The Challenge

For the last two decades, the climate change conversation had overlooked the role forests play in reducing climate pollution. Forests, if left standing, are major carbon sinks; they are projected to have the potential to absorb and store about one-tenth of global carbon emissions by 2050. However, when forests are cleared, burned or degraded, they release large quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

Burness was asked to elevate forests at the UN Climate Summit, a major global gathering of world leaders designed by the secretary-general of the United Nations to spur global action on climate.

Our Approach

Working with the United Nations Development Programme,  Meridian Institute and Climate Advisers, Burness led and executed a complex and ambitious communications plan on behalf of the forest action area at the summit. Our strategy revolved around the media roll-out of the New York Declaration on Forests, a pledge to end deforestation by 2030 that was ultimately endorsed by 180 signers.

To draw attention to this historic agreement, Burness harnessed the collective resources of a communications coalition representing Declaration endorsers, including companies like Unilever and Cargill, NGOs like World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund, governments, including Norway and the United Kingdom, and Indigenous Peoples groups such as Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).

We also used our well-tested media promotion tactics to reach out to dozens of top journalists in advance of the summit to ensure that they had advance information about the Declaration and an opportunity to interview spokespeople.

Results and Impact

As a result of our strategic communications efforts, forests emerged as one of the key issue areas. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as dozens of top environment reporters from the New York Times, Associated Press, NPR, Bloomberg, Reuters, Los Angeles Times and dozens of other outlets worldwide, recognized the importance of the Declaration.

More than 300 original stories, which circulated in more than 15 languages and through more than 40 countries, mentioned the pledge. Several stories, including pieces in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and other outlets, focused specifically on the Declaration. This coverage not only brought unprecedented media attention to the link between forests and climate change, it put forests at center stage at the summit. Worldwide, the message was heard loud and clear that without decisive action on deforestation and forest restoration, global warming can’t be stopped.