Bringing affected communities into the climate change conversation

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Devex, Global

Global leaders last month reached what has been hailed as a historic agreement at the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris, France. COP21 also gave rise to a range of new platforms to include the stories and ideas of those most affected by our changing climate in the global conversation about solutions.

Google’s portal displays a map during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. What can the global development community learn from a range of new initiatives to make the conversation on climate more inclusive? Photo by: COP Paris

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, explained that 4 out of 10 adults have never heard of climate change, a statistic that rises to two-thirds of adults in many developing countries.

“If you don’t know you’re at risk, you’re more at risk, because you can’t fully understand the changes already occurring in your local climate and weather conditions and [more importantly] can’t make decisions about the future that factor in climate change,” he told Devex.

The need for new ways to tell the story about climate change should be no surprise to COP21 participants, who saw everything from parody advertisements to pop up tattoo parlors at the climate talks. But the question now is what the global development community can learn from a range of new initiatives to make the conversation on climate more inclusive.

Finding new ways to tell the story

Internews, a nonprofit organization focused on local voices for global change, is making a big push for a new form of journalism that combines geographic data with global reporting. At COP21, Internews launched Open Earth, an interface that brings together regional websites like InfoAmazonia and InfoCongo covering the environment through a combination of interactive maps, data visualizations, and traditional reporting.

“Geojournalism paints a much more intricate and nuanced picture of climate change,” said James Fahn, who manages the Earth Journalism Network for Internews. “It’s not a replacement for traditional media. It augments traditional media.”

Over breakfast in Berkeley, California, where Fahn is based, he turned his laptop around to display examples of the data visualizations. Fahn explained that both the development community and the media industry should look to geojournalism.org to make use of the growing amoung of environmental data that is out there. These tools can help everyone from journalists to activists to grantmakers frame climate change in a more effective way.

“You can’t just tell people what’s happening. You need to show people what’s happening,” Fahn said.

Fahn said that while the current network of geojournalism sites tends to draw readers from policy, academia, and development, Internews is working to reach developing country audiences - for example the rural farmers who face the effects of climate change everyday — by working with journalists on the ground to get these stories out there.

“Basically the idea is to work with local media, get them to understand how data journalism works, hopefully get them to produce their own stories but also reverse the communication and take the information from the site to the field,” he said.

Mongabay, a media outlet focused on conservation news, launched a site in 2012 where local staff in Indonesia report on the environmental issues that affect them in their own language.

“By virtue of having the bottom up approach, you learn about what the issues actually are and what the local people actually care about,” Rhett Butler, Mongabay’s founder, told Devex. He mentioned palm oil. “The media talks about orangutans and climate change and things people on the ground don’t care about.”

Development organizations that value stakeholder engagement need new approaches to incentivize action from the farmers who clear land for palm oil plantations. “It’s really about identifying your audience and figuring out what they care about and shoehorning climate change into that,” he said.

Using competitions to drive new ideas

Saraswati Upadhaya from Nepal and Charles Batte from Uganda, winners of the 2015 Global Youth Video Competition launched by the United Nations, traveled to the Paris climate talks to work with the UN’s communications team to report on the conference’s highlights. Theirs is not the only example a contest designed to unlock new ideas and draw global attention to climate change innovations.

OpenIDEO, an open innovation platform that grew out of the firm known for design thinking, launched its inaugural climate fellowship to bring together climate innovators and climate storytellers.

“We believe that by having a human centered approach to the challenge of climate change, we can come up with far better, more innovative solutions,” Matt Ridenour, who works on business partnerships and strategy, told Devex from his offices in San Francisco, California.

The contest approach combines the storyline of competition with the practical potential of new ideas. OpenIDEO’s #Design4Climate challenge saw a range of awareness-raising submissions, like an idea from Mazi Ukonu in Yaba, Lagos that uses a points system to incentivize waste recycling.

Bringing people together

Place to B Cop 21 was the epicenter for people working at the intersection of climate change and storytelling in Paris. Scott Shigeoka, community journalism fellow at IDEO, reflected on his experience at this gathering place in a Facebook post he shared with Devex. “Gatherings like Place to B need to continue and spread,” he wrote. “It needs to be scaled to new countries, cities and villages across the world — so that these types of powerful orchestrations can be more accessible to those who can't afford or choose not to partake in resource-heavy travel.”

Sohara Mehroze Shachi, a Climate Tracker fellow and finalist for the United Nations Development Program’s storytelling contest geared toward journalists in developing countries, wrote Devex upon her return from Paris to Bangladesh, where she is based.

“Combining multimedia and performances is the most effective model in my opinion,” she said, emphasizing the role of community theater in raising awareness among rural and sometimes illiterate populations.

“Any one form —  text or visuals — no longer suffice when people are being constantly bombarded with so much information.”