Insights into how Australian environmental groups use collective action frames in their communication on climate justice.
Australian environmental groups communicate different understandings of what climate justice means, and what they want their supporters and activists to do about it. These groups communicate about climate justice through different communication ‘frames’.
Framing refers to the process of describing a particular issue or concept in a way – whether written, images, spoken, or signed – that emphases some aspects and downplays others.
Frames help people process and interpret information, and effective frames enable people to connect messages with what they already know.
Before the turn of the 21st century, two researchers argued that frames are especially important to social movement communication. This communication aims to mobilise supporters to take action on a particular issue, by providing information which includes three essential components:
- Motivational, and
- Prognostic frames.
My colleagues and I were interested in how Australian environmental groups use these three collective action frames in their communication on climate justice. We analysed almost 800 documents from these groups to examine that question. This is what we found.
Diagnostic Frames about Climate Justice
Causes of Climate Injustice: Fossil Fuel Sector in the Spotlight
We found that the most common cause of climate injustice identified by environmental groups was the fossil fuel sector. Groups pointed to governments and fossil fuel companies’ resistance to adequately reducing greenhouse gas emissions as a central problem.
Targeting these entities was seen as a means to weaken their power and promote greater societal equity.
For environmental groups that used a definition of climate justice as intergenerational justice, politicians and governments were also recognized as significant contributors to climate injustice.
Communities Harmed: Focus on First Nations and Vulnerable Groups
Environmental groups consistently identified First Nations communities as the most affected by climate injustice. These communities faced disproportionate climate change impacts despite contributing the least to the intensifying climate crisis.
Moreover, frontline communities and those of lower socioeconomic status or development were frequently acknowledged as experiencing harm. Additionally, youth, students, and future generations were recognized as vulnerable groups, particularly by groups which focused on intergenerational justice.
Motivational Frames about Climate Justice
Motivational Framing: Empowering and Taking Responsibility
Motivational frames used by environmental groups emphasised empowering and helping people as the primary rationale for taking climate justice action.
Many groups also argued that there is a moral responsibility or obligation to address climate injustice, particularly groups which highlighted the need for intergenerational justice.
This sense of moral duty was often linked to the imperative of safeguarding the well-being of future generations and global ecosystems.
Resources for Action: Past Successes and Shared Identity
Environmental groups frequently cited evidence of past successes as a key resource in their climate justice advocacy. This emphasis on past achievements served to motivate and inspire supporters.
‘Other groups used language that demonstrated a shared identity among advocates, as highlighted by Greenpeace’s statement, “We are one people, one ocean, on one journey!” This shared identity was frequently mentioned by many environmental groups who seek to foster a sense of belonging and collective purpose.’
Figure 1: Greenpeace Australia Pacific campaign on climate justice highlights our shared identity to motivate supporters to take action. Image from https://www.greenpeace.org.au/blog/pacific-island-forum/, copied 17th September 2023
Prognostic frames about Climate Justice
Prognostic Framing: Addressing Economic Inequality and Unfair Power Dynamics
Environmental groups proposed a diverse range of solutions to climate justice through their prognostic framing. The predominant action that groups promoted was the need to alleviate negative economic impacts and reduce inequality.
A just transition was identified as essential, with many groups noting how communities dependent on industries like coal face a challenging future and need support.
Environmental groups which promoted recognition as part of the solution to climate injustice highlighted the importance of educating others and raising awareness.
Actions for Change: Building the Movement and Collaboration
Many groups promoted specific actions that could be undertaken to address climate injustice.
Building the movement and increasing participation were the most common actions, with many organisations committed to grassroots climate action and amplifying the voices of those on the frontlines.
Collaboration and relationship building were also dominant themes, most particularly the need to work collectively to effect change. Educating others and increasing or prioritising input from marginalised communities were identified as critical actions by most groups.
A call to action: collective action frames and climate justice
Understanding how environmental groups can effectively interpret and communicate information about climate justice is crucial for anyone passionate about addressing the climate crisis equitably. As advocates for a more just and sustainable world, environmental groups provide valuable lessons on how to communicate complex issues effectively.
Their collective action frames tell their supporters not only about the problem of climate injustice but also the pathways to meaningful solutions. More and more environmental groups are arguing that the fight against climate change must prioritise the most vulnerable communities and challenge the systems that perpetuate injustice.
By using collective action frames that link to people’s existing values and knowledge environmental groups can mobilise their supporters and set change in motion.
Read the full journal article available by open access at npj Climate Action Journal.
“This paper seeks to examine how Australian environmental non-governmental organisations (ENGOs) communicate about and mobilise their supporters for climate justice. ENGOs play an important role in raising awareness and changing values, attitudes and behaviours related to climate justice. However, while many Australian ENGOs have begun incorporating language around climate justice in their communications, it remains unclear how this concept is framed and enacted in practice. Using data collected from 619 ENGO websites and 149 grant applications, we examine how ENGOs describe climate justice and the collective action frames they use to mobilise action. We found that while few ENGOs provided detailed explanations of climate justice on their websites, they primarily framed climate injustice as a procedural and distributive problem. The fossil fuel sector was most commonly identified as the cause of climate injustice, and First Nations communities most commonly affected. ENGOs linked different climate justice dimensions to diverse causes, issues and actions, indicating a nuanced understanding of how climate justice can be enacted in different contexts. However, they primarily proposed incremental tactics involving education, solidarity and allyship behaviours rather than radical actions through which to drive a transformative agenda of social, political or economic change. We conclude the paper with a discussion of applied implications for ENGOs and suggestions for future research.” – Source
- Climate Justice: What does it actually mean?
Many environmental and social change groups call for climate justice, but what does ‘climate justice’ actually mean?
- Intersectionality Toolkit by Youth and Environment Europe
This toolkit provides a guide for understanding and integrating intersectionality into climate action.
- Reset Reading Group focused on First Nations Resistance & Climate Justice
A set of resources for discussion curated by Karrina Nolan from Original Power.
- Framing Issues for Social Justice Impact: Directory of Messaging Guides
See section on Climate and Climate Justice and other framing guides.
- How to Change the Narrative / Story
Here is a colllection of resources including a series of Framing Climate Justice worksheets designed to support those working for climate justice to run their own framing and communications projects.
- Environmental Movements and Activism around the World: Book and Videos
Watch Episode 27: Framing Environmental Issues