The subject of communication at COP21

Anabela Carvalho's picture

[This is part of a series of posts by IECA members at the COP21 in Paris]

The Conference Centre where the COP21 is being held has seen a plethora of side events in the last two weeks. There are the “official side events”- over 200 according to UNFCCC’s website - and a much greater number held in the national and thematic pavilions. All sorts of topics have been discussed, from agroecology to children’s rights and the “Work of the LEG in supporting the LDCs on NAPs and NAPAs” (that’s a good display of COP lingo for you). And of course business, lots of business. Look at the program of the Open for Business Hub (managed by the International Emissions Trading Association and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, both corporate groups with members that would make any small kid frown): The Business and Industry NGOs even had one of six thematic days at the COP.

Since arriving in Paris four days ago, I have gone to all the events that sounded like they would have anything to do with communication. The Indonesia Pavilion organized a session on Global Climate Change Communication, which was opened by Al Gore with, of course, enormous attendance. In a few minutes, he offered the highlights of his earlier plenary presentation on Climate Crisis and Solutions conveying a very (some would say excessively) optimistic view of how things are moving forwards and graciously answered some questions. He then left as he came in (through a human corridor of handshake-and-selfie-seekers) without saying anything about communication. The audience that remained for the rest, i.e. the substantive part, of the event could be counted on one’s fingers. Gore chasers missed a group of mostly young Indonesian journalists giving an encouraging presentation about their professional practices and hopes.

Next stop for me was a session on “tools to raise awareness” organized by the Belgian government. An economist was the closest you could get to a social scientist there but climatologist Jean-Pascal van Ypersele made me tweet when he pondered on education for climate change and argued that the social sciences help develop a critical spirit and are important for citizens to participate in debates in an informed manner. Elsewhere, I had also heard social sciences parlance through the voice of the influential climatologist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber who presented his 3-D Perspective to climate change: Disaster, Discovery and Dignity. His point about Disaster was that although many speak against fear mongering, “people learn the hard way”. Discovery was about innovation and Dignity about morals and values.

The most prominent event on climate communication this week was the… Climate Change Communication Event. It was organized by the United Nations Environment Program, the World Bank’s Connect4Climate initiative, Earth Day Network, Purpose, the R21 Foundation and the UNFCCC secretariat. Opening statements were by Nick Nuttal, Head of Communications and Outreach and Spokesperson of UNFCCC, and moderation by Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network. The list of speakers featured two Goodwill Embassadors, Angélique Kidjo and Bianca Jagger, one UNEP Climate Hero, David de Rothschild, Angry Birds’ Rovio Entertainment Chief Brand Officer, Blanca Juti, and two more guests from the creative industries (Donald Ranvaud and Max Schorr). We heard that “we need to talk with people, not to people” and that “we have to talk in their language and in the medium where they already are”, along with thoughts on topics that environmental communication scholars would have called space-based communication, humanly meaningful communication and context relevant communication. Nothing wrong with that. But there was one loud absence in this panel: climate communication scholars. In all the side events that I went to on “serious” issues, it was the voice of some of the world’s best researchers that was heard. Not on Communication. As some “hard” scientists appear to start acknowledging the value of social sciences and interdisciplinary dialogues, we are not yet worthy material with the UNFCCC and alike.

Maybe IECA should promote a Climate Change Communication Day at the next COP. As our legitimacy as an international association representing environmental communication researchers may not quite register with the UNFCCC maybe we can try to partner with Al Gore. Or else with IETA and WBCSD.