Influencing collective behaviour

NGOs and other community-based organisations can influence policy, business and society, and work to drive the net zero transition. Examples include the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), World Economic Forum (WEF), Greenpeace and the Fridays for Future movement.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg is a clear example of effective individual leadership influencing collective behaviour. In 2018, Thunberg went on a strike in Sweden, refusing to attend school until Sweden’s general election, to bring attention to the climate crisis (BBC, 2020). Following the attention that this strike garnered, the Fridays for Future movement started – a youth movement where young people held weekly gatherings on Fridays to protest against the lack of climate action. This movement has seen over 14 million people protest globally in 7,500 cities (Fridays for Future, n.d.).

In 2018, the environmental movement Extinction Rebellion (XR) was launched in the UK, with non-violent civil disobedience as its main form of activism. This movement demands that governments declare a climate emergency and act to halt increasing biodiversity loss and GHG emissions. Despite controversy around its methods, XR has garnered widespread support and grown into an international movement that includes over one thousand autonomous local groups in over 80 countries (Extinction Rebellion, n.d.).

One of the reasons why climate activism has had a significant and global impact in recent years is due to the media, and the accessibility of social media in particular. The media plays a prominent role in shaping behaviour and public opinion. For example, when the 2014 IPCC report concluded that there were only 12 years left to prevent a climate catastrophe, less than half of the top 50 US newspapers reported this finding on their homepage (MacDonald, 2018). By comparison, when the sixth assessment report was released in 2021 it was comprehensively and prominently covered by a wide range of media outlets, including some of the largest news corporations across the world.