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Adaptation option

Awareness raising campaigns for stakeholders’ behavioural change

This adaptation measure encompasses actions that promote awareness in order to encourage individual and societal behavioural changes to address the altered conditions under climate change and to promote adaptation measures. Not all stakeholders are aware and informed about their vulnerability and the measures they can take to pro-actively adapt to climate change. Awareness raising is therefore an important component of the adaptation process to manage the impacts of climate change, enhance adaptive capacity, and reduce overall vulnerability. 

Public awareness is important to increase enthusiasm and support, stimulate self-mobilisation and action, and to mobilise local knowledge and resources. Raising political awareness is especially important as policy makers and politicians are key actors in the policy process of adaptation. Awareness raising requires strategies of effective communication to reach the desired outcome. The combination of these communication strategies for a targeted audience for a given period can broadly be described as an ‘awareness raising campaign’. The aim of awareness raising campaigns differs between contexts, but generally involves  informing the targeted audience of the specific concerns, and suggesting ways to change behaviour to overcome or reduce these concerns. Although awareness raising is often considered to be important at the first stages of the adaptation process, research (e.g. Manuti, 2013) shows that levels of awareness fluctuate through time under the influence of external variables. Therefore, raising awareness is not only important at the first stages, but is integral throughout the entire process. 

Awareness campaigns can address groups of people in a region affected by a particular climate threat, groups of stakeholders, businesses or the public in general. The ultimate aim of such campaigns is to achieve long-term lasting behavioural changes. Awareness raising increases the knowledge of individuals, business and industry managers, organisations and decision makers. It aims to ensure that all relevant regional and sub-regional bodies understand the impacts of climate change, and take action to respond to certain impacts. However, they also can focus on a specific impact that is considered as the most critical for a given place, e.g. as in the case of “The Netherlands Live with Water” public awareness campaign focusing on coastal and river flooding. Awareness campaigns are considered more effective if several communication strategies are used, such as: dissemination of printed materials; organisation of public meetings and training; professional consultation; communication and information through social and mass-media, and use of informal networks for information dissemination. Awareness campaigns can be combined with the establishment of community self-protection teams (see for example the case study Vrijburcht: a privately funded climate–proof collective garden in Amsterdam) that promote self-reliance among residents and businesses to minimize the risk to personal safety and property damage (e.g. during flood events). 

There are various forms of media through which the message can be communicated, for example through television, internet, social media and newspapers. In addition, several tools have been developed to increase decision makers’ awareness (such as the ADAPT2CLIMA Decision Support Tool) and public awareness (such as the EU communication campaign on climate action and the Change Game). Large climate change awareness raising campaigns are often a mixture of mitigation, energy efficiency, and sustainability measures rather than only focusing on adaptation measures.

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Adaptation Details

IPCC categories

Social: Behavioural, Social: Educational options

Stakeholder participation

Adaptation to climate change requires the joint efforts of individuals, businesses, industries, governments and other actors that are confronted by the impacts of climate change. Awareness campaigns are often more effective if relevant stakeholders or environmental NGOs are involved in the development and the role out of the strategy. They often know “their” clients better and the best way to communicate with them. Including them also often increases the credibility of the campaign and provides an option for leverage.

Success and Limiting Factors

Stakeholders (including citizens) are not always aware of climate change impacts and adaptation possibilities, nor of the costs of measures and their effectiveness. Awareness campaign can overcome these issues. Key points for their success include: 

  • priorities for setting the target audience need to be assessed by understanding who is most vulnerable and who are most likely to gain; 
  • clear messages need to be used to gain the target’s attention; 
  • messages should be a compelling justification for personal motivation; 
  • messages should be communicated in the language that the audience understands; 
  • messages should focus on what can be gained or what could be lost if adaptation does (or not) take place; 
  • messages should be very precise about what that individual can do to reduce that specific risk; 
  • messages should retain ownership and accountability at every level; 
  • the communication strategy should be tailored to the targeted audience (for example young people via the internet); 
  • the campaign model and communication modalities should be selected carefully to keep the message fresh and interesting. 

On the other hand, an important limiting factor is the risk of limited perception about climate change (the problem could be seen as distant and not real), that can lower stakeholders’ participation and the effectiveness of the campaign. The risk of low consideration in the political agenda as well as the sense of powerlessness according to the level of local/regional/national activity on climate change issues can also affect the effectiveness of the campaign. 

Costs and Benefits

Awareness rising is a complex task with hard to predict results. Although it is very difficult to measure the effectiveness of awareness raising campaigns as there are few outcome indicators, qualitative and quantitative surveys are usually used to gather valuable insights. Campaign costs include those associated with the production and transmission of campaign materials and the design and implementation of engaging actions. These costs must be weighed against the number of people the campaign want to reach and by the way through which contents are disseminated (work cost per person). 

On 24 February 2021 the European Commission adopted its new EU strategy on adaptation to climate change. Awareness raising and mainstreaming of adaptation are considered important elements of this strategy: “By offering solutions to help meet the rising awareness of climate impacts, it will help large companies, SMEs, local administrations, social partners, and the public. It will also help correct the misperception that adaptation is solely a cost - it is an investment”. 

Implementation Time

Defining the implementation timeframe for awareness-raising campaigns is crucial because the involvement of multiple stakeholders and the organization of multiple outreach events must be considered in detail. Usually, the implementation time stays between 1 and 5 years; this interval is needed to provide a solid groundwork for outreach strategies and activities. 

Life Time

The life time of an awareness raising campaign is variable, depending on the scope of the campaign. Since they are specifically aimed at producing profound changes in the society and triggering new sustainable behaviour, their contributions aim to last far beyond their implementation time. 

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Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT May 17 2024

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