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Framing Climate Justice

A 12-month project bringing together organisers from across the climate movement to tell the stories that matter, and strengthen our movement in the fight for justice.

First, a word about what we did...

The past couple of years have seen climate change rocket up the public agenda. We know stories are central to our movement’s success—we need good ones to build support, win campaigns and grow our power. But what does a good climate change story look like? What about a good climate justice story?

Framing Climate Justice is a participatory cross-movement framing project coordinated by PIRC, 350.org and NEON seeking to answer these questions, and to bring justice firmly to the centre of climate change communications.
Running from early 2019 to mid 2020, Framing Climate Justice brought together 26 participants from a wide range of organisations, groups and networks across the UK climate movement (plus our wonderful staff team).

Through a series of participatory workshops and residentials—as well as group work, research and testing—we found out how the UK public thinks about climate justice now, then crafted and tested our own ideas for how the movement can best reach the public with our communications.

Okay, so the good news...

From our research, it's clear that...

People in the UK believe climate change is:

Real

There aren’t many climate change deniers in the UK anymore.

Happening

People can see its effects both here and across the world.

By humans

It’s not just something ‘natural’.

Serious

People know it’s an emergency - with drastic consequences.

Fixable

Maybe not straight away, but one day...

That's amazing, we've come so far.

It took an enormous amount of hard work to get to this point.

But...

There's bad news

Our research also found that...

People in the UK generally believe:

Climate change is separate from social justice issues.

How does it connect to racism, poverty or gender?

And it has no impact on existing inequalities.

We’re all in this together - it affects us all equally.

Climate change happened by accident.

Sure, humans made it happen, but we didn’t mean to!

We are not really responsible for the past.

Don’t blame us for Britain’s old mistakes.

Climate change is mostly about emissions, not systems.

How is it linked to economic and political systems?

Technology can fix it.

Science and technology will save us all, or at least it’s our best hope!

Human nature is part of the problem.

At the end of the day, humans are naturally selfish and greedy.

There isn’t much hope in the short-term.

Things feel really bleak and immediate solutions aren’t clear.

Why do people think this way?

Because it’s the story people have been told, by governments, business, by the media...
But if we’re honest, by significant parts of the climate movement, including many of us…
That needs to change.
We need to plant justice firmly at the centre of climate change communications.

However, it's not all bad...

There is hope

Our research found that people in the UK think...

The status quo isn’t working.

The whole damn system is wrong!

Consumerism is part of the problem.

Our industries put profit before people and damage the environment.

Some places and people are hit harder.

And they’re often least responsible—that isn’t fair.

Government & business are most responsible.

But can they be trusted to act responsibly?

[Young people think] climate multiples other inequalities.

Unlike many adults, young people think marginalised people are more impacted.

Solutions need to come from every level.

From government, experts, businesses, indigenous groups - but mostly experts.

We need to decentralise power.

Community involvement in decision making is important.

There is hope in the long-term.

It’s not too late to act. Young people give us hope!

So, what to do?

How do we address these problems?

Recommendations

Emphasise solidarity with those most affected.

While acknowledging the problems we have in the UK.

Images of the Pacific Climate Warriors, a poster saying
A poster from Extinction Rebellion showing the skulls of various animals, it says

Be careful with emergency framing.

People know it's an emergency. Doom and gloom makes people panic - closing down potential for solidarity.

Self-direction is key when talking about affected groups.

They can and should be involved in decision-making.

Two Green New Deal Posters, one showing two people raising a wind turbine, the other showing an arm lifting a sunflower.
A Wretched of the Earth banner at a protest saying

Make the links between climate, capitalism and colonialism.

Break things down, and use ‘economic design’ to help make this crucial connection.

Photo: Wretched of the Earth @ the Global Climate Strike, September 2019

If you're a

Resources

Read, view, watch, download, all for free...

Research Briefing

A written summary of our research findings.

Presentation Slides

A visual outline of the project and findings.

Movement Meeting

A webinar covering headline findings.

More are on their way

Subscribe to PIRC's newsletter for updates.

Late-2020 Update

Making sense of our results now
Towards the end of this project, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe. In May, George Floyd was killed, galvanising the Movement for Black Lives and triggering racial justice protests worldwide. These are big shifts to our context that are still evolving. It’s too soon to draw conclusions about what this means for climate justice, but here we explore some opportunities and challenges that seem to be emerging.

What does the coronavirus pandemic mean for communicating climate justice?

The pandemic seems to have unlocked some important shifts in public thinking that can help the climate justice movement. Perhaps most importantly, and linked to the Movement for Black Lives, we have seen that people think that the pandemic has worsened inequality, making things harder for some social groups that were already disadvantaged. We have an opportunity, now, to draw a connection between the two: like the pandemic, climate change is a crisis that multiplies oppression and injustice.

We also see that there is more appetite now for a fundamental change in how society is run, and the opportunity to demand climate justice in these changes. But there are also challenges. During the heights of the pandemic crisis, climate change can be perceived as a less of a priority, slowing our momentum. And, rather than advocating for international solidarity and cooperation, which we need to address both climate change and the pandemic, mainstream narratives focus on national responses, making it an issue that has borders.
Click to read more

Possible opportunities:

In a June 2020 poll (YouGov, NEON & PIRC), half of the respondents agreed with the idea that the pandemic has made inequality worse. (Much fewer—24%—said the crisis had ‘no impact’ on existing inequalities, and only 9% thought the pandemic acted like a leveller, reducing inequality.) When we asked a very similar question, pre pandemic, about climate change, only a quarter agreed that the climate crisis worsened existing inequalities. It’s possible that this understanding of COVID-19 helps us make the case for climate change also hitting some people harder.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen people celebrate good qualities and values in human nature: our capacity for compassion and kindness, our solidarity both within communities and across borders; our adaptability and ability to respond to crisis. These are qualities we need to meet the climate crisis with. We might be able to draw on inspiring stories of international solidarity, in particular, as examples of the kind of response we need to climate change.

