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Climate Communication for Local Governments: Five New Guidelines

by Don Knapp with Justus Stewart and Patrick Robbins

Ames Iowa flood (credit: FEMA)

Photo credit: FEMA

Five guidelines to help city and county staff and elected officials message climate solutions, science, and local impacts


communications guide thumbThere’s a time and a place to talk about climate change. The place probably isn’t the Thanksgiving table with your uncles and in-laws, or anywhere that discussion could devolve into unfriendly debate. Let’s face it: As a topic, climate change is unpopular, polarizing, complex—and an unavoidable part of the national conversation.

The local one, too. Without constructive climate communication, local governments’ plans and initiatives would never get off the ground. And since we’ve got so much ground to cover, now is the time to take stock of the most effective communications approaches. What can we learn from the latest psychological and communications research, and the on-the-ground experience of municipal staff? A heck of a lot.

Good Communication Builds Relationships

“For local governments, climate communication should be thought of as a way to build relationships, not to win a debate or convince people to think the same way,” says Brian Holland, ICLEI USA’s Climate Programs Director. “You build relationships when you understand your audience and speak to their values and priorities.”

When you build better relationships, you make more progress. To help you improve your communication on climate action, ICLEI has compiled guidelines and tips from leading academic publications—as well as ICLEI’s own staff and our local government members—applicable to the situations like these:

  • Engaging community members or municipal staff in the development of your energy or climate action plan
  • “Selling” climate action to your elected officials
  • Presenting your greenhouse gas inventory results at a city council meeting
  • Writing text for your climate action plan or website
  • Creating messaging for your mayor 


Download the Five Guidelines

communications guide thumbGet ICLEI's new and FREE resource for local governments, with detailed guidance on climate communication. Includes the summary sheet of all the guidelines and tips.

Blue yellow arrow icon small Download Now (pdf)


climate communications summary sheet thumbGet the Cheat Sheet

Want the CliffsNotes version of our five guidelines? Download this summary sheet with a distillation of the key takeaways for each guideline.

Blue yellow arrow icon small Download Now (pdf)



Distilling Climate Communication into Five Guidelines

We offer no magic bullets. Only five guidelines for how to engage more people in dialogue and solutions around climate action:

  • Guideline #1: Know your audience so that you can target your messages to them.
  • Guideline #2: Be aware of how Americans’ values shape their beliefs on climate change.
  • Guideline #3: To capture your audience’s attention, talk about climate impacts in local, immediate terms.
  • Guideline #4: Emphasize the power and practicality of local climate solutions, especially community preparedness.
  • Guideline #5: Address climate science in a simple, compelling way, and stress the certainties of what we know.

Because you’re busy, we’ll list the big takeaways after each section, as well as relevant resources for those who want to dig into more details.



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