Monday, 19 July 2010

Africa Talks Climate

A new initiative has been developed to help communicate and advocate on climate change issues in Africa. Africa Talks Climate is a research and communications project undertaken by the BBC World Service Trust and funded by the British Council.

Africa Talks Climate recently launched a report about the public understanding of climate change in 10 African countries with the aim of identifying ways to engage, inform and empower Africans in local, national and international conversations about climate change. The report found that most Africans understood that their climate was changing but the term ‘climate’ is rarely used outside South Africa and francophone DR Congo and Senegal. There is also a strong tendency for people to hold themselves individually or collectively responsible for these changes, which they blame on local environmental degradation.

The report recommends that information and communication needs of African citizens need to be at the heart of any national response to climate change. The ability of African citizens to respond effectively to climate change will be determined by the quality of the information available to them and how easily they can access it. Increased public understanding of climate change will enable citizens and communities to discuss the issue, adapt to the effects of climate change, and make informed long-term choices about their future.

Africa Talks Climate suggests that local leaders from government and the community, as well as religious leaders should have more access to climate change information and that there is a need to increase the public debate on climate change and create more public spaces for example through TV talk shows, radio call-ins and other interactive media platforms. There is also a need to break down perceptions of climate change as an elite discussion and build a sense of immediacy to encourage the sharing of current examples of adaptation and mitigation to climate change.

In the absence of an understanding of global climate change, many people draw on their existing knowledge and beliefs to explain the unpredictable weather. Some Africans understand changes in the weather in relation to their spiritual beliefs – particularly women and rural populations, hence the importance of activating local religious leaders. Some opinion leaders compare the communication challenges posed by climate change to those formerly presented by HIV and AIDS. They emphasise the importance of using accessible terminology and discussing climate change in a locally relevant way.

The report also stresses the important role media and education can play. Media, and in some countries, schools, are the main sources of climate change information for most people. Media therefore need to improve their knowledge, resources and experiences about climate change in order to inform audiences more effectively. Some journalists perceive climate change exclusively as an environmental issue, which is not an audience or an editorial priority.

Overall, the report assumes that to improve environmental stewardship, Africans need to be educated more about the causes and effects of climate change in order to adapt to the damaging impact it creates. However, a main driving force for behavioural change in Africa relates to improving household incomes and creating more financially secure futures. What therefore also needs to be communicated is the short and long term economic benefit that can be accrued through different adaptive techniques. All activities related to mitigation and adaptation to climate change in Africa need to have a strong element of economic benefit for the citizens in order for Africans to be incentivised to undertake the activity and for African countries to alleviate poverty levels on a sustainable course.

The report can be downloaded here:

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