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Interactive Handbook

Sustainable Development in Practice: A Guide to Integrating Environment, Climate and Poverty Reduction

Chapter 6. Communications on Poverty, Climate and Environment

Draft. Michael Stanley-Jones and Steve Bass. 31st March 2022

6.1 Objectives and role of communications

Communications is the essential wiring that connects all the multi-stakeholder, multidimensional, multipurpose actions needed for poverty-environment integration.

Communications aims to contribute to evidence-based dialogue, policy, planning and action by building a shared understanding that can lead to change in favour of both poverty reduction and environmental sustainability.

The objectives will vary depending on the context but, for poverty-environment integration initiatives, communications objectives may cover the following:

  • Creating space for the voices of the poor to be heard and environmental realities to be understood
  • Making poverty-environment issues real, visible and actionable to critical actors
  • Attracting and linking stakeholders, fostering champions and partnerships for poverty-environment objectives
  • Promoting a strategic vision for poverty-environment integration based on national development objectives
  • Taking stakeholders from simple information sharing and learning to shared understanding, competence and commitment, and to collective action
  • Expanding commitment to new poverty-environment policies and initiatives so they have greater impact


Notwithstanding the urgency of these objectives, communications is frequently seen as simply the end of the pipeline, with publication of a report or policy, perhaps some messaging to target audiences, and occasionally a media event. It is too often only a one-way communications push – the broadcasting of information – and considered late in a process. Instead, full integration of poverty-environment objectives should benefit from the pull activities that communications can provide – drawing people into debate, analysis, planning and change on the ground (figure 6.1).

Communications is also too often focused on standardized messages. But real poverty-environment issues are deeply local and very specific. Thus, communications should be adapted to the country context using facts and figures from relevant local sources and – especially – locally appropriate channels of communication that engage local actors.

A communications strategy is essential to getting communications right: getting the right information to the right people at the right time and thereby advancing the commitment and advocacy needed to champion the poverty-environment agenda. A practical approach to developing and implementing a communications strategy covers five elements (Carlile 2011):

  • Engaging and mobilizing: to map, reach and listen to the different stakeholders of poverty-environment issues – providing platforms for dialogue
  • Raising the profile: to ensure a clear voice for an initiative such as a mainstreaming project – clarifying its purpose and added value, and keeping it top of mind among stakeholders
  • Sharing information: to access, organize and ensure the flow of information relevant to poverty-environment issues – ensuring knowledge is exchanged in accessible and engaging ways
  • Influencing and advocacy: to make clear, evidence-based cases for poverty-environment action – generating compelling narratives and driving momentum for change
  • Producing products: to produce publications, services and events that deliver the above for specific audience groups – in government, local organizations and civil society, sector organizations and business, and international organizations – as relevant

The first two elements are covered, respectively, in chapter 3. We concentrate here on the three remaining three elements – notably on packaging poverty-environment information and messaging to influence key decisions, with guidance on some of the kinds of products that can achieve this. The chapter will be expanded with new tools and case studies as the handbook develops.

Figure 6.1 Pull and push in the strategic communications framework

6.2 Key messages on poverty-environment integration

Once you understand your target audiences (chapter 3), you should have a clearer idea of what you can say to convince them to support poverty-environment key objectives. Simple, clear and concise messages are effective everywhere, but to be most effective your messaging should be audience-led. Different ways of conveying the same information may be needed for different audiences. You should start by reflecting on “What does my audience want to know? What is relevant for them in their current situation?” Communicate the message in a way that makes sense to the audience and uses language they will understand (UNEP-WCMC and IIED, 2017).

Less is more. To maximize impact, it is useful to extract two or three main messages. Identifying credible messengers (experts and champions) to convey these messages could also make a big difference.

Here are five main messages you can use to tell the story of poverty-environment integration. Note that, while we cite global data below, it will be more relevant to find and cite national, sectoral or local facts instead.

