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Talking about climate change

A man makes charcoal from a recently felled tree in the Turkana region of northwestern Kenya. As drought, disease, armed conflict and lack of development render the pastoralist lifestyle ever less viable, people are turning to other ways of eking out a li Anthony Morland/IRIN
God, not global emissions, is to blame for climate change, according to a survey conducted in 10 African countries. A close second, however, came deforestation, underlining the argument that there is information available – just not sufficient or effective enough to help people understand the reasons behind environmental issues.

“(God) punishes people because we do bad things. He shows his strength with the hurricanes and storms,” said a young Senegalese woman interviewed by the BBC World Service Trust, which, with the British Council, launched Africa Talks Climate in Nairobi on 17 March.

The findings are the result of discussions conducted in 2009 with more than 1,000 citizens and 200 policy-makers, opinion leaders, media and business people in Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

While highlighting the information gap similar to the inadequate communication strategy adopted in the initial response to HIV/AIDS, BBC World Service Trust Director, Caroline Nursey, said: “The initial global response to communicate effectively about the HIV and AIDS pandemic was slow and often inappropriate to local needs. The media have had a critical role in helping combat HIV and AIDS in Africa and must be supported to do so again in the case of climate change.”

Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya said an initiative such as Africa Talks Climate was relevant to encourage governments and media to find ways to let people in Africa understand why they were suffering from global effects of climate change, being the result of CO2 emissions worldwide and not some sort of divine punishment.

“Ordinary citizens do not know. We failed to educate our citizens on the effects and causes of climate change,” the Prime Minister said.

“Africans are mainly victims not offenders, and they need to know. But at this stage, it doesn’t matter who is the victim and who the perpetrator, because we all have the shared responsibility to do something to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Odinga said the Kenyan government was committed to addressing the effects of climate change in the country and helping the millions of food-insecure people because of drought, famines, flooding and other natural disasters.

Among the initiatives taken by the Kenyan government is the planting of 7.6 million trees by 2020, with the support of the French and US governments, boosting forestry from 2 to 10 percent.

“We are willing to host the next Summit for Climate Vulnerable Nations in Kenya before autumn 2010. This would be an eye opener for leaders of other countries to understand that common efforts and collaborations are indispensible to achieve success and open the door for more satisfactory negotiations for the next climate change summit taking place in Mexico in October 2010,” said Odinga.

Environmental policy

Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai called on political leaders to take immediate action to reduce vulnerability to climate