Why is communicating climate change adaptation so challenging?

The climate change adaptation field is filled with innumerable reports, articles, projects, even visuals and movies. Yet it still remains a difficult issue to grasp for general audiences, mainly due to a lack of understanding and good communication. What do we really need to say about adaptation, why, and to whom? What is the best way to reach different audiences and to communicate while still avoiding fear or fatigue? In other words, how to communicate a topic that is inherently full of uncertainties? 


These are the main questions raised during a workshop held by the BEE team at the SUSCO Youth Forum in Budapest on 6 October 2015, with the participation of young environmental researchers.


Our strategy was learning by doing, that is to talk as little as possible and provide a “real life” experience to the participants. We kicked off the workshop by declaring a potential state of emergency in a fictive town, caused by an imminent colder than ever winter.


Participants were divided into groups representing local decision makers, industry, business, and civil society. Their main task was to develop a communication plan in anticipation of the potential emergency, which was to cover both internal and external communication aspects, target audiences, core messages, and communication channels. They also had to prepare for a short TV interview, which was recorded on the spot. By their nature, all of the groups had different interests and goals, with their task made more interesting by each group receiving individual ‘classified’ information about the upcoming weather event and their organization.


After each group presented their plan and all TV interviews were reviewed, we opened the floor to discussions on this fresh experience. Besides critically reflecting on the group work, we raised several key issues, pros and cons, dos and don’ts when it comes to communicating in times of crisis.


The exercise helped to highlight to the workshop participants the importance of communication planning, but also its realization challenges. While most groups did well at the strategic level, the interviews and presentations remained a challenge for most of them. In other words, execution proved far more difficult than simply planning. In the fictive world of the workshop, the uncertainties inherent in the scenario, in addition to the very different motives of the different groups, brought the reality of climate change adaptation communication to light.


BEE team:

Linda Juhász-Horváth, Gyula Gábor Tóth (facilitators), Dénes Fellegi (videographer)