Chapter 1 – Make it relatable 

We’ve really enjoyed talking to activists from around the world about how they’ve used net zero in their campaigning. One key theme that resonated across many of our interviews was the need to break a net zero goal down to something relatable to everyday life.

This great example comes from South Africa:

SPOTLIGHT: SOUTH AFRICA Touch on people’s concerns and sensitivities about air pollution

In South Africa, energy is a key concern for climate activists. Coal provides 80% of South Africa’s electricity needs, which results in very high air pollution and carbon emissions. A challenge for South African campaigners is to find a way to make any campaign interesting and relatable to everyday people.

Happy Khambule, explains Greenpeace Africa’s approach:
‘When we look at air pollution as a problem caused by the power industry, we start by looking at what the science says. Where is the data that allows us to geographically map the impact of air pollution caused by the power industry? Then we try to interpret the data and find a way to make it relatable to someone who doesn’t think about climate change all the time. We do this by, for example, asking a health professional to explain what the health implications would be of a specific high rate of air pollution.

But we know that the raw data and a doctor’s opinion alone won’t win the campaign. So we go to people in the affected area and listen to what they say, and try to understand how the pollution makes them feel.

This approach helps us touch on different aspects of people’s concerns, worries and sensitivities about air pollution. 

When we go to talk to politicians and policymakers, we’ve found that they are really interested in big diagrams that show the real problems caused by air pollution, and how local people feel about that pollution. We’ve learned that the people you want to support your campaign want to hear the story more than the policy. This is key: those in power need to understand the real-world impact of pollution, and your task as a campaigner is to find a way to get the voices, concerns and hopes of local people in front of them.’

Happy Khambule, Senior Greenpeace Africa Political advisor, South Africa

An excellent example also comes from India:

SPOTLIGHT: INDIA Air pollution for proxy campaigns

Avijit, from a campaigning group in India, shared their experiences:

‘We don’t see ourselves as experts on climate change. We see ourselves as experts in communicating important issues in a way that the general public understands.

Once we’ve created that awareness, we can mobilise them to demand change from the appropriate decision-makers. 

If you look at rural India, where most people are farmers and live close to nature, they see that climate change is happening today, but they don’t know why it’s happening.

In urban India people are more disconnected from nature, so most of them don’t see climate change as a problem. Maybe a few people have heard about it, it’s been talked about, but they’re not thinking about it as a daily issue.

Awareness of climate change varies according to age too, we’ve found that the main audience for whom climate change is a word you can use, and they understand it quickly, is under 25 years old.

We have found that the climate issue is very difficult to communicate in India. So we did some testing to find what motivates people to want to get involved with climate change campaigns. We found we were best able to talk about air pollution and its impact on individual’s and children’s health.

So we focused on two main issues:
One is transport, and this is basically about sustainable mobility, specifically focusing on cities to create more non- motorised transport, more public transport, more electric vehicles, and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. People understand that these steps will reduce air pollution. The benefit this has for reducing carbon emissions is a helpful side effect, it’s not the main focus of the campaign.

The other campaigns are about solar energy. We’ve had most success engaging bureaucrats at the local, city and state level, running campaigns that encourage local decision-makers to prioritise investment in solar energy. Again, this isn’t a campaign just in favour of net-zero, or reducing emissions, but it helps build a path to net-zero, and shows that real change is possible.’

Avijit Michael, Managing Trustee & Executive Director,

And another from Earthlife Africa

SPOTLIGHT: SOUTH AFRICA Empower People To Use Their Own Voice

‘We know that every community has a different level of under- standing of the factors that cause them to see climate change in their community. If you live near a coal-fired power plant, it doesn’t
mean you’re directly affected by visible pollution. But if there is a coal-fired power plant in your area, there will be emissions – and what does that mean for your health? What does that mean
for your soil and drinking water? What does that mean for the environment around you? We’ve found that these are the entry points of how we connect the power plant and the climate issue
with accessibility to clean water and biodiversity in the community.

And what we’ve also been using lately is intergenerational conversations where the richness of biodiversity, the richness of people’s cultures and traditions come up, and so we can connect
them to the larger issues of climate change, and draw on the expertise of their elders and ancestors.’
Makoma Lekalakala, Earthlife Africa
Mobilising people on climate change can be tough. It’s a huge issue, driven by many complicated things. It’s natural as a campaigner to try and get people to engage in the whole issue,
all the time. But that won’t help you reach your goal.

We found these examples so exciting, inspirational and real: of course it makes sense that it’s powerful and impactful to break down a topic so it relates to everyday life. Then, people who
haven’t had the time or space to think about climate change can join the campaign, and walk with you.