Tool Guideline

Engaging the public on climate risks and adaptation

Uploaded by RRI Tools on 09 March 2020

Climate Outreach, a team of social scientists and communication specialists working to widen and deepen public engagement with climate change.

The guide builds on the findings of the RESiL RISK survey report, ‘British Public Perceptions of Climate Risk, Adaptation Options and Resilience (RESiL RISK)’.

Building on the key findings from a new survey of the British public’s opinion on climate change (British Public Perceptions of Climate Risk, Adaptation Options and Resilience (RESiL RISK)), this briefing outlines a set of seven recommendations for communicators and practitioners working to engage the public on climate risks and adaptation.

As a critical decade for curbing global greenhouse gas emissions gets underway, the climate is already changing, affecting UK citizens and communities in a range of increasingly visible ways. Perhaps understandably, policies and targets for curbing carbon emissions (mitigation) receive more attention from politicians and the media than strategies for building resilience to the impacts of climate change (adaptation). But adaptation policies are now becoming increasingly important in shaping the UK’s response to climate change.

Like policies on mitigation, efforts to adapt to climate risks and build resilience will not succeed unless they are based on an understanding of public attitudes around climate risks and strategies for reducing our vulnerability to them.  In addition to the technical, environmental and economic factors underlying decisions about future adaptation options, supportive public opinion - obtaining a social mandate - is crucial. And engagement with individuals and communities (whether these are campaigners, civil society groups or policy makers) on climate risks and adaptation must be grounded in the growing body of social science evidence around the effective communication of climate change and climate risks.

The findings from the RESiL RISK project, a collaboration between Cardiff University and Climate Outreach, shine a light on current British attitudes towards climate risks and adaptation policies. The following recommendations draw on key findings from the survey, and position them alongside the wider evidence base on climate change communication. They are designed to ensure that adaptation is a central part of the reinvigorated public conversation on climate change, and that engagement around extreme weather and climate impacts is as effective and attuned to public opinion as possible


  1. Climate change concern is at an all-time high, and adaptation policies are supported across the political spectrum - these are important starting points for public engagement
  2. Climate impacts are increasingly salient, with a surge in concern around extreme heat - this opens up a new front for engaging the public
  3. Climate change is getting ‘closer to home’ - show how climate risks are relevant to people’s lives by relating them to widely-shared values, and build efficacy by making the link to constructive solutions
  4. Framing messages - concerns about mitigation and adaptation reinforce each other and are perceived as two sides of the same coin
  5. Health risks, wellbeing and adaptation - make the connection and frame messages in this way, but don’t assume much existing knowledge
  6. Climate conversations need to go beyond discussions of emissions targets - a ‘just transition’ applies to adaptation as well
  7. From concern to commitment - deepening public engagement on climate change is the challenge ahead

The research and recommendations outlined in this briefing point to three key conclusions.

  • Firstly, it is crucial to draw on up-to-date social science research (like the RESiL RISK findings), and to build bridges between researchers and practitioners in this area. Without a close link between research and practice, public engagement strategies won’t be as effective as they should be. Regular in-depth assessments and analyses of public perceptions of climate risks and adaptation options are an important way of ensuring that public engagement practice is as informed as possible by social science.
  • Secondly, using the recommendations in this report - and the growing body of climate communication research in other practitioner resources  - can help to deepen public engagement. Connecting climate impacts to widely shared values, framing messages around familiar risks, and using shared experiences of extreme heat and flooding as ‘common ground’ for climate conversations are all evidence-based ways of furthering public engagement with climate risks and resilience.
  • And lastly, it is important that the recommendations in this report not only inform the work of communications professionals, but make their way into the planning and preparation strategies of local and national policy makers and first-responders who - especially as regards extreme weather and climate risks - are the ‘frontline’ for public engagement.








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