  • Eradicating multidimensional poverty is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.
    • In “The Future We Want,” the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) recognized that “Eradicating poverty is the greatest global challenge facing the world today and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development” (UNCSD, 2012).
    • A simulation of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on multidimensional poverty in 70 countries – including 16 from the Asia-Pacific region – found that multidimensional poverty might have increased by 60 per cent in 2020, plunging an additional 490 million people back into multidimensional poverty globally (UNDP and OPHI, 2020). The increase in deprivations may set back progress on multidimensional poverty by more than nine years (UNDP, 2021).
    • Across the 5.9 billion people who live in the 109 countries studied, more than one in five – 1.3 billion – or 21.7 per cent live in acute multidimensional poverty. Nearly 85 per cent live in Sub-Saharan Africa (556 million) or South Asia (532 million) (OPHI and UNDP, 2021).
    • Globally, the increase in poverty as measured by income that occurred in 2020 due to COVID still lingers. Since 2019, the number of people experiencing hunger has increased by 46 million in Africa, around 57 million in Asia, and about 14 million more in Latin America and the Caribbean (FAO, 2021); an additional 77 million more people are living in extreme poverty (United Nations, 2022).
  • Economic growth alone will not eradicate poverty.
    • Twentieth-century development strategies failed to lift the world’s poorest communities out of poverty. About one in five people in developing regions lives on less than $1.90 per day.
    • Despite the 2021 recovery from 2020’s record declines in global economic growth, low-income countries and countries in Sub-Saharan Africa were expected to see further increases in poverty in 2021 (World Bank, 2021).
    • The sustainability of the environment – once mistakenly thought to compete with economic development – is now understood to be complementary and necessary to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere.” Indeed, economic development and poverty reduction strongly depend on improving management of the environment and natural resources – the “natural wealth” of the poor.
    • New tools of economic analysis and transparency reveal the true value of natural capital and sustainable environment and natural resource management.
  • Inequality harms growth and poverty reduction.
    • Income inequality increased by 11 per cent in developing countries between 1990 and 2010; inequality hurts growth and poverty reduction.
    • Poverty falls disproportionately on women. Of the 1.2 billion people across the world who live in hunger, 7 out of 10 are women and girls. Half of multidimensionally poor people across the globe are children (OPHI and UNDP, 2021).
  • Poverty-environment mainstreaming helps eradicate poverty and reduce inequality, as well as combat environmental degradation.
    • The story of mainstreaming poverty and environment is one of finding integrated solutions to development planning and transitioning to more resource-efficient, resilient forms of growth that help bring multiple social, economic and environmental benefits.
    • The close interaction between poverty and the environment is reflected in five interlinked key objectives covered by poverty-environment integration or mainstreaming:
      • Sustainable use of natural resources
      • Adaptation to climate change
      • Poverty reduction
      • Equity, especially for marginalized groups (including women and indigenous peoples)
      • Inclusive green growth
    • To ensure that the benefits gained through poverty-environment integration initiatives are sustained, international, regional and national institutions should poverty-environment integration in their own systems, procedures and practices.
6.3 Communication tools

The choice of an appropriate communication tool depends on understanding how your target audience receives and understands information. Some may prefer more technical messages packaged in a report or policy brief, while simple slogans or stories that convey your core objectives may be more appropriate for others. Social media has become the predominant media for people to receive information (University Canada West, 2022).

This section suggests good practices to follow once you have selected the right tool or medium for your audience and summarizes do’s and don’ts for writing in various formats. In addition:

  • Chapter 3 offers various graphics that represent the complexity of poverty-environment interactions, helping them to be better communicated.
  • Chapter 4 discusses the various communications tasks needed to ensure poverty-environment integration in the planning process.
  • Chapter 5 notes the potential of government budget speeches to communicate government poverty-environment commitments.
  • Over time, we will add further guidance on other tools.


6.3.1 Fact sheet

A fact sheet is a short summary, generally a page or two, that quickly and easily answers questions about an issue or set of activities. Fact sheets provide useful background information; help officials focus on key points; and may serve as a summary of a briefing or presentation, helping listeners retain the information that has been presented.


