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New APCO study affirms climate crisis is the world’s top concern—poor communication may be to blame for lack of action

by | Dec 5, 2023 | Public Relations

Whether or not you believe it’s being caused by man, it’s clear that the climate crisis is steadily getting worse—but not a lot is being done to address it by businesses, politicians or communities. Sure, most are embracing initiatives like sustainability and net-zero goals, but we all know the pace of the threat is far swifter than our meager efforts to combat it. And the polarizing politicization notwithstanding, it’s becoming clear that the communication around climate change is a big part of the problem. 

The verdict is in—climate change is the biggest emergency for people around the world, according to the inaugural global Climate Action Confidence Tracker from advisory and advocacy communications consultancy APCO Worldwide. But even among those who strongly support action, people are divided on how to address the issue. And this may be because of the vagueness of the terminology used in discussions about climate change. 

New APCO study affirms climate crisis is world’s top concern—communication may be to blame for lack of action

A key finding of the new research, conducted in partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), is that there’s a notable gap in understanding common terms related to climate action points—and a vocal demand for clearer language, transparent performance and accountability frameworks is necessary to overcome this important first hurdle. 

New APCO study affirms climate crisis is world’s top concern—communication may be to blame for lack of action

Key findings of the survey include:

  • Climate change dominates global concerns. In a resounding revelation, 40 percent of individuals globally ranked climate change as their top concern.
  • Business and technology are vital to meet climate targets. A significant 70 percent of respondents agreed on the crucial role of scaling up business innovation and technology to meet Paris Agreement climate targets. This underscores the perceived importance of the private sector in driving sustainable solutions.
  • Demand for clarity and transparent frameworks is urgently needed. Far from a feeling of “climate fatigue,” nearly 60 percent agreed that they do not hear enough from organizations or prominent individuals talking about climate change.
  • Choose incentives over penalties to accelerate business climate action. Opinions diverged on incentivizing good behavior or imposing penalties to accelerate business action. However, the majority agreed that the countries that cause the most greenhouse gas emissions should pay more to fix the problem.
  • Employee loyalty is linked to corporate climate responsibility. The survey found that employees would be more loyal to and willingly recommend companies championing climate action, emphasizing the importance of corporate responsibility in retaining and attracting talent.

As COP 28 kicks off in Dubai, understanding and leveraging public sentiment is vital to shape government and business actions and communication strategies, and to gain support for inevitable trade-offs needed to meet climate targets. This study measured perception on progress toward climate goals, the contributions of different actors to the goals, and the importance of climate communication in building support for further action.

New APCO study affirms climate crisis is world’s top concern—communication may be to blame for lack of action

Fewer than half of the public understands terminology surrounding climate change

There is an enormous opportunity for governments and companies to bring the public with them as they reconfigure their economies and business models to meet key climate-change targets. The public and private sectors are at a time-sensitive, critical moment, with the chance to reframe how they talk about their climate actions to be more inclusive of nonexperts.

“As the science tells us, it’s becoming increasingly urgent to do something about climate change together, as citizens of the planet,” APCO founder and executive chair Margery Kraus said, in a news release. “But it is also clear our efforts to do so are falling far short. Now comes the hard part: garnering the financial and technological resources to implement change and communicating effectively to motivate buy-in from all stakeholders. This survey shows we need a more honest and open debate across all parts of society if we are to tackle the greatest challenge of our time.”

Communication emerges as a particularly important factor, as public support for climate-related actions increases significantly when better informed

Executing decarbonization strategies is complex and costly, requiring strategic vision, bold action and clear communication among all stakeholders. Common, standardized and transparent frameworks are required to help track and communicate company performance on climate-related issues to the public.

New APCO study affirms climate crisis is world’s top concern—communication may be to blame for lack of action

“The consumer signal identified by this survey is clear: a common and transparent framework that helps society to easily recognize and reward ambitious climate-related business performance and accountability would be greatly welcomed,” said Dominic Waughray, executive vice president at WBCSD, in the release.

Other findings of the survey include:

  • There’s a level of optimism among people that the world will achieve climate-related targets—55 percent say they feel reaching global net zero targets by 2050 is definitely or probably achievable—but this level of confidence varies widely among regions.
  • Certain regions within the developing world have emerged as the most optimistic on net zero targets. By contrast, Europe is the only region in which fewer than half of people believe in the achievability of global net zero targets.
  • The public sees international organizations (53 percent) and nongovernmental organizations (52 percent) as doing enough. But the public says only 39 percent of large companies and 43 percent of their own governments are doing enough to progress toward 2050 net zero targets.
  • There’s strong buy-in to the concept of avoided emissions, but only if there’s an objective standard of measurement. Nearly three of four people say that they agree that avoided emissions measures feel like a good way to look at the impact companies have on the climate (73 percent).
  • Despite strong support for the idea of climate investments, the public does not support all types of tradeoffs in government spending. When presented with a list of potential tradeoff scenarios, the public shows the least support for reduced spending on health care (29 percent). On the other hand, public support for increased spending on climate-related initiatives is highest when it involves a tradeoff with defense spending (47 percent).
  • In every tradeoff scenario, informed people—whether evaluating spending by their government or their employer—indicated greater support than those not informed.
  • Employees show a similar inclination to support an increase in their companies’ climate investments when they are well informed. Nearly half of those who feel informed (47 percent) say they would support increased climate spending even if it means lower increases in salary, while only 33 percent of non-informed employees support this tradeoff.

Download the full report here.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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