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New recommendations for communicating climate change welcomed by IPCC senior figure

As the world keenly watches for progress at the UN climate conference, the foremost scientific authority on climate change has emphasised the critical importance of communicating science effectively.

Published 5th November 2021

Dr Thelma Krug, vice chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says the organisation could explore storytelling techniques, give careful thought to language and framing in the Summary for Policymakers, provide training for scientists and consider a more sophisticated approach to social media.

Dr Krug also suggests a review of how the IPCC interacts with young people.

Dr Krug was commenting on a new Topical Collection in the Springer Nature journal Climatic Change showcasing the latest communications research and practice and its relevance to the IPCC.

The collection – launched at COP26 – brings insights and recommendations together in 16 articles representing 54 authors in 13 countries.

The diverse set of authors represents early career to established voices and climate communication expertise from across a broad range of disciplines including agriculture, anthropology, geography, media and journalism, psychology and sociology.

Writing in the Topical Collection, Krug says its articles “stress the importance of listening, dialogue and conversation”, and adds that the IPCC is “keen to listen to all those inside and outside the organisation who have expertise and guidance to share on communications”.

Guest editors Dr Saffron O’Neill, of the University of Exeter, and Dr Roz Pidcock, independent consultant and former head of communications for IPCC Working Group I, say the IPCC’s status as the global authority on climate change comes with “a responsibility to ensure the information is communicated effectively”.

“It’s wonderful to see the IPCC endorse and embrace the idea that communication should be based on science – and they seem ready to take up the challenge,” said Dr Pidcock, a writer, editor and climate change engagement specialist.

“We’d like to see the IPCC truly engage its growing audiences in a two-way conversation upstream of the reports being published,” said Dr O’Neill, who has researched climate communication for over a decade.

“We think that’s critical to understanding what ‘policy-relevant’ really means.”

Topics covered in the Topical Collection include: public (mis)understanding of IPCC terminology; framing climate change with scarcity language (i.e. thresholds, budgets and deadlines); incorporating storytelling; climate change in the Himalayas and democratising knowledge production; listening to alternative forms of expertise; the power of youth activism; post-Paris policy relevance; communicating efficacy without compromising policy neutrality; Twitter responses to the Special Report on Climate Change and Land; and evaluating public engagement by IPCC scientists around the world.

The Topical Collection is independent of the IPCC but there has been significant engagement by the IPCC throughout.

This includes papers by IPCC voices reflecting on recent communications advances and the IPCC’s evolving approach to data visuals and Frequently Asked Questions.

The Topical Collection also includes the first study to assess IPCC outreach events in India.

All articles will be available Open Access (available to read, download and print without a subscription) for one month starting from 5 November.

A press conference with Dr Krug and selected authors will be live streamed at 14:30-16:00 GMT on Friday 5 November, followed by a Q&A and “pitch contest” with special guests. Participants will receive details for submitting questions during the livestream.

The guest editors received funding for their work through the Norwegian Environment Agency.

The Topical Collection of Climatic Change is entitled: “Climate change communication and the IPCC.”

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