In 1962, mixed-up confusion was killing Bob Dylan. His head was full of questions, and his temperature rising fast. Forty years later, amid other rising temperatures, mixed-up confusion is confounding Australia’s efforts to respond to climate change.
One the one hand, the case for action seems straightforward. The debate over whether or not anthropogenic climate change is real is over, at least in the scientific community. Treasury modeling of
the potential impacts of climate change makes it clear that taking action on climate change is in Australia’s national interest. Much of corporate Australia agrees with this. And all major political parties advocate taking action on climate change.
So why, according to figures just released in the Climate Institute’s annual survey of Australian attitudes towards climate change, Climate of the Nation, do 65 per cent of Australians believe that there are too many conflicting opinions for the public to be sure about the claims made about climate change? Where does all this confusion come from?
It certainly does not come from a lack of information. If Bob Dylan had a cent for every media mention of climate change, he would probably never have got the tombstone blues, the freight train blues or even the subterranean homesick blues. Australians have had climate change shoved down their throat. Thousands of views have been canvassed, thousands of views have been offered.
Amongst this discordant cacophony, no one has been able to make their message resonate – not the government, not the opposition, not scientists, not climate science ‘deniers’, not NGOs, not community activists, not the private sector.
This has confused the population, and clouded their response to carbon pricing. Only 28 per cent of respondents in the Climate Institute poll (carried out by John Scales for JWS) said they supported the government’s scheme. However, when basic aspects of the legislation are explained, the number jumps to almost 50 per cent. This is not to make a comment on the merits or otherwise of the government’s particular scheme – it rather illustrates the point that people don’t support things they don’t understand. And they don’t understand carbon pricing.
This is fair enough. As public policy goes, it is complex and nuanced. Even the policy wonks struggle to get their heads round it at times. Several popular criticisms of action on climate change stem directly from misunderstandings about how the government’s scheme might work (these criticisms may also be leveled at other schemes). Here are three key sources of confusion:
- It won’t make a difference because Australia is only a small part of global emissions
- It won’t make a difference because industry will move overseas and pollute from there
- It won’t make a difference because we are going to compensate the polluters – so there is no reason for them to act.
There are very good answers to all three points. But this is entering a level of detail beyond the point at which the public would normally engage in public policy. Debunking incorrect information is necessary. But arguing the toss on the details of particular arguments is pointless – people end up confused and disengaged. Instead, advocates of climate change action would do well to focus on some key communication approaches:
- Appeal to the emotional: Use language and imagery that appeals to people’s emotional rather than intellectual side. This is something marketers have honed for decades.
- Use third-party advocates: There is no academy of science in the world that disputes the science. Other voices lend credibility to your arguments.
- Point to peers: Highlight what others, faced with the same problem, have done. The vast majority of countries have some form of measure in place to combat climate change.
Talk about the alternative: Instead of allowing the debate to focus on the intricacies of different schemes, focus on the costs of inaction.
Make it local: Talk about the impact of climate change on insurance bills and front lawns.
A recent poll by Fergus Hanson for the Lowy Institute showed that 38 per cent of Australians felt they had become ‘more concerned’ about climate change since the debate in Australia began. If this concern is to be harnessed into support for action, we need to do a much better job of telling the story, and a much better job of debunking the myths. “Sometimes it’s not enough to know what things mean,” Bob Dylan once remarked, “sometimes you have to know what things don’t mean”.
By Andrew Ure.
“No”, comes the reply from Richard E. Grant, “we’re here”.
In the storm of words around the introduction of the carbon tax, Australians would be forgiven for being a little lost too.
You might think the major parties don’t agree on anything when it comes to climate change. But they do. In fact, they agree on a lot (though they might not admit it).
For starters, both parties argue that climate change is real, and that Australians need to act. The same cannot be said for many voters of both persuasions.
Crucially, both parties have made an unconditional commitment to reduce Australia’s emissions by the same amount (5 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020).
This is significant in two ways: firstly, they agree on the scale of emissions reductions that Australia should undertake (at least at a minimum); secondly they agree that there is a degree of climate change action that Australia should take, irrespective of what happens elsewhere.
Moreover, while you could live under a rock and still know that the Coalition opposes the government’s carbon pricing mechanism, few people realise that both parties share their support for particular approaches to reducing emissions.
The Coalition will likely release more details closer to an election, but based on its direct action plan and public statements, and the government’s public record, we can build a picture of what is likely to survive regardless of the colour of the government.
Let’s start with renewable energy. Again, both sides are in furious agreement that Australia should encourage the development of the sector through promoting a renewable energy target. They even agree on the amount: 20 per cent of Australia’s energy supply should come from renewable sources by 2020.