This, coupled with the enormous, global disruption to business-as-usual, possibly lead to another key shift in the mindset: People believe that significant, positive changes are possible. And, what’s more, there is a desire for fundamental changes in how the economy is run. In our polling we found that only 6% want things to be run as they were run before the pandemic. With these huge shifts taking place, we’ve got an opportunity now to counter the creeping fatalism of late-stage capitalism that’s had its claws dug so deeply into our public mindsets.

Possible challenges:

But we have reasons to be cautious about the impact of the pandemic on climate justice. Even though it is a global crisis and people see, for instance, that the virus anywhere is a threat to us everywhere, the rhetoric and policies are overwhelmingly national in their concern, and in many parts of the world authoritarian. The international collaboration and responsibilities we need to face climate change are not necessarily modelled in how we’re dealing with the pandemic.

We must be ready to work against the fearful, xenophobic, border-closing mentality when it comes to climate solutions. This kind of zero-sum thinking (helping our own nation, versus helping others) lies at the root of the idea that ‘what's good for the economy is bad for the environment’ and vice versa. We face leaders using this false economy versus environment dichotomy to justify reliance on fossil fuels to recover from economic recession.

We also have to contend with the spikes in disinformation, fake news and conspiracy theories, which often work to erode trust in authorities and international bodies like the WHO, and the knock-on impact of disinformation on people’s ability to discern fact from fiction in the media they consume.

And what about climate dropping off the agenda completely, after these hard fought years of environmental campaigning? The polling we’ve done suggests that climate is still a priority for people in the UK, and increasingly so as the pandemic draws on. In April, 20% thought climate change should be a priority right now, alongside coronavirus, which rose to 33% in June. Both times we polled, just over half thought it should be a priority in the future, and only 7% said it wasn’t a priority.

The Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations also found that, in August 2020, reported concern about climate change has increased since August 2019. But we must watch for climate change being de-prioritised as the pandemic continues to unfold. We must also maintain continued pressure on the right demands, rather than settling for whatever climate policies make it onto the political agenda in this difficult moment.

What does the Movement for Black Lives mean for communicating climate justice?

The Movement for Black Lives has helped to open the space to link historic colonialism to the neo-colonialism of today, and to talk about how climate change multiplies historic oppressions. As above, the racialised impacts of COVID-19 have been widely reported, and may help us make the argument that large-scale global crises such as climate change and coronavirus affect us all, but not in the same way.

However, any steps forward on racial justice tend to meet with a backlash. Those within climate justice who have argued that the climate crisis is a racist crisis—for example Black Lives Matter UK in 2016—were met with hostility and criticism. The climate movement as a whole needs to do better on making these arguments, in order to protect these gains and continue organising and communicating to shift the mindset.
Click to read more

Possible opportunities:

Again, we’re writing as events are unfolding, and are yet to understand what the long term impacts will be. But one key opportunity for climate justice campaigners is that people are thinking about the roots and history of racism, which means that the horrors of colonialism are in the public consciousness in a way that is possibly unprecedented.

This is one of the hardest parts of the climate justice story to communicate, and we are not there yet, but it will be easier to link colonialism to climate change if we are communicating at a time when people are more receptive to the idea that the system is racist (as above, with the impacts of pandemic being felt so acutely in racialised groups), and people have a sense that we in the UK should take responsibility for our past.

Linked to that, where there has previously been little public understanding of reparations as core to a just response to the climate crisis, space may now be opening to join these dots and build support for ideas like this.

Possible challenges:

We’re yet to see the extent of the backlash against the Movement for Black Lives, and how this (e.g. an emboldened far right, attempted co-option of the movement) will affect collective consciousness on racism and historical accountability.
  • At this critical moment for tackling the climate and biodiversity crises, Framing Climate Justice is more important than ever, and deserves to be widely promoted, adopted and developed further.
    Caroline Lucas

    CAROLINE LUCAS

  • Recognising the long history of the climate crisis can only happen with a shared language for it.

    Framing Climate Justice
    creates the parameters within which we can begin challenging long standing and damaging cultural ideas and ideologies that limit our understanding of climate justice.
    Photo of Guppi Bola

    GUPPI BOLA

  • Framing Climate Justice was a great experience and has made me much more confident communicating about racism, colonialism and economic injustice in the context of climate change.
    Photo of Morten Thaysen.

    MORTEN THAYSEN

  • Framing Climate Justice was a lightning bolt of a project. It brought together a fantastic range of people to puzzle out the complexities of climate justice. What it is, how do we get it and how do we communicate it?

    We explored all of those deep and difficult questions, all the while building a fantastic community of people to continue to work in solidarity with, for hopefully, many years to come.
    Photo of Rowan Mataram.

    ROWAN MATARAM

  • I wish everyone in my field paid more attention to Framing Climate Justice's findings. We would all communicate much more effectively if we did.
    George Monbiot

    GEORGE MONBIOT

Framing Climate Justice

A 12-month project bringing together organisers from across the climate movement to tell the stories that matter, and strengthen our movement in the fight for justice.

Hosted by PIRC, 350.org & NEON.

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