitarian emergency of Covid-19 and large-scale destruction caused by flash floods when the banks of the Nyamwamba and Mubuk rivers burst,” according to Climate Centre, which took this photo.

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