Learning from Boundary Work? The Evolving UK Government Approach to Communicating Climate Change

Tim Rayner

In the United Kingdom, the need for effective climate change communication efforts has long been taken seriously. In 2014, two high-profile committees provided the opportunity for reflection on the effectiveness of climate change communication and engagement, particularly as practiced by government and related agencies. Both the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee and a cross-disciplinary academic Commission (UCL 2014) made recommendations targeted at government, calling inter alia for new organisational mechanisms to support public discourse on climate science. Using documentary analysis and interviews with key actors (including civil servants and those working on the respective committee reports), this paper investigates the learning effects that these committees had in their work as 'boundary organisations'. How far did 'simple' and 'conceptual learning' (Fiorino 2001) occur, and what if any institutional reforms have resulted? How did they handle the tension, apparent at the time, over which actors or institutions are best placed to lead communication and engagement on which topic? Where recommendations from these reports have not found favour, the paper investigates possible reasons why, including resource implications in times of austerity or the political complexion of the government of the day (which changed after the 2015 election). It concludes by reflecting on how far the UK is developing societal institutions to 'accommodate and ease the normative tensions within climate change communication' (Corner and Groves 2014: 744).

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