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Awareness campaigns for behavioural change

This measure encompasses actions that promote awareness for the altered conditions under climate change and adaptation. However, 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 mobilise local knowledge and resources. Raising political awareness is 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 ‘awareness raising campaign’. The aim of awareness raising campaigns most often differs between contexts but generally includes increase concern, informing the targeted audience, creating a positive image, and attempts to change their behaviour.

Although awareness raising is often considered to be important at the first stages of the adaptation process, research shows that levels of awareness fluctuate through time under the influence of external variables. For example, the Al Gore movie ‘An Inconvenient truth’ (2006) and IPCC Nobel Peace Prize has a positive effect on the public awareness whilst the 2011/2010 cold winters in Europe, the minor IPCC errors and CRU (Climate Research Unit) emails have negatively influenced public acceptance of climate change and increased public scepticism. Therefore, raising awareness is not only important at the first stages of the process but is integral throughout the process to maintain and increase the general level of awareness.

Awareness campaigns can address groups of people in a region affected by a particular climate threat, groups of stakeholders, the general public, etc. The ultimate aim of such campaigns is to achieve long-term lasting behavioural changes. Awareness raising addresses the knowledge of individuals and organisations. It aims to ensure that all relevant regional and sub-regional bodies understand the impacts of, and take action to respond to certain climate impacts. However they also can focus on a certain impact that is considered as the most tremendous e.g. The Netherlands “Live with Water”. Such campaigns are mostly considered as effective  if several ways of communication are served: dissemination of printed materials; organisation of public meetings and training; professional consultation; communication and information through social and mass-media; using informal networks for information dissemination. It can be combined with the establishment of community self-protection teams that promote self-reliance among residents and businesses to minimize the risk to personal safety and property damage e.g. during a flood event.

There are various forms of media through which the message can be communicated, for example through television, internet, and newspapers. In addition, several tools have been developed to increase decision makers’ awareness (see for examples the online tools on the UKCIP website) and public awareness (see for example ‘Keep it Cool’, ‘Ludo’ and ‘Clim-ATIC’ board games).

Large climate change awareness raising campaigns are often a mixture of mitigation, energy efficiency, and sustainability measures rather than adaptation measures. For example, the campaign You Control Climate Change (2006) of the European Commission aims to inform individuals about climate change, initiate pro-active dialogues, and aims for (small) behavioral changes without affecting individuals’ every day life by giving them a sense of empowerment and personal responsibility. The targeted audience are particularly those individuals that are ‘sometimes active’ in environmental issues (42% of the EU citizens). The Commissions strategy has been to address the skepticism of this targeted group by reducing there skepticism and convince them that individual actions are worthwhile and can lead to big contributions to reduce climate change. To reach this goal the EU heavily invested in tools such as advertising, website, exhibitions, media relations, events, and schools programmes both at European and national levels. In addition, the EU financed national awareness campaigns in its Member States. In 2008, the EU paid addition efforts to Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria, where national awareness campaigns have not yet been implemented.

Additional Details
Reference information

Adaptation Details



IPCC categories

Social: Behavioural, Social: Educational options

Stakeholder participation

Adaptation to climate change requires the conjoint 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 stakeholder 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 increase the credibility of the campaign and provides an option for leverage .

Success and Limiting Factors

In general, households often are often not aware of climate change impacts and adaptation possibilities. Further unknown costs of measures and the unknown effectiveness of measures represent an adaptation barrier. Awareness campaign can overcome these issues. Key points for the success include:

  • priorities for setting the target audience needs to be assessed by understanding who is most vulnerable and who are most likely to gain;
  • clear messages 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 (not) take place;
  • messages should be very precise about what that individual can do to reduce that specific risk;
  • messages should retain in ownership and accountability at every level;
  • the communication strategy should be tailored to the targeted audience (for example youngsters via the internet);
  • campaign model and communication modalities should be selected carefully to keep the message fresh and interesting.

Costs and Benefits

Awareness rising is a complex task with results hard to predict. Although it is very difficult to measure the effectiveness of awareness raising campaigns as there are few outcome indicators, frequently conducted qualitative and quantitative surveys can provide valuable insights. A 2011 survey among individuals of 12 EU countries showed that on average 49% felt informed about the causes of climate change (n=13091) which is 6% less than the same survey in 2009 illustrated, driven by an increase in the number of people who claimed to feel ''not at all informed'' (from 9% to 15%). Less than half of the respondents (46%) felt informed about the ways to deal with climate change (including adaptation) which is 5% less than the same survey in 2009. The report concludes that ‘in general, one can observe a decrease in the level of self-perceived awareness about climate change among respondents of the 12 Member States surveyed.’
No direct benefits though may be indirect consequences.

Self-help options help to establish resilient communities. Regional and local leaders are usually more credible than national equivalents. Option may be efficient, leading to reduction of property damage at relatively low investment costs.

In 2013 the EU adaptation strategy was adopted. Awareness rasing and mainstreaming of adaptation are considered as important elements of this strategy.

Implementation Time

1-5 years

Reference information

DG ENV project ClimWatAdapt abd FP6 project ADAM Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies.

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Sep 10 2022

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