  • Contains 1–3 key points
  • Points are supported with simple, striking data
  • May include 1–3 policy or programme implications


  • Avoid technical terms
  • Include full contact information for those seeking further details


  • Tanzania fact sheet (UNDP-UNEP PEI, n.d.)
  • Revisão da Despesa Pública do Sector Ambiental, Moçambique, 2- 5-2010 (UNDP-UNEP PEI, n.d.)


6.3.2 Policy brief

A policy brief is a concise summary of an issue, the policy options to deal with it and some recommendations on the best option. It is aimed at government policymakers and others who are interested in formulating or influencing policy. Typically, policy briefs are about two pages long (about 700 words); longer briefs can be up to eight pages, or 3,000 words. If possible, policy briefs should be attractively designed and include one or more photographs (FAO, 2011).


  • Short and to the point
  • Focused on a problem or issue with enough detail for readers to make a decision and enough urgency to compel them to do so
  • Based on firm data/evidence from various sources – preferably from several areas/ organizations


  • “Poverty-Environment Action's Integrated Approach” (UNEP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Action, 2022)
  • “Support to smallholder arable farmers in Botswana: agricultural development or social protection?” (UNDP-UNEP PEI, 2013)
  • “Ecosystem services and poverty alleviation: A case study of land use in Oudomxay province” (UNDP-UNEP PEI, 2012)


6.3.3 Working paper

Working papers are research reports, technical papers, discussion papers and occasional papers covering original research. A working paper is a useful vehicle for publishing research results quickly and to explore ideas through discussion with practitioners in the field, eliciting their feedback on new findings or methods (Scandlyn, 2003).


  • Title summarizing the paper in 10 words or less
  • Abstract covering contributions, approach and results
  • Introduction including background, overview and contributions
  • Disclaimer
  • Summary of research approach
  • Body of the report
  • Results and conclusions, including broader implications


  • Organize the paper with a logical flow
  • Compare with relevant existing methods
  • Use footnotes or endnotes, and include a reference list of works cited in the paper
  • Include tables, graphs or annexes presenting data from the research or giving further details about the research method
  • Use plain English and technical language as appropriate; jargon is permissible as necessary
  • Formality does not always add weight. Overly formal language and passive constructions (e.g. “the report was written by the committee” rather than “the committee wrote the report”) do not make materials more authoritative, only longer and harder to digest
  • Don’t plagiarize the work of other writers. Cite all sources used in the paper.



6.3.4 Press release

Press releases are written communications directed at members of the news media in order to publicize something newsworthy.


  • Confirm the basic facts of the story
  • Write a catchy headline
  • Summarize what is newsworthy in a lead sentence
  • Provide background and human interest
  • Get the name of and other relevant facts about people cited (e.g. current occupation, role in mainstreaming poverty-environment)
  • Include quotes from relevant people to add authenticity to the story; include their short titles and agency names
  • Use a picture, video or sound bite, if possible, to accompany your written piece
  • Be sure to include numbers (of people assisted, money provided etc.)
  • Write in the active rather than passive voice
  • Present the most relevant data, especially if the data are new or unusual
  • Stick to concrete details to define problems and illustrate solutions
  • Let the facts tell the story
  • Write simply and plainly; avoid jargon and florid or unusual language
  • Avoid unfamiliar or unnecessary acronyms and spell out names
  • Give credit where credit is due – name partners and donors
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the reader: Would you want to read this story?


6.3.5 Media advisory / Save the date

A media advisory announces an upcoming newsworthy event or activity. Advisories are usually issued several days before an event. Press releases may be issued at the start of major actions – e.g. report launches, global meetings, country delegation visits – as appropriate. Press conferences may be organized in cooperation with donor agencies on relevant occasions and major events.


  • Keep it short
  • List the event and its participants, date and location
  • Include the name and phone number of a contact person for the press
  • Spell out the purpose of the event
  • Write a strong headline and lead sentence, but do not reveal the news you will be releasing


6.3.6 Tweets

Tweets are increasingly used by organizations to report breaking news or attract a dedicated following.


