Beyond COP26 – communicating climate in 2022

Shelly Dennison

COP26 dominated the climate conversation in 2021 but what comes next? For churches looking to communicate on climate and environmental issues with their members and local communities, there are a host of potential challenges and opportunities. This post looks at some of the possible trends for 2022 and how churches might adapt their messages in response.

Justice and fairness

Climate justice has long been a natural conversation for many churches and this is likely to continue in 2022. Opportunities include Live Lent: Embracing Justice, which is the Church of England’s theme for Lent 2022 and the Methodist Church’s Walking with Micah project, which is exploring what it means to be a justice-seeking church in the twenty first century.

Research from Climate Outreach suggests that a particular challenge in 2022 will be the concept of fairness in climate policy. At first glance justice and fairness may seem to be the same thing but these words can be understood very differently by different groups.  A key concern is that climate policy is something that could come to be seen as being done to ‘us’ by ‘them’, with a very real possibility that net zero could be dragged into the so called ‘culture wars’ with their conception of elites versus ordinary people. Churches have a unique voice, with which they can communicate a sense of common purpose and common good, into this potentially divisive debate.

Cost of living

Rising food and fuel prices are part of the backdrop to the fairness question. They will also lead to questions like can we afford climate policy? Is it a priority when so many people are struggling? These are going to be questions for denominations and churches with net zero targets as much as for governments. These times call for sensitivity in messaging which needs to explore the potential economic benefits of green energy and related policies in a way that resonates with people.

A ‘super year’ for nature?

The COP15 Convention on Biological Diversity is due to take place in China in April /  May. Although public awareness is likely to be lower than for it was for the COP26 Climate Change Conference, it still provides a good opportunity to talk about nature and biodiversity.

Nature based solutions to climate change may well gain more traction this year – with peatland restoration and increasing hedgerow cover already proving to be popular campaigns for UK based organisations. The last two years have seen an increased connection to local green spaces, countryside and wildlife. However, they have also shone a spotlight on inequalities of access and the need to do more on this issue, particularly in urban environments. Both rural and urban churches might be able to adapt their messages on nature to reflect some of these issues, if appropriate in their context.

Greater interrogation

As acceptance of the realities of climate change increases and people’s knowledge of the issues deepens, we’re likely to see more interrogation of claims by corporations, local and national governments and other organisations to green credentials. In the face of green-washing, equipping people both to separate fact from fiction and to find a middle ground between a default cynicism and taking claims at face value will be a key challenge.

Similarly, apparently simple solutions to problems, such as tree planting, will also be subject to more scrutiny as people begin to understand more about, for example, the need to choose appropriate species and to budget time and money for aftercare. For churches taking on practical projects, communicating that the sustainability of those projects has been taken into account will be an important way of demonstrating credibility.

What can churches and individual Christians take away from this complicated picture? Here are three themes to bear in mind for climate communications in 2022:

Keep it local

People care about what is happening on their doorsteps, the number of local action groups with an emphasis on conservation, climate or the environment has increased markedly over the last two years. Communications that respond to people’s love for their local places will resonate much more deeply.

Keep it real

Good climate communication will connect with the reality of people’s lives. In 2022 there are likely to be significant pressures on household budgets. An emphasis on making change in small steps that are manageable and achievable will help, as will using examples that are relatable in your context.

Keep it meaningful

It is easy for people to feel helpless at the scale of the problems confronting us.  However, we know that people are more likely to take actions that they feel are meaningful and that will actually make a difference. Churches have a real opportunity to offer faith led, positive and hope filled solutions.

Shelly Dennison has a background in communications in the charity sector. She is currently the digital engagement officer at CPRE Bedfordshire, the countryside charity, having previously worked in heritage and arts education and outreach roles. Particular interests include access to nature and the countryside, and how to communicate effectively on environmental issues. She is a CRES graduate.

Photo: Pixabay image by Gentle07 https://pixabay.com/photos/natural-reserve-world-smartphone-3977288/