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FEATURE: Collaboration and local knowledge key to communicating attribution science

Reporting from a three-day learning event from the Raising Risk Awareness project, Syed Abbas Hussain of LEAD Pakistan looks at the challenges facing collaboration, engaging the media and policy-makers, and translating the findings of the initiative for a local audience.

The Raising Risk Awareness (RRA) project aims to enhance the capacity of developing countries in the field of attribution science – a science which seeks to determine whether and to what extent climate change has had a bearing on a given extreme weather event. By facilitating a science-policy-media interface, it aims to foster the effective communication of valuable climate information to decision-makers at the state and community level. The initiative has brought together science, policy and communication experts from a multitude of organisations, to develop and execute targeted programmes, including stakeholder engagement and capability building in India, Ethiopia and Kenya and Bangladesh.

Valuable lessons have been learnt from piloting the Raising Risk Awareness project in different sociopolitical contexts. To collate these findings, a three-day learning event, hosted in the bustling city of Nairobi, was held to bring together 65 members of the Raising Risk Awareness team from across the globe. The learnings drawn from the project highlight the opportunities and challenges that were faced, with a view to informing further phases of the Raising Risk Awareness project.

A distinguished panel of speakers opened the first day of the event, including Sam Bickersteth, CEO of CDKN, Irina Feygina, the Director of Behavioural Science and Assessment at Climate Central, Joydeep Gupta, prominent Indian journalist and Friederike Otto, a senior researcher in the ECI Global Climate Science Programme, among others.

The panel discussed their experiences of extreme weather events and compared the widely held perceptions around climate change by the public and policy makers in the United States and India. Irina Feygina lamented the cynicism surrounding the issues in the US; she discussed how climate change conjures up images of polar bears floating on ice caps, illustrating that climate change has been considered far removed from the immediate reality of the average American citizen, much like climate-related disasters. Joydeep Gupta stated that there is a general awareness in India regarding the threat of climate change, but there was a need to highlight climate attribution in the media, since policy-makers tend to rely on the media as the primary source of information and are influenced by the issues it discusses.

Participants at the event were encouraged to reflect on opportunities and challenges they faced in delivering the Raising Risk Awarness project, which elicited some interesting observations. Some cited the achievement of multi-stakeholder collaboration as a success for the project, and others listed impediments like cultural sensitivities and language barriers. The CDKN Asia team and partners in the region have successfully forged relationships with a range of stakeholders and have identified real interest in the use and application of attribution science. The challenges on the other hand have included the translation of knowledge products into local languages such as Bangla, and discovering some that some technical and scientific concepts cannot readily be translated in other languages or have very different meanings in different contexts.

Next came the “lightning talks” where delegates formed smaller groups and discussed different aspects of climate attribution such as communication, policy development, regional experiences scientific capacity and risk.

One of the sessions concluded that while risk perception studies are useful in analysing vulnerability, robust evidence is needed to substantiate perception. Many experts at the event asserted that for disaster affected communities, it is more important to communicate adaptive strategies as opposed to more general information relating to climate attribution. Cultural sensitivity featured strongly in discussions, with a consultant chronicling her experience of a field trip in Ethiopia where certain imagery used in communication material was questioned for not accurately depicting tribal customs.

There was also much discussion around the value of communicating cases where climate change was found not to have contributed to the occurrence of a particular extreme weather event. Several delegates noted that globally, extreme weather events are rising in frequency and severity as a result of climate change, and that the attribution science examines a single event in time. Communication and science experts at the workshop contended that such cases must be communicated to relevant authorities to demonstrate the objectivity of such attribution science.

Another key issue raised was how the Raising Risk Awareness project would add value to already existing work in the target countries. It was noted that climate projections are already being generated in developing countries, which can help in disaster planning. Knowledge of vulnerability and exposure has also been successfully employed in ventures such as the Heat Action Plan in Ahmedabad. It was a widely held opinion that for policy-makers, information concerning vulnerability and exposure to extreme weather events is arguably more relevant than attributing the latter to climate change. However, participants suggested that climate attribution is a useful way of initiating conversations and raising awareness of climate impacts, vulnerability and exposure, and also for reinforcing the need for mitigation and adaptation in policy-making.

The Raising Risk Awareness project has facilitated collaboration between teams from the global North and South, and provided a common platform for these teams to share their distinct expertise. The cross-learnings have thus been immense both within and across countries. The event provided an important opportunity for dynamic discussions geared towards generating a holistic perspective on climate attribution and communication, and to explore strategies to mainstream climate risks in policy-making in developing nations.

Image credit: Asian Development Bank/Flickr

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