The highlight of Tuesday morning was the plenary session on the role of social and behavior change communication in solving the climate crisis, the existential threat of our lifetime.
“There could not be a more important topic,” said moderator Caroline Sugg of BBC Media Action, as she welcomed the panel of Moroccan climate activist Hatim Aznague, Oxford Policy Management’s Rishika Das Roy and Colin Spurway, North Africa Country Director for BBC Media Action.
The climate crisis, the panelists agreed, is not about long off commitments or nebulous solutions many years down the road, but about floods and extreme heat that plague many parts of the world already, many of those who can least afford to tackle the issues.
“I am sure that all of us in this theater and online understand that there can be no further delay in action to limit global warming and to ensure justice for those affected by changes to our climate and our environment,” Sugg said. “David Attenborough, the renowned natural historian and broadcaster, has said that saving our planet is now a communications challenge. We know what to do. We just need the will.”
Aznague spoke passionately about how important it is to have a greater diversity of people at the table where decisions are made and that the invitations may never come if you wait. He told of how he demanded to be heard when he was a young activist.
“The world currently is in need of solutions and actions to achieve climate justice,” he said. “By the time I’m saying this, we have already lost the luxury of time.”
Rishika Das Roy, of Oxford Policy Management, spoke about the forces working against sustainable climate change policy. She cited the COP27 recently held in Egypt. At the world’s conference devoted to making a dent in the damage already done, she said, there were 636 lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry.
“Now, if it’s a peace conference, you don’t have people working, you know, in … armaments attending a peace conference,” she said. “So why, then, at a climate conference are we letting advocates for fossil fuel production when what we need to be talking about is decarbonization?”
Spurway said that information on the science of climate change can be important but it is also critical to know your audience. For example, for the farmers he works with in East Africa, “it would be quite helpful for them to have a basic understanding of the climate science, but that audience needs to know how to diversify their crops, how to maintain the water supplies, a lot of the agricultural content that they need, rather than you know Climate Science 101.” He is reaching them with targeted radio programs.
But, as we all know, behavior change is complex. Spurway recalled that when he first came to Tunisia during the COVID-19 pandemic more than two years ago, he saw a man on a very fast Vespa raced through town, driving with one hand and taking a call with the other. No helmet in sight. But the man was wearing one protective device: A face mask.
This illustrated to Spurway that one of our challenges is communicating about the calculation of risk perception, something that needs to be considered in developing interventions.