What got us here, won’t get us there: reflections on COP28 and how campaigning needs a reboot

As we all wrap up the year for some special time with our families over the holidays, I have taken some time to reflect on COP28 and what it means for our climate campaigning. It was a remarkable experience, a chance to learn from and engage with incredible leaders and innovators driving the climate movement. Amidst the controversy surrounding it, and the tough times the world is going through, this experience has given me an unexpected shot of inspiration—making it clearer than ever that we can still protect our planet for future generations, but to do this, we need to reimagine our approach to campaigning.

While the recent COP made important progress on transitioning from fossil fuels, loss and damage, and food, it illustrated the limitations of current campaigning approaches. Despite powerful high-level insider advocacy and NGO campaigns, government leaders obviously did not feel pressured enough to take the bolder steps needed. This is because campaigns so far have mainly focussed on the already converted. Mobilising activists is critical, but until we get the mainstream to act we won’t get the progress we need. Activist campaigns won’t be enough by themselves, important though they are. We also need a different type of campaigning—engaging the mainstream —if we are to drive more ambitious systems change at the speed we need it.

There’s also a growing risk of climate action being perceived as an elite concern, detached from the broader population. Winning the moveable middle—those who can significantly influence political decisions—is critical. We need campaigns that extend beyond the converted and reach the hearts of mainstream audiences.

In my view, the secret weapon to accomplish this is culture. After years of trying this—sometimes well and sometimes less effectively at Count Us In— it is great to see there’s a growing acknowledgment of the importance of popular culture to engage new audiences. I was excited to see how music, sport, TV and film, brands, and gaming were increasingly becoming recognised as key ingredients to reach and move people to act—and that mobilising the moveable middle is central to accelerating systems change. It is clear to me that politicians and business leaders won’t move quicker unless this group steps up. These cultural forces have the potential to reach and move people in ways traditional methods cannot. They are key to inspiring action to protect our children, families, communities, and our planet.

While not everyone is yet on board, the tide is changing and momentum building. In a few short days I have had conversations about a cricket initiative in India, a green sport campaign in the US, a culture campaign in Brazil in the run up to COP30, harnessing music and football, gaming campaigns that will blow your minds (!), and on the power of social media creators to drive change in consumer behaviour.

People love Green Football Weekend and how partners from Sky and TNT sport to 90 clubs have begun to engage millions of fans through sport (if you want to get involved it is coming up again in February 2024). These campaigns and collaborations with unexpected partners are testaments to culture’s power in driving change.

Now that I’m back home, my commitment to protecting what we all love has only deepened. COP28 has been a call to redouble efforts and make a meaningful contribution. Count Us In, alongside wonderful partners like Rare, Potential Energy Coalition, Global Optimism, and the Museum for the United Nations – UN Live, remains dedicated to this cause.

Our journey forward is clear. We must simplify our message, engage the moveable middle through popular culture, try new and innovative approaches, and collaborate with unusual partners to turn climate aspirations into a collective reality. It’s time for action, and it’s a call to every individual, every business, and every community globally to be a part of the shift. After all, protecting what we love is a responsibility we all share.

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This post is authored by Justin Forsyth, Co-Founder and Lead of Count Us In.

Count Us In harnesses the power of popular culture to inspire and engage mainstream audiences to take climate action – driving wider systems change. We reach the moveable middle through their passions and interests. We deliver impactful popular culture campaigns, facilitating unexpected partnerships in sports, music, social media, entertainment and gaming.

Get in touch to learn more.

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