In 2020 governments, businesses, and citizens around the world have had to respond rapidly and radically to the more immediate global emergency of COVID-19. As the world begins to recover from this emotionally and economically devastating pandemic, questions are arising about how societal views and values may have changed in light of this experience, and what this might mean for how we think and talk about the global climate emergency.

Through a desk review, focus groups and a survey, this research identifies the potential impact the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has had on how the Scottish public understand and respond to climate change messaging and narratives.  This learning can support a green recovery from the pandemic by using language and framing that speaks to people’s values, generates a positive impact on key audiences and encourages the action needed.

Key findings
  • The impact of COVID-19 has widened the narrative around climate change to highlight that: collective action and change are possible, and in recovering from the pandemic, there is the opportunity to introduce further measures to tackle climate change.
  • Although people care about climate change it is not top of mind for most – participants were still engaged with the topic of climate change and recognise its importance, but its significance was relative to the pandemic.
  • A large array of climate change and environment related terminology is in circulation but vocabulary and understanding are limited. 
  • The idea of a green recovery is relevant and important to people in Scotland but as a term it needs to be clearly explained.
  • It is not always clear what the different climate responsibilities are and where they lie.
  • People are looking for a strong, urgent tone, with clear targets and path to follow.

In order to develop further the Scottish Government’s public engagement activity on climate change and to help facilitate support for a ‘green recovery’ from the pandemic, the report makes the following key considerations/ recommendations:

  • Educate and build knowledge around climate change by explaining key terms. To improve clarity of understanding and personal relevance, frame these and illustrate arguments in ways that are relevant to the lives of the different audience groups. 
  • To help create a sense of optimism to motivate action and demonstrate leadership, it is important to present:
    • A clear and concise vision, to help the public understand where everyone needs to get to – the end goal.
    • An accompanying routemap with clear targets, to help people in Scotland better understand the required journey and actions to reach the end goal. Emphasise key targets and how these can be achieved
    • A sense of being “all in this together” and all having a role to play at several levels (including global, Scotland, business, community, personal)
    • The progress made on both climate change and COVID-19 due to collective action
  • Clearly communicate the urgency of tackling climate change, but balanced with presenting climate change as a challenge that can be solved. There is strong support for action at all levels of society and a clear indication that a strong ‘must do’ tone is most appropriate for the topic of climate change.
  • Ensure the source is credible and reputable, but keep language accessible – while it is important that messages originate from a source the audience considers trustworthy, avoiding excessive use of climate-related jargon or other technical language is also required to maximise appeal and understanding.