Government mulls climate change publicity campaign

A long-term campaign to improve public understanding of climate change is needed to ensure delivery of the Government's aim of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new study. An interdepartmental group has been set up in Whitehall to take the idea forward.

In 2003, Fanny Calder of the Royal Institute of International Affairs and Jonathan Smales of consultancy Beyond Green called for a major national awareness campaign to raise the public profile of climate change (ENDS Report 336, p 35 ).

The authors have returned to the fray with a second report, funded by the Carbon Trust, the Energy Saving Trust and the Pilkington Energy Efficiency Trust.1 They call for a "sustained, properly resourced, professional and independently governed" publicity campaign with an annual budget of £7 million. The campaign would be based around TV, radio and print advertising, and backed up on the internet and in schools.

The campaign would aim to improve understanding of climate change, highlight the need for individual action, help develop markets for low-carbon products and build political support for climate policies, the authors claim.

"The Government has set ambitious aspirations and targets in its climate change policy and strategy," said Ms Calder. "But unless the public becomes more motivated and informed these policies will fail - and new policies that are needed will meet the kind of resistance we saw during the fuel protests in 2000."

The Government's "Are you doing your bit?" campaign, which had an annual budget of £9 million, was scrapped when funding ran out as a result of the foot and mouth crisis in 2001.

Whitehall has already signalled its interest in the latest proposal. Its recent energy efficiency implementation plan confirmed that the Government is "considering the feasibility of an overarching Government climate change campaign" (ENDS Report 352, pp 45-46 ).

Speaking at the report launch, Environment Minister Elliot Morley said that better communication "is going to be vital if the UK is going to deliver its climate change goals". He revealed that the Environment Department (DEFRA), the Department of Trade and Industry, the Carbon Trust, the Energy Saving Trust and the Environment Agency have formed a group to examine the way forward.

However, Mr Morley warned, "it is possible to spend a great deal of money on communications without having any impact on public awareness... Communication has a key role - but if it is going to be really effective, it needs to be closely linked to regulation, taxes and other policies."

The report says that the campaign should be run by a dedicated team, but does not take a view on where this should be based. Some stakeholders suggested that it could be led by the Carbon Trust or the Energy Saving Trust, while others said it should be independent.

The authors envisaged that official funding would be supplemented with a private sector contribution - although industry has not responded positively to the suggestion.

An NOP poll which informed the report confirms that addressing public confusion on climate change remains a weighty task. Only 3% of respondents identified domestic energy use as a cause of climate change. When asked what people could do to stop climate change, 15% said they could drive less but less than 1% said they could fly less.

A survey by MORI, also released in May, confirms the need to raise public understanding of climate change and the UK's role in tackling it.2 Almost all Britons have heard of global warming, MORI found, but terrorism was seen as a more important threat by a factor of almost two to one. About half of the people polled thought it a waste of time for the UK to address global warming without an effective international agreement.