New guidelines for talking about climate change

Talking about climate change is tough. People’s attitudes about climate change can be very entrenched, and often based on cultural factors, and I’m fascinated about whether the efforts from both sides have significantly shifted community sentiment either way over time.

While it appears that fewer people are outright denying that our climate is changing than before, the main battleground now is whether humans are causing that change and what we should do about it (Leiserowitz et. al, 2017; Lamberts, R, 2017).

But that change doesn’t mean much. It means the deniers are just denying a different part of the phenomenon and still arguing that we shouldn’t be doing anything about fighting global warming.

So what can professional communicators do about that?

Well the main thing is to make sure that the people who are paid to talk about climate change get the guidance they need – and avoid the mistakes of the past.

Climate Outreach was commissioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to do exactly that, and have produced the Principles for effective communication and public engagement on climate change.

Check out this video for a quick summary:

This new resource is mainly for climate scientists, but any professional communicator wanting to talk about climate change should get familiar with this document as it sets out a consistent approach to this challenging task.It sets out the following six important principles:

  • Be a confident communicator
  • Talk about the real world, not abstract ideas
  • Connect with what matters to your audience
  • Tell a human story
  • Lead with what you know
  • Use the most effective visual communication.

This resource is both easy to understand and entirely based in evidence – and there’s even a useful video to help anyone talk about climate change with someone with opposing views.

For more information go ahead and download this free resource regardless of whether you’re a climate scientist or science communicator, and regardless of whether you’re about to talk about climate change at a nationally televised press conference or, even worse,  your next family barbecue.


  • Corner, A., Shaw, C. and Clarke, J. (2018). Principles for effective communication and public engagement on climate change: A Handbook for IPCC authors. climate change: A Handbook for IPCC authors. Oxford: Climate Outreach.
  • Lamberts, R (2017) The Australian Beliefs and Attitudes Towards Science Survey. The Australian National University. Canberra, Australia.
  • Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Rosenthal, S., & Cutler, M. (2017). Climate change in the American mind: May 2017. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

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