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Improving Climate Change Communication in the Global South

Yale Public Health Magazine, Focus: Spring 2024
by Arinze Agu


Despite its impacts, awareness of climate change is relatively low, particularly in heavily affected regions like the Global South. Research has shown that in this region where most low-emitting, highly impacted countries are located, about 40% to 65% of adults have never heard of climate change, compared to more than 90% of adults in the Global North who are aware of climate change. This essay explores communication barriers as a potential contributor to this gap and suggests evidence-based mitigation strategies for improvement.

Climate change communication in the Global South is often hindered by a lack of tailored communication strategies that resonate with local communities. Evidence shows that when climate information doesn't correspond to peoples' values, it loses its ability to influence behavior. Conversely, when grassroots mobilization is done, effective communication strategies are more likely to result. For instance, the peer-to-peer communication approach employed by the Solar Sister Initiative in sub-Saharan Africa ensures climate change messages are delivered in a culturally relevant and relatable manner.

In addition, many researchers in the Global South face obstacles in conducting and publishing climate research such as poor funding, language barriers, and lack of access to climate data. Consequently, not only are these researchers constrained in their ability to effectively communicate climate impacts to their communities, they are also unable to lend their voices to global climate action and partnerships. An example of this is the poor representation of researchers from the Global South in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) authorship and leadership positions.

Furthermore, a commonality in the Global South among people who are aware of climate change impacts is the tendency to engage in psychological denial. This is evidenced in the way climate change has been communicated historically. Persistently seeing pictures of polar bears and melting Arctic ice caps gave the impression that climate change only impacts the Global North. And even if it were to affect them, it would not be that bad.

Improving climate change communication in the Global South will require a multidimensional approach that elicits positive responses. Positive messaging can inspire hope and motivation to action amidst the despair associated with climate change. Some of these evidence-based approaches are discussed here.

First, targeted messaging and awareness campaigns should be employed, using framing techniques as an essential aspect of climate communication. These techniques include talking about real-world and not abstract ideas; connecting with what matters to the audience; telling a human story; and being a confident communicator. Moreover, incorporating indigenous knowledge and local dialects in climate communication promotes inclusivity and behavioral change.

Second, although the new Global South Climate Database is a progressive step towards bolstering accurate and equitable climate news coverage, more can be done beyond connecting journalists (especially from the Global North) with climate experts from low-emitting, highly impacted communities. Investments should be made in the local climate science communities, media outlets, and community leaders to enhance the bottom-up approach to climate change dialogue, decision-making, and mitigation strategies.

Finally, low-emitting, highly impacted countries should take a more significant role in deciding global policies on climate change mitigation. Rather than entertain extreme means of communication, like holding a cabinet meeting at Mount Everest or underwater, more attention should be paid to the efforts to address global climate change, given that they possess unique practical and ancestral knowledge of nature and ways to live in harmony with it.

In conclusion, climate resilience, adaptation, and mitigation in the Global South are contingent upon effective communication tactics. Overcoming barriers will foster equitable and sustainable strategies for tackling climate change.

Your Action Item For Change:

Talk About It. Frame your story about climate change by making the issue relatable to the person you’re talking to.

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