Of course, there is some nuance, with the Coalition seeking to carve out a special role for larger projects. But this is a relatively minor difference.
Energy efficiency is another area that is likely to remain a key priority whoever wins the next election. It’s a no-brainer: reducing energy bills and reducing emissions at the same time. This is particularly so in the building sector. After the initial capital investment, many energy efficiency projects become cash-positive within the first few years of operation. It’s a win for owners, a win for tenants and win for the construction industry – oh, and the climate.
Speaking of common ground, land management is another area where both the big parties can be seen shuffling uncomfortably next to each other. Estimates of the mitigation potential of reducing emissions from farming and forestry vary, but may be very significant, and both parties are supportive of efforts in this space. The Coalition estimates that soil carbon measures could represent 85 million tonnes of annual CO2 abatement potential; the government’s carbon farming initiative has been one of the more popular components of its Clean Energy Future package.
Under its ”contracts for closure” program, the government is seeking to support the closure of inefficient power stations. The Coalition’s proposed ”emissions reductions fund” has a provision to do precisely the same thing. The list goes on.
This is a good thing. A recent study by Mercer identified climate policy uncertainty (both international and national) as a significant source of risk for investors over the next 20 years. There is not going to be any certainty over carbon pricing for a while yet – but there is likely to be policy continuity in other areas.
So although the fight over carbon pricing will dominate the airwaves over the next few weeks, it is important to remember that there is a lot more to Australian climate change policy than carbon pricing.
A lot of bathwater will be thrown around in the next few days, but there is good reason to believe that, no matter where this all ends up, there will still be a baby – of sorts – sitting in the bathtub, wondering what on earth just happened.
By Andrew Ure.
Sydney, November 10, 2011: OgilvyEarth, Ogilvy PR’s sustainability communications practice, has today announced its Australian partnership with the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), an international NGO that operates the only global climate change reporting system for companies.
OgilvyEarth and CDP share a collective focus on supporting organisations to demonstrate leadership by taking action to measure, manage, reduce and communicate action on their environmental impacts. Now, with the recent passage of bills for a carbon price through the Australian Parliament, there is a growing impetus for organisations to measure, manage and disclose climate change information to their investors, purchasers, customers and other stakeholders.
OgilvyEarth’s Managing Director, Sarah Cruickshank, said “Ogilvy Earth is delighted to have a formal partnership with the CDP in Australia. Like the CDP, Ogilvy Earth is committed to reducing the environmental impact of Australian businesses, and rigorous measurement and disclosure is a vital ingredient in delivering improved sustainability outcomes.
Along with the CDP, Ogilvy Earth works closely with a range of other not-for-profit organisations to help bring them together with some of the nation’s largest organisations for the purposes of achieving the best possible environmental and social outcomes.”
The CDP has the largest database of corporate climate change information and acts on behalf of over 550 institutional investors globally (including 45 investors in Australia and New Zealand) with more than US$71 trillion in assets under management. 73% of ASX100 companies and 50% of ASX200 companies disclosed climate change information through the CDP in 2011.
The CDP released its Australia & NZ 2011 Report this week at Carbon Expo 2011 in Melbourne. The report revealed that only 4% of ASX200 and NZX50 responding companies reported that carbon pricing was a high impact risk to their business, while overall 33% of responding companies rated the risk as medium or above. The report is the sixth annual assessment of climate change disclosures made by ASX200 and NZX50 companies to investors through the CDP.
James Day, CDP’s Australia & NZ Director said, “CDP is delighted to be working in partnership in Australia with OgilvyEarth, one of Australia’s leading sustainability communications agencies. CDP hopes our partnership will result in more Australian companies realising the business benefits of high quality climate change communications with their employees, investors, suppliers and other stakeholders. For example, companies this year have reported through CDP that behavioural change initiatives typically offer fast payback periods of 1-3 years. Despite this, in Australia & NZ only 9% of ASX200 and NZX50 companies reported they were undertaking emission reduction initiatives relating to behavioural change.”
The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is an independent not-for-profit organisation providing a transformative global system for companies and cities to measure, disclose, manage and share climate change and water information. Over 3,000 organisations across the world’s largest economies now report their greenhouse gas emissions and assessment of climate change risk and opportunity through CDP, in order that they can set reduction targets and make performance improvements. This data is gathered on behalf of 551 institutional investors, holding US$71 trillion in assets. CDP now holds the largest collection globally of self-reported climate change data. For more information visit www.cdproject.net
OgilvyEarth is the sustainability communications advisory practice of Ogilvy PR Australia, a joint venture between Ogilvy PR Worldwide and the STW Communications Group, Australia’s largest marketing content and communications services group.