On 13th June I attended ‘A New Conversation with the Centre-Right about Climate Change,’ hosted by Policy Exchange. The presenters were Adam Corner, Policy Adviser at the Climate Outreach & Information Network (COIN), Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP for Richmond, Guy Newey, Head of Environment and Energy at Policy Exchange, and Claire Jakobsson of Conservative Environment Network. The event was chaired by James Murray, Editor-in-chief of Business Green.
This event saw the launch of new research by Climate Outreach & Information Network (COIN), which examines the evidence for more effectively engaging centre-right citizens around climate change. This research does not try to rebrand climate change for a centre-right audience but aims to start a conversation with people on the centre-right about what climate change means to them.
I felt that there were several extremely interesting points raised. Zac Goldsmith, for example, said that he recently sent David Cameron back his famous speech on climate change from 2008, asking him to read it again (because he seems to have forgotten about it…). I particularly liked Guy Newey’s emphasis on the idea that “motives matter” – when talking about climate change, as the key question is always “what do people really want?” when they enter into debates on the subject. On a related point, Mr Newey highlighted the tendency to confuse and conflate climate doubt (it’s not happening) with policy doubt (here’s what we should do about it).
The report goes on to argue for four main narratives to connect with the centre-right:
- energy security
- the green economy
- the good life
It also outlines key values for the centre-right in their relationship with climate change including:
The need for energy security rings strongly with right-wing audiences, the report suggests. However, this argument may prove problematic, as it could easily be taken as an argument to support the use of more indigenous shale gas – which the Committee on Energy and Climate Change has warned could risk the UK’s emissions reduction targets.
Interestingly, in May last year, the same event was held under the name ‘A greener shade of blue — communicating climate change on the right.’ Not much has changed since, and as the UK is getting closer to the 2015 general election, I wonder how many of the centre right will change their perspective about climate change in order to communicate with a wider audience?
The comments of one of Adam Corner’s colleagues, George Marshall, made a deep impression on me. Mr Marshall said that when they work on climate change communication it is not difficult to make a connection at the level of diagnosis – people respond to the reality of the problem. However when you reach to the step of asking what we should do about it, people become very sensitive to motives, fearing hidden agendas.
For me, attending such event was an important reminder – we need to ensure debates and disagreements on climate change have useful outcomes as climate change is a problem that is not going to wait for us. This report took a step in the right direction in that it points to ways of framing the issue that are more likely to resonate with the values of centre-right audiences – lifting climate change out of its left-wing ghetto, and into the mainstream.