Public Diplomacy and Strategic Climate Communication after COP26

On January 28th, 2022, we held a conversation with Susan Biniaz, Deputy to Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry at the US Department of State, and Fred Pearce, Contributing Writer for Yale Environment 360. They were moderated by David Wade, Fellow at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace and Lecturer at Yale’s Jackson Institute. The event was sponsored by the Yale Center for Environmental Communication, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Yale Environment 360, and the Yale School of the Environment.

The conversation focused on public discourse surrounding the 26th Conference of the Parties, (COP26, held in Glasgow Scotland in November 2021) with a particular emphasis on the role of the media in translating closed-door negotiations into headlines.  

Topline takeaways include:

  1. Read beyond the headlines.  Be wary of absolutes, despite the tendency for reporting to focus on soundbites and drama. The public should attempt to draw their own conclusions from the most in-depth and least biased sources. Further, responsible journalists must communicate to their readers the complicated, multi-faceted nature of the negotiations so as to prevent their conclusions from being too broadly applied. 
  2. Be skeptical but not cynical. Journalists are a humble group, reporting and summarizing the words of others. There is tension between conveying the complex big-picture reality and adhering to word limits. To get to the truth, they must be skeptical of everything they learn, but not cynical to the point of being disinterested in being persuaded. Bottom line:  be careful of spin, and collect information from multiple sources and sectors (media, government, NGOs, for example). 
  3. Broaden the coalition of the willing. Many Americans are still disengaged, doubtful, and dismissive of climate change (to see the exact percentages, check out the YPCCCs most recent Six Americas report). When the media has the role of arbiter between the government and the people, some responsibility falls on journalists to communicate the urgency of climate change. Yet people will pick and choose what media they consume, so there are limits on the role journalists can play.