Looking ahead to COP26 with Tom Clarke, ITV Science Editor: Five key takeaways

Last Thursday, FleishmanHillard UK’s COP26 Unit hosted Tom Clarke, ITV’s Science Editor and one of the UK’s leading climate change journalists.

Speaking to our Head of News, Pete Meikle, the discussion looked ahead to this year’s historic COP26 conference, its significance and impact on climate policy, business reputation and the media agenda.


Here’s our view on some of the key takeaways from the session and the lessons for our clients both in the UK and across the world:

  1. Both climate change, and the UN itself, are at inflexion points: Whilst each COP has been significant, it’s widely agreed COP26 is make or break. We are at a conjunction of two things: Time has run out and we need emissions to peak and fall rapidly down to net-zero by 2050. At the same time, confidence in the UN system and its ability to compel action is being stretched. Unless we see significant movement and commitment, like we last did at the Paris 2015 meeting, it could send negative signals about the ability of the world’s nations and multilateral organisations to work together through the UN process to tackle climate change.
  1. Political signals and collaborations are key: As we saw after Paris 2015, the signals sent by governments and stakeholders in the lead up to, during and after COP26 will be vital if we are to galvanise the change needed across society. For governments around the world, they need to communicate their ambitions, roadmaps, and actions clearly. For businesses, they need to respond and work more closely with governments and vice versa. Too often the issue of climate change is seen as either a government or business issue. The response requires governments, multilaterals, and businesses to work more collaboratively together.
  1. Getting media traction on climate change is tough. But not impossible: Across the many clients we are currently working with on climate communications and COP26 engagement, we often have discussions about how difficult it will be to get coverage. Whilst this is the case, it’s not impossible. There is a strong opportunity for business to talk about what they’re doing, but it’s now more important than ever to be industry-leading and go beyond what your competitors are doing. Otherwise, it’s just like any other news story and press release. 
  1. Business has a unique opportunity to act. But credibility and action, not ambition, is key: There is significant scope and opportunity for businesses to act on climate change, but they must do so with validity and tangible action. Journalists are moving away from covering 2050 targets to focus more on questions around substance and the fundamental changes needed – for instance, what wholesale changes, away from business-as-usual, are companies prepared to make? Or how are they overhauling their supply chains and products to become sustainable? 
  1. COVID-19 means we need to communicate about climate change in a positive and constructive tone: We’ve faced a gruelling year because of the pandemic and consumers want to see positive news stories. Businesses and organisations need to create constructive news on climate change, not negative stories that focus on radical behaviour change and limitations on lifestyles.

Our session with Tom Clarke is the first in a series of COP26 focused events with some of the UK’s leading climate journalists.

If you’d be interested in receiving invitations for upcoming events or would like to discuss your COP26 plans with us, please contact: [email protected]