By Rishika Das Roy:
Eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850). The 100-year linear trend (1906-2005) of 0.74 [0.56 to 0.92]Â°C is larger than the corresponding trend of 0.6 [0.4 to 0.8]Â°C (1901-2000) given in the Third Assessment Report (TAR) of the IPCC.
Imagine explaining this extract to your grandmother or to a farmer in rural Odisha or even to a friend or a colleague. My guess is communicating climate change gets very difficult (and boring) owing to the fact that the language in which climate change is communicated is one of science sans the human face. This is why a newly launched report in New Delhi is one step forward in the right direction as it puts people at the heart of this discourse.
On 19th September 2013, BBC Media Action launched the India findings of its flagship two-year research project: Climate Asia. The project spans 7 Asian countries, interviewing 33,500 people in order to understand how people in Asia are being impacted by climate change in their everyday lives.
“The majority of the people we spoke to in Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam were not climate scientists or policy makers. They were farmers, fishermen, housewives, and slum dwellers who live at the frontline of changes in the environment across the region” explained Sonia Whitehead senior research manager at Climate Asia.
The India report brings forward the key concerns of the Indian population: the impact of climate change on their lives as they perceive it, what institutions they trust, what responses they are already undertaking and helps to identify what gaps persist thereby helping policy-makers, NGOs, experts and communicators reach out more effectively to those that need information most.
From a methodological standpoint Climate Asia takes a novel approach by segmenting the sampled population into ‘struggling’, ‘surviving’, ‘adapting’ and ‘willing’ to help probe deeper into the barriers and motivators for dealing with climate change. These categories don’t only reflect current levels of impact but also access to resources and ability to respond. Someone in the surviving category may not only be at the frontlines of impacts of climate change but may also lack resources (financial or otherwise), so reaching out to someone in this category needs to be done differently than for someone with better resources such as, say, in the willing category.
A large percentage (44%) of rural respondents felt that agricultural productivity had declined over the last ten years. Both urban and rural groups reported a lack of having clean water to drink and use as their biggest worry. Almost half of respondents surveyed across Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Mumbai were struggling or finding it impossible to take any action at all. A lack of self-efficacy, the idea that an individual can make a change, characterized many Indian responses. For instance, a young man in Madhya Pradesh told researchers: “This problem does not have any solution. That’s why we are not doing anything.”
A comparison between neighbours also provided some unique insights: 90% of Indians surveyed were feeling the impact of climate change on their lives and ability to earn as against 64% in Pakistan and 83% in Bangladesh. However, a staggering 57% of Indians were not willing to make changes to deal with climate change compared to 31% and 29% in Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively.
This deficit in the willingness to respond to climate change despite being impacted by it in India set the context for the panel discussion at the launch which was structured around three themes: community mobilization and adaptation; institutional or systemic engagements whether the role of the government should expand or shrink in this sphere; and, finally, the role of television and mass communications as a national facilitator for building resilience.
Moving People into the core of the debate
“The only way to get action at the global and local level is for people to get involved… what we need more than a top-down global agenda is a bottom-up movement born out of awareness, we essentially need to put people and community action at the centre stage of the climate change debate.”~Dr R K Pachauri, keynote address
The Climate Asia findings corroborated Dr. Pachauri’s words with its findings that adaptation was more successful where communities were well informed and with a high incidence of cohesion. Vimlendu Jha founder of Sweccha one of the panelists delved deeper into this space of community action and answered questions both from the moderator and the audience on how to mobilize communities, the youth and move climate change from a scientific and exclusionary discourse to a mainstream conversation. He saw education, reliable information and awareness building as key ingredients to this process.
Institutions: Do we trust them enough to deal with climate change?
“We shouldn’t rely too much on our government. They are loaded down with other things. As a community we have our responsibilities as well. Let’s learn together to do something about the floods, shall we?” ~Climate Asia Indonesian respondent
Moving from community to systemic level responses, Navroz Dubash, SeniorFellow at Centre for Policy Research, commented on the ‘institutional deficits’ that hamper responses to climate change. The Climate Asia data showed about 54% of respondents don’t have confidence in the national government to take effective action on climate change. While this isn’t altogether surprising, what is unusual is the high degree to which Indians felt that it was the ‘government’s responsibility to take action for climate change’ despite having lacking faith in government’s institutions.
So should governments take a greater initiative to improve responses to climate change, or should Indians start responding and stop waiting for that top-down support? The answer is a bit of both. Dubash’s answer offered a nuanced take on creating spheres of action defined by local sub-narratives which focused on developing local solutions but were guided by comprehensive national policies. Simply put, the time is right to reframe climate change, whether by revisiting the development versus diplomatic agenda on climate change at a global level or taking the essence of conversations in Copenhagen or Warsaw to the climate-affected village in Eastern India or the urban sprawl of Mumbai.
Even beyond institutions and communities, the need of the hour is also for a different way of communicating and informing the general public. Almost half the Indian respondents – 42% – don’t feel well-informed about how to cope with changes in weather and its impacts. However, when it comes to extreme weather events almost twice as many respondents with access to television as a source of information felt better prepared to respond to disasters. What we need, according to Vikram Chandra, CEO of NDTV and the face the Greenathon, is not more environment programmes that preach to the converted with no great change in attitudes or underlying perceptions to climate change. Rather, the Indian media would have to figure out a way of reaching the masses with “tinier digestible bits” that can help translate a complex agenda of change into simple, doable actions. Putting a human face on the issue or as in the case of Climate Asia, putting 33,500 faces to it is the first step to such a change.
Talking about climate change to the average layperson has always been difficult (try the opening sentence again with your grandmother in case you had any doubts) but there is no question that, in order, to develop a coherent and sustainable resilience we all need to understand it better, talk about it more, and respond more effectively. Start with understanding it from a ‘roti kapda makaan’ perspective by linking changes in weather with the availability of resources, the domino effect on livelihoods and the impact on one’s own and future generations.
Hopefully Climate Asia will help change the frames around climate change and propel us towards a new conversation and language for communicating climate change.