Shared language for climate action
How can climate change communication reach the unreached to build awareness and propel action?
Shared language for climate change (Image Source: McKay Savage on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons)

Simplified and shared language on climate change

One of the central gaps in mobilising climate action is the narrative of climate change, and how it has been crafted and shared. There is a perception that climate change is a distant and abstract threat that is outside the purview of individual actors and that only governments and scientists have the wherewithal to deal with it.

Simplified and shared narratives around climate change communication are key to amplify impact while building awareness and engagement to propel action.

This is because much of the existing climate communication does not reflect our lived realities and the conversations to date, have often left humans out of the equation, out of the main challenges, and therefore out of the solutions.

As Shiv Kumar, Catalyst Group points out: "From whose point of view are we framing these issues? Currently it’s all sectoral but it needs to be flipped and framed around communities—mining communities, migrants, fisher folk, farmers. People and communities need to be at the heart and not sectors."

Bottom up and accessible communication crucial

Climate change communication has consistently centered on either policy action or technology innovations. Only now are we beginning to appreciate that it is a peoples’ acceptance and communications problem.

As Sriram Kuchimanchi, Smarter Dharma puts it, "The language of climate communications has traditionally been too scientific and removed from people for them to connect. We need a narrative that is personal, accessible and actionable."

To solve something as immense as climate action, there is equally a need to co-create solutions; and for this a common language is key. Digital Green is a great example of a multi-sectoral approach to improving farmers’ lives and livelihoods. Ashu Sikri and Krishnan Pallassana of Digital Green emphasise that for such collaborations to work, "there is a need for a clear language and shared vocabulary."

Using local languages for communication important 

But even with a common vocabulary, there is a significant language barrier to overcome. Joydeep Gupta, The Third Pole, calls  out that, " A lot needs to be done in using local languages for communication and in using all forms of media—print, community radio, television, dedicated WhatsApp groups or some other digital medium," in order to build on-the-ground momentum. He adds, " first preference would be to buy spots on regional language general entertainment television channels because that is what people are watching every evening."   

Finally, to amplify impact and co-create solutions, multiple voices and a ground-up view of climate impact is indispensable. All of us have a say in our combined future. Jarnail Singh of MacArthur Foundation emphasises the need for participative stories, "We need voices from the field to contribute to policy making. It is imperative to expand the power circles within civil society and let marginalised communities put forth their own stories."

In today's digital age, the easy availability of interconnected platforms and tools that support visual storytelling, as well as the ability to plug into a common culture and language, help climate leaders and change agents to be heard by a larger audience.

We also see younger entrepreneurs increasingly employing novel strategies focused on convenience, access and a climate-friendly coolness quotient. Arunabha Ghosh from CEEW, remarks, “We need a world of influencers for climate communication.”  

Historically, policies have focused widely on communicating penalties and disincentives for excessive consumption of electricity or have offered financial incentives for anti-pollution measures. However, these measures may be short-lived if the reinforcement, reward or disincentive is removed.

Demystifying the science behind climate change crucial

Anna Warrington from Forum for the Future stresses on the importance of making sure that, "The science is understood, and that we then need to help people act on the science."

That means, we need to articulate, in simple terms - what’s in it for you. An excellent example of successful participatory communication, particularly amongst marginalised and vulnerable communities, was the smart use of Bengaluru’s community radio by waste pickers in 2020, to educate citizens on masking up and how to segregate waste and dispose of their masks, tissues, gloves and medical waste in a manner that is safe for everyone.
What next from here
Communicating real solutions has the potential to transform fear or inaction into something productive, lending agency to entire communities. The behavior-change around hand-washing and masking-up occurred en masse when Covid-19 was recognised as a common threat and as a clear and present danger.

Similarly, with climate change, there is the need to acknowledge it as a clear and present danger for which there are no vaccines that can offer protection from the looming crisis. Only our own actions can effect change! 

There is still time to create a future where our planet can continue to be home for future generations. It is up to us to provide the vision in a way that can both empower and enable people to act.

Maria Clara Pinheiro is the Director, Ashoka, South Asia. Maya Chadrasekaran is the Co Founder and Managing Director of Green Artha, a climate venture fund and innovation firm. Vidushi Kamani is the Head of the Ecosystems Programme at Green Artha.

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