Crafting New Climate Change Narratives


Narratives are the very essence of human communication, and have long helped us make sense of complex phenomena. This is particularly evident in discourses around climate change: From the words chosen to represent the crisis — such as 'global warming' versus 'climate change' — to the broader metaphors that define our understanding of it, the way we frame the climate crisis deeply influences public perception and action.

As our understanding of the climate crisis has evolved, so have the narrative we use to make sense of its implications. According to the latest research, we need climate narratives which capture the urgency of the situation, while also providing tangible solutions. A nuanced approach can help us inspire hope and motivate action, rather than drowning audiences in a sea of doomsday scenarios. While alarming narratives can capture our attention, it's the stories of innovation, resilience and progress that truly galvanize people.

A significant factor in these shifting narratives has been the rise of the youth climate movement. Passionate young activists from around the world have not only brought climate conversations back on the table — they have also been instrumental in triggering important policy changes. Their campaigns have led nations to declare climate emergencies and set binding decarbonization goals — underscoring the power of grassroots efforts in rewriting the global climate story.

Another promising development is the emergence of creativity for good (see Looking Ahead). More industry leaders than ever are leveraging their world-class creative power to champion sustainability. Creative campaigns are used not only to raise awareness, but also to foster a deeper emotional connection with audiences — making the call for climate action more personal and effective.

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Current Frames and Narratives on Climate Change

Prominent cognitive linguist George Lakoff argues that our comprehension of the world is deeply influenced by typically unconscious structures known as "frames". These frames not only shape our knowledge, but also guide our thinking and communication. For instance, the frame associated with "hospital" invokes roles and activities such as doctors, nurses, and operations. Rooted in our brain's neural circuits, frames get activated every time we communicate
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Is Doomism the New Delay?

When we discuss climate change, the way we discuss potential futures dramatically influences our public response. Many of us are inundated with images and stories of melting ice caps, raging wildfires, and species extinctions. This deluge of negative information, while factual, can often induce a sense of fatalism. A significant portion of the population, both young and old, believe that the future looks grim. Such bleak perspectives lead many to feel that the situation is hopeless — but overly positive framings highlighting only successes can lead to complacency, and the belief that the necessary work is being done already.
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Training the Communicators

Existing spokespeople such as climate scientists, journalists and government officials have an important role in helping the public understand climate change and what it means to them. But not enough energy is invested in supporting these groups to communicate the issue effectively. While some useful resources exist, such as the IPCC’s communications handbook for climate scientists, these efforts must be more widespread and comprehensive.
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