BBC World Service Trust: 2010 Climate Change Communication of the Year

It is my great pleasure to nominate the BBC World Service Trust (http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/trust/) through its Africa Talks Climate project (http://www.africatalksclimate.com/) as the 2010 Climate Change Communicator of the year. The BBC World Service Trust is the BBC’s international development charity. Its mission is to use the media to reduce poverty and promote human rights.  
  
I have become familiar with the Trust's work through Anna Godfrey, the Research Manager for Africa Talks Climate, an initiative supported by the British Council. This is a project with profound impacts, and one that I believe qualifies the Trust to be the 2010 Climate Change Communicator of the year. Allow me to elaborate! 

As considerable research synthesized in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests, the poor, least developed countries of the world are likely to experience some of the worst consequences from climate change, sadly and unjustly without having contributed much at all to the global problem and having the least amount of resources to cope with and adapt to the impacts. Of all the poor regions of the world, Africa is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and the early effects are already being felt by citizens across the continent. An effective response will to some extent be determined by how well the causes and long-term consequences are understood by its citizens and policy makers, and by how well citizens will be able to use this understanding in meeting their immediate and long-term needs.  

Africa Talks Climate is a groundbreaking African-led research and communication initiative, founded on the belief that those worst affected must be better informed in order to understand and effectively respond to their changing climate. It seeks to understand how communication and media strategies can be tailored to support Africa’s response to climate change and to collate and amplify the voices of people at all levels of society. Toward this end, the team at the Trust have closely worked with colleagues in Africa to build the necessary capacity among and empower African leaders to study how citizens in 10 African nations think about climate change, and once this research was completed, to design regionally appropriate, audience-specific messaging and outreach campaigns to educate the citizens of these countries. 

In all, over 1,000 citizens and 200 opinion leaders took part in the most extensive study ever undertaken on the public understanding of climate change across 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The research revealed common framings of climate change in different countries, and also important misunderstandings, attitudes, and concerns, which open up critical doors for more effective communications on this topic in Africa. Anna told me, for example, about Anu Mohammad, one of their collaborating researchers in Nigeria, who recently spoke about the lack of awareness and understanding of climate change (and what they have come to call the "god frame" in Nigeria and Ethiopia) on Africa Have Your Say (a weekly programme on the BBC World Service in English for Africa). 

Another outcome seems particularly promising: The research in Nigeria revealed interesting connections between perceptions of climate change and people's faith. These insights have led to the commissioning of a booklet on Islam and climate change by the Commissioner of the Environment for Kano state and the renowned Islamic scholar Abdul Kadir U Isma'il. This in turn brought the issue to the attention of the Sultan of Sokoto (the spiritual leader of over 70 million Muslims in Northern Nigeria) who recently spoke on national TV about this issue. This quote, in particular, is truly encouraging as he speaks to the importance of this research:

"There is a great deal that faith leaders do not know about climate change. What we do understand is that the climate is changing and that agriculture has been significantly affected. By understanding climate change, leaders will be better able to encourage planning and adaptation to the inevitable consequences." (http://africatalksclimate.com/reports/climate-and-faith-northern-nigeria)

Initial findings from the first five countries were published and launched at national and international levels last year. They have also been fed into an influential policy briefing which drew attention at a major development conference, European Development Days, in Stockholm, Sweden in October 2009. Africa Talks Climate also joined forces with BBC colleagues to produce a BBC World Debate from the conference in Stockholm and provide expertise and a different angle on news coverage of climate change to global audiences ahead of the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Africa Talks Climate also brought renowned Senegalese musician Baaba Maal to COP 15 itself, to articulate the message that provision of information to affected populations is key to tackling climate change, and to present recommendations for more effective communication to world leaders. A special edition of the BBC World Service live debate programme World Have Your Say and exclusive concert by Baaba Maal formed the centrepiece to these activities.

The BBC World Service Trust hopes to continue supporting Africa’s response to climate change post-Copenhagen. Only when governments, NGOs and the media in Africa are comfortable talking about climate can they communicate it effectively to citizens. And only when African citizens are clear about climate change and its implications for their lives can they respond effectively to it. Below, I list a number of links to the Trust's work, so you can see for yourself what an enormous gap they are trying to fill, and how well they are doing so. 

I cannot recommend their work highly enough as it rests on solid on-the-ground research, involves Africans in the research and communication of findings and thus supports much needed capacity building, targets key leaders and spokespersons as influential communicators in their own communities, and carries the message both to the highest levels in national and international circles, but through them also to the citizens of Africa back home. The work is much needed, inspiring, empowering, ambitious and impactful. I thus urge you in the strongest terms to consider the BBC World Service Trust and its Africa Talks Climate initiative - including all the individuals in these 10 countries directly involved - as the recipient of the 2010 Climate Change Communicator of the Year award. It would send a big message! 

Nominated by:Susanne Moser, Ph.D.  
Susanne Moser Research & Consulting Santa Cruz, CA 95060

UPDATE: FOLLOWING REGIONAL LAUNCH, MARCH 2010-04-07 

“PM praises Africa Talks Climate” 

The BBC World Service Trust launched the findings of Africa Talks Climate (ATC), a ground-breaking research study looking at public awareness of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa in Nairobi, Kenya on 17th March. The Prime Minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga, delivered the keynote address with panel contributions from Nobel Peace Laureate and environmentalist Wangari Maathai and the British High Commissioner to Kenya, Rob Macaire. The World Service Trust's Kenyan researcher Sam Otieno presented research findings to a packed room of media, government and civil society experts. 

Thanking the Africa Talks Climate team personally, Raila Odinga said the research had "opened his eyes": "(We) have failed to communicate climate change to our people”, he said. “We must, and will, do better in the future," adding “this is why Africa Talks Climate is relevant and significant now.” Nobel Laureate Professor Maathai further welcomed the recommendation to communicate climate change in languages appropriate for local audiences: "The issue of climate change has often been seen as an abstract concept or a scientific subject understood only in universities – but not by the ordinary people. It is very important that we communicate in a language that our people understand", she said. 

Despite African citizens being least responsible for the causes of global climate change, its impacts are already determining the course of people’s lives on the continent, and it is predicted to be the most severely affected region in the world. Providing people with access to information so that they can understand and respond effectively to their changing climate will be crucial in supporting Africa’s response to this global challenge.  

For key findings and further reports from all 10 countries included in the research, please visit the Africa Talks Climate website at www.africatalksclimate.com.