Climate change and awareness days: help or hindrance

Michael Urquhart
16 October, 23

Awareness days – from the International Day of Democracy to National Doodle Day, it seems there’s an awareness campaign for almost everything. Their function is to help shine a light on and give visibility to many important issues that affect society. But how effective can they really be – especially when it comes to spotlighting critical issues such as climate change?

There are currently dozens of awareness days relating to climate change, with some of the more popular ones including Global Recycling Day, Earth Day, and World Environment Day. However, it can be tough to discern whether these events are really spreading awareness and driving change. At UNICEPTA, we decided to find out.

Looking at social media

To measure the impact of national awareness days on conversations around climate change, UNICEPTA recently released its report, Ebbs & Flows: A Social Listening Study of Attention Dynamics in Climate Discourse. The research suggests that the general public is consistently using social media to engage with the topic of climate change.

For example, between July 2022 and 31 May 2023, climate change was mentioned 46,596,911 times on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram. However, the data showed that interest in the topic fluctuates, and peaks often correlate with key calendar moments – including awareness days.  Discussion on social media peaked around the record-breaking temperatures across Europe (18-22 July 2022), the start of COP27 and the historic agreement for a Loss and Damage Fund (8-20 November 2022). However, Earth Day (22 April 2023), wasn’t far behind, also displaying sizeable engagement.

Sustained engagement

Overall, the research suggests that awareness days can have a reasonable impact on social media conversations around climate change. However, the report also found that conversation often dwindles and then swiftly declines in the following days. For example, social media discussions around Earth Day remained at 49% the day after the peak but fell to just 20% by the second day after the peak.

The report also measured the conversations around climate disasters and policy events, which were found to be the most impactful, capturing attention for longer, compared to climate change awareness days and new scientific research.

Despite this, a similar lack of sustained engagement was observed, even for these more impactful calendar moments. For instance, after key policy events such as COP27, social media conversations dropped by 43 percentage points within the first 24 hours.

Keeping the conversation going

There’s no question about the urgency of climate change but organisations must find ways to maintain the discussion for longer, both on social media and in real-life to continue spreading awareness and changing behaviours.

Accessible language is crucial

According to the report, consistently using accessible language and filling in knowledge gaps can be hugely beneficial when it comes to keeping the general public engaged. As mentioned above, the report also measured the impact of new scientific reports which were found to be far less impactful when it comes to creating a buzz on social media. This can largely be attributed to the lack of accessible language often used in the research.

Using accessible language to promote and discuss awareness days helps the general public to better understand the topic and subsequently participate in the conversation for longer.

Creating ‘sticky’ narratives

Awareness days – by nature – are typically considered to be one-day events by the public. Therefore, it’s understandable that conversations around them would decline sharply in the days following. To reduce the impact of this, organisers should attempt to create ‘sticky’ narratives to promote the days which are more likely to resonate with citizens.

The general public seems to be most engaged by narratives that point to concrete ideas and solutions. This is likely a result of the imminent need for tangible climate action, which citizens are now highly aware of. Awareness day organisers should consider how they can weave conversations around the mitigation of climate change into the communications around their event.

Promoting a sense of agency

Another key factor in maintaining social media conversations was a perceived sense of agency. Members of the public were found to be more receptive to climate action when they can relate to it on a personal level. For example, mitigation strategies that can be adopted by the individual, to reduce their carbon footprint can go a long way in keeping citizens engaged. However, this can be counterproductive when policymakers and major corporate entities are perceived to be failing in their climate commitments. On the other hand, adaptation is often perceived as ‘top down’ – resulting in a sense of alienation among citizens who may not feel empowered to act on this strategy.

Overall, it’s clear that the general public is engaged with the topic of climate change – and national awareness days do impact the conversation. However, to produce maximum and sustained engagement, organisers need to carefully consider both the language and content of all communications around these events. Not only to ensure that the vast majority of the audience can understand the topic, but also to bring it down to the human level, including actional guidance that anyone can follow.

Founded in Germany in 1996, UNICPETA is one of the leading service providers for media intelligence. Today it supports organisations all around the world, providing innovative offerings and solutions with regard to media monitoring, social listening, live analytics and in-depth analysis. For more information, visit our website and the full report is downloadable here:

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