Can Innovative Communication Breakthroughs Mobilize China for Climate Action?

Although many people in China support the government’s environmental policies, there’s still a lack of understanding about how climate change affects individuals personally. Researchers suggest changing how we talk about climate change to involve the public more in supporting eco-friendly policies and connecting on a personal level. The common story about China’s “dual carbon targets” often highlights actions of the elite, not considering the broader public’s role. This article discusses the difficulties in talking about climate change in China, stressing the importance of focusing on personal impacts and individual actions for effective communication and engagement.

Chinese citizens on climate change awareness and action

In the aftermath of the COP28 UN climate conference, where nearly 200 countries committed to transitioning away from fossil fuels, global discussions on climate change have intensified. However, one notable exception to this dialogue is China, despite a high level of climate change awareness among its citizens. While there is considerable support for the government’s active response and the two-decade-long implementation of energy-saving and emissions-reduction policies, a gap in understanding the personal implications of climate change persists. Researchers argue that a crucial shift in communication strategy is needed to bridge this gap.

China’s dominant climate narrative has often revolved around the elite’s commitment to the “dual carbon targets” – peaking CO2 emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. However, focusing on the actions of the powerful fails to mobilize the public effectively. To ensure a successful response to climate change, both within China and globally, it is imperative to engage the public in supporting low-carbon policies and making lifestyle changes. The key question is: How can communication about climate change be improved to enhance public understanding?

Addressing Confused Definitions

A critical challenge in communicating climate change in China lies in the varied interpretations of climate change definitions among the population. Previous surveys by Renmin University’s China Centre for Climate Change Communication (China4C) revealed over 90% public acknowledgment of climate change’s reality and support for government intervention. However, a persistent discrepancy exists in understanding the causes of climate change. Recent surveys commissioned in 2022 echo these findings, indicating a persistent gap in understanding despite increased awareness. Misunderstandings regarding specific concepts, such as “carbon peaking,” highlight the need for a more targeted communication approach to ensure clarity and enhance public understanding. Bridging this knowledge gap is crucial for fostering informed and proactive responses to climate change.

Public Reliance on Policy and State

Understanding the factors influencing public support for climate action is pivotal. Surprisingly, scientific knowledge plays a lesser role than factors such as nationalism, environmental values, perceived personal economic benefits, and trust in domestic institutions. The public’s confidence in government actions emerges as the primary driver of support for climate policies, even in cases where individuals lack a clear understanding of related concepts. This insight underscores the importance of aligning climate communication with prevailing national sentiments and emphasizing the role of government actions in shaping public attitudes toward climate change. Recognizing these dynamics provides a foundation for crafting communication strategies that resonate with the broader public.

The Need for a Personal Connection

While the Chinese public expresses support for combating climate change, it is not solely to align with government objectives. In-depth analysis reveals that individuals do not perceive significant personal risks from climate change but believe in the high risk it poses to the nation. Furthermore, personal benefits from climate-friendly actions do not strongly predict attitudes, highlighting a gap between intention and action. This section emphasizes the necessity of establishing a personal connection to climate change, articulating individual risks, and fostering an understanding of the personal benefits associated with adopting climate-friendly behaviors. Tailoring communication to resonate with individual concerns and aspirations becomes paramount in driving tangible and meaningful public engagement.

Recommendations for Climate Communication

In conclusion, the study underscores the need for a nuanced and targeted approach to climate communication in China. Rather than emphasizing national goals and government actions, messaging should prioritize the personal implications of climate change and the benefits of individual contributions to a low-carbon transition. To ensure the success of national climate policies, fostering an understanding of the link between environmental health and personal well-being is crucial. This approach aims to transform climate change from a government responsibility into an integral part of sustainable development, fostering a genuine sense of individual agency in the fight against climate change. This section provides actionable recommendations for improving climate communication strategies in China, emphasizing the importance of a personalized approach to drive meaningful public engagement and empower individuals to take proactive steps in addressing climate change.