Climate Communications Day at Doha: New approaches to reach new audiences

News, 13 December 2012
As heads of state began to arrive in Doha last week to start the high-level COP18 negotiations towards a legally binding climate deal, more than 120 journalists, scientists, activists and communications experts gathered at the second annual Climate Communications Day to discuss how best to communicate climate-related issues.

The event was part of an annual program run by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) and the International Institute of Environment & Development (IIED). Jamal Dajani, Internews’ Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa, opened the December 4th event by welcoming the audience and thanking sponsors. James Fahn, Executive Director of EJN, noted that despite the struggle to address climate change with policy – or rather, because of it – interest in climate change communications seems to be stronger than ever.

Mike Shanahan of IIED, one of the event co-organizers, chaired the first plenary, "Reaching New Audiences," which began with an overview on the methodology and data collection by BBC Media Action’s Climate Asia team. Their report aims to establish the best ways to use media and communications to provide people directly affected by a changing environment with the information they need to respond.

"It is essential to think about who you are speaking to," said Tan Copsey of BBC Media Action. "This report aims to help communicators reach their audiences just as much as it looks at audiences’ reactions to communications."

Examples were given of when innovative communication techniques were successful. But what works at a community level – such as participatory drama or school curriculum materials in Bangladesh – does not necessarily work nationally.

After the presentation, a panel of journalists from the USA, Brazil, Indonesia and Egypt discussed how to best communicate climate change to reach the new and diverse audiences (see summary blog post here). Discussions focused on topics such as the importance placed on good governance, both locally and nationally, gender issues, and the importance of knowing your audience’s needs.

The issue of language use for communicating on climate was raised throughout the day and featured in the second plenary, “Making Maps (and Sense) of Data.”

Bassam al-Kantar, the environment editor for Al-Akhbar newspaper in Lebanon, began the debate by highlighting the lack of software that is adaptable to the Arabic language when presenting data through maps on the internet. Panelists Arend Kuster from the Qatar-based organisation Q Science and Stuart Neil from the World Energy Council agreed that the real issue was money: translation is hugely expensive and resources are urgently needed to fund this gap in software development.

EJN Coordinator Willie Shubert went on to describe different mapping and visualization tools that can be used to present data and combine it with journalism. He presented a couple of examples of data journalism, the InfoAmazonia map platform of the Amazon region and similar climate data map of the US being developed by Internews that is expected to launch early next year.

The afternoon sessions focused on communicating climate change in ways that are fun and accessible– using games and comedy. Pablo Suarez and Carina Bachofen of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre demonstrated how and why participatory games can be useful in communicating climate change.

”I used to be very good at talking science and putting people to sleep,” said Suarez. “If you communicate in a way that is not unidirectional it is more likely to succeed.”

Fahn went on to present a number of different ways comedy can be used to communicate on climate change. He presented cartoons and videos from around the world as effective ways to engage audiences in the issues surrounding the negotiations process as well as impacts of a changing climate.

The day closed with an awards ceremony for journalists Njenga Ndereke and Pilirani Tambala – from Kenya and Malawi, respectively – who both won trips to the summit through the Voices4Climate podcast competition run by the World Bank.

Also participating in the event this year were a dozen journalists from the Middle East and Africa who came to the summit and took part in a week-long fellowship programme designed to enhance their capacity to report on complicated, often scientific issues, to their home audiences.

Bonnie Frye Hemphill, of Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, said of the Climate Communications Day "This is by far the best event I've been to" at Doha climate change summit.

This year’s Climate Communications Day event was made possible with generous support from the World Bank’s Connect4Climate campaign and TerrAfrica, while the Fellowship program was also sponsored by the Global Campaign for Climate Action and the Doha Centre for Media Freedom.

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