Say it out loud, communicate clearly!

19 June 2018

My work as a researcher at Public Affairs Centre, a think tank based in Bengaluru, India is to use complicated scientific data points for my research and translate it to a language understood by the audiences we target. My participation in the workshop Communicating Climate Change for Action by the Centre for Science and Environment has elevated my zeal and excitement to its peak. Armed with facts and data, I am taking every opportunity to interact with various audiences hoping that I can stir their curiosity and create awareness to start the wheel of action right away. I used my recent session on ‘Greenhouse gas emissions’ for young environmental science students to help them understand country-wide emission trends, causes and sources.  Thanks to (Ritchie & and Max, 2018), which came to my rescue with interactive graphs and visuals that kept the students engaged as I went on to explain concepts like cumulative emissions, annual emission, per capita emissions and sources of these emissions sector wise. This was an important session to help them understand differential development of countries across the globe and their differential per capita emissions and the need for actions to be taken by individuals to reduce their own emissions.

Since the session and learning from this process was still very fresh in my mind, I wondered what this would mean for someone outside the environment field. A casual conversation with a friend proved my fears right: she says she understands climate change as a term, but finds it hard to relate to it. Ice caps melting and polar bears losing their habitat seems very distant to her but occasionally getting drenched in untimely rains and the resulting traffic gets to her.

Facts to remember

Sustained warming beyond a threshold is going to lead to a near-complete loss of Greenland ice sheet causing a global mean sea level rise up to 7m + Net annual temperatures for India in the 2030s, compared to the 1970s, will increase from 1.7-2.2oC +


By the end of the 21st century, it is very likely that sea level will rise in more than about 95% of the ocean area. About 70% of the coastlines worldwide are projected to experience sea level change within 20% of the global mean sea level change + Rainfall extremities analysis for India shows that the proportion of dry days (rainfall less than 0.1 mm per day), as well as wet days (rainfall greater than 80 mm per day) has increased steadily over time +


Extreme temperature shocks, when a district is significantly hotter than usual (in the top 20 percentiles of the district-specific temperature distribution), results in a 4 percent decline in agricultural yields during the Kharif season and a 4.7 percent decline in Rabi yields +


In a year where the temperature is 1 degree Celsius high, farmer incomes would fall by 6.2 percent during the Kharif season and 6 percent during Rabi in unirrigated districts yields +



Challenges to communicate climate change and how to overcome them

Communicating climate change to audiences in a language that they understand is the need of the hour. Communication is the main ingredient for advocacy. India’s INDC to the UNFCC says that the country will reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35% by 2030 (from 2005 level). How will this affect us? How are we contributing to the emissions? What can be done by individuals or organisations to reduce their emissions?

A platform to collectively channel information and reach out to larger audiences can ensure everyone’s involvement in climate action. The sea of civil society organisations working with communities across the country on environmental related issues have become channels for climate change communication to reach more people. The role they play bridging the gap between policymakers and communities works both ways, but this is not acknowledged and is largely ignored.

Organisations that put in so much effort into projects fall short when communicating their activities. There may be many valid reasons for this. More often than not these organisations are working overtime with few staff members, and communication is their last priority or is seen as a mundane task. It can also be that some organisations do not have the capacity to reach out to policy or decision makers to convey the stories from the communities. These stories and findings need to reach the main target audience- the government- to ensure informed decision making.

Here are some simple ways to overcome some of the issues related to the communication gap:

  1. Smaller, community-based organisations and grassroots level organisations lacking the capacity and strength to work on communicating their projects can form a network of organisations working in similar geographic or thematic areas to leverage the strength of each member and reach out to a wider audience.
  2. Communication needs to be added as a part of the project from the beginning to make sure outputs are produced at different phases of the project. This might also include involving different stakeholders as the project progresses.
  3. The language used to communicate to different target groups changes and, as Andrew David Thaler mentioned in his blog, if they are facing floods, talk to them about floods. If they are facing droughts, talk to them about droughts.
  4. Social media platforms can be used to to reach out, mobilise and inform audiences.
  5. Leverage technology and other tools to make stories and findings presentable and easily understandable.

It is time to break free from jargon and involve everyone in the conversation about climate change.