  • Stick to essentials: messages are limited to 280 characters including spaces
  • Longer messages can be delivered using “threads” in which the linked messages are enumerated (1), (2), (3) and so on
  • Include a hash tag to categorize tweets by keyword to help them show more easily in a Twitter search (e.g. #povertyenvironment)
  • Include quotes to boost audience and media interest
  • Use a personal tone or give a first-person perspective where possible/appropriate
  • Illustrate the story whenever possible with a photo or video clip
  • Video and audio clips are limited to 140 seconds in length


6.3.7 Stories

A keyway to communicate and share the breadth, importance and impact of poverty-environment integration is through human interest stories which can be used on websites and social media; and in newsletters, annual reports and donor reports; and at meetings and conferences.

People-centred/human interest stories should demonstrate the impact and progress made by the poverty-environment integration initiative in terms that interest the chosen audience, such as implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and leaving no one behind. The stories should also illustrate the challenges being faced and how they have been overcome.

A “stories of change” approach can serve both the need for good communications material and provide evidence that is helpful for monitoring and evaluation. Note that some funding agencies have specific requirements on what stories of change should cover, and it can be efficient to build these requirements from the beginning.


  • Getting the story

    Talk to partners and local governments and get suggestions on who to interview, arrange meetings and provide translation or local staff who can do the interviews and send materials (including photos).

    • When interviewing, explain which agency you are from and ask if you can write about them and take photographs. There is a consent form that should be signed.
    • Start by asking basic details – the spelling of their names, age, where from and take time to get the story. Never assume you will be able to come back or follow up later.
    • Talk to other family members and community members or the head of the community.
    • As much as possible, get concrete details about the improvement in their lives, the difference the intervention has made to their family and the community – how it was before and now. Focus on the impact as well as on what makes the initiative interesting, innovative or unique.
    • If you do not already know, find out from colleagues about the bigger picture, number of beneficiaries, source of funding (donors are very important) and timelines. You can use a quote from a United Nations (UN) and/or government official.
    • Another approach is to tell the story of a staff member or implementing partner describing their day and their work – this can be in the first or third person.
    • The above applies for meetings as well. When in workshops and meetings, find a participant with an interesting history or background and interview them – and start the story off with them.
  • Illustrating the story

    Photographs can make a story and are key for social media. After asking permission, think about what would look interesting. Here are some points to keep in mind:

    • Get pictures of people (five maximum) doing something –ask people to do something active and take various shots.
    • Get up close to your subject.
    • Children are always appealing, but make sure you have the parent or guardian’s permission before taking a photo of minors.
    • Do not take photos of people eating, taking selfies, checking their phones or yawning.
    • Do not take photos of people drinking alcohol or toasting.
    • Capture people engaged in an activity, not staring into the camera or sitting in a meeting.
    • Respect the dignity of the people depicted in the photo.
    • Be aware of gender balance.
    • Limit photos of conference halls, meeting rooms and people in suits.
    • Give credit to photographer and include appropriate caption.
    • Make sure all photos have captions indicating names, place, date and what is happening and include the credit in this format: Agency name/Year/Photographer’s name.
  • Writing the story

    • Remember the story is focusing on the beneficiaries and the impact of your initiative’s work. It should also show how people are overcoming challenges.
    • Keep the story simple, with easy language for different audiences; avoid technical language and jargon.
    • Avoid an excessive focus on meeting big goals. Success can be in small things as well as in unexpected events and innovations.
    • Keep the story brief. Make the opening paragraph and headline compelling and punchy. Ensure the story has a beginning, middle and end – or at least a conclusion that hints at future developments if the story is not yet finished.
    • Apart from conventional, third-person stories, you can also think about first person accounts, blogs and interviews. This can help with the necessary human interest.
    • Make sure you get the spellings of names and places right, explain where a place is and quote the beneficiaries directly.
    • Suggest Twitter/LinkedIn and Instagram text/captions to accompany the story as well as who might be tagged.


  • Multiple stories of change from PEI and PEA4SDGs: these provide both useful stories that can be drawn upon in analogous situations, such as evidence of what is possible from similar countries and context; as well as models to follow in terms of content, structure and type of narrative.
6.4 Communications strategies for different stakeholder groups

This section summarizes strategic communications on poverty-environment integration for two major target groups – high-level national officials and international organizations – with suggested messages, expected results, actions, methods and tools.

6.4.1 Target group: Ministers, high-ranking government officials and parliamentarians

Key messages/content

  • The impact of poverty-environment on:
    • The national economy
    • Environment and natural resources
    • Biodiversity
    • Poverty eradication
    • Gender equity and equality
    • Climate change adaptation
  • The relationships between poverty, ecosystem services and environmental and natural resource management
  • The cost of action/inaction
  • The current and potential added value of poverty-environment mainstreaming to meet SDGs and national sustainable development goals and targets

Expected results

  • Increased knowledge by policymakers of the relationship between the environment and environmental and natural resource management and other development challenges leads to a higher priority for poverty-environment objectives in national budgets and development planning
  • Increased awareness and technical understanding among decision-makers of poverty-environment issues and their various implications
  • Increased knowledge of poverty-environment through interministerial collaboration
  • Decision-makers address heightened awareness of the global benefits of integrating poverty-environment

Strategic actions

  • Tailor messages to produce arguments for finance and planning ministers:
    • Respective investment yields in environmental and natural resources versus other areas
    • Cost of action/inaction
    • Specific contribution of poverty-environment to solving single issues such as threats to biodiversity, climate change, deforestation, extractive industries, food insecurity, gender equality, health, sanitation, sustainable energy, water and poverty eradication with clear costs for each case
  • Share arguments with other line ministers (agriculture, environment, technology etc.) and heads of government
  • Tailor documents on the same themes for parliamentarians and present them to parliamentary committees
  • Meet one-on-one with government ministers and high-level officials on the above subjects
  • Organize regional and national seminars on economic, social and environmental benefits of poverty-environment mainstreaming


  • Policy briefs, fact sheets, workshops
  • International, regional and country-level meetings, events, exhibitions and campaigns (e.g. climate summits, other multilateral environmental agreement conferences, SDG conferences, UN Environment Assembly, World Environment Day)
  • Websites, social media, newsletters, communities of practice
  • One-on-one meetings


6.4.2 Target group: UN system, intergovernmental organizations and bilateral donors

Key messages/content

  • The impact of poverty-environment on:
    • The economy
    • The environment and natural resources
    • Biodiversity
    • Poverty eradication
    • Gender mainstreaming
    • Climate change
  • The cost of action/inaction
  • The benefits for all concerned
    • Stakeholders in building communication
    • Partnerships and a clearing-house mechanism for promoting poverty-environment mainstreaming


  • Poverty-environment economic studies, working papers, policy briefs, fact sheets, guidance notes, handbook, workshops
  • International, regional and country-level meetings, events, exhibitions and campaigns (e.g. climate summits, other multilateral environmental agreement conferences, SDG conferences, UN Environment Assembly, World Environment Day)
  • Communities of practice, websites, social media, newsletters, emails
  • One-on-one meetings
6.5 References

Carlile, L (2011) Making communication count: a strategic communications framework. IIED, London

FAO, 2011

FAO (2021). The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021. Marumo et al., 2014

OPHI and UNDP 2021

PEA stories of change – various

Scandlyn (2003)

United Nations Inter-agency Task Force on Financing for Sustainable Development (2022). Financing for Sustainable Development Report 2022 (April 2022).

UNCSD 2012




UNDP and OPHI, 2020

UNDP, UNCDF and UNEP, 2010

UNEP-WCMC and IIED (2017). Mainstreaming biodiversity and development. Guidance from African experience 2012-17 – chapter 6

University Canada West (2022). How has social media emerged as a powerful communication medium?

World Bank, 2014

World Bank Blog, 24 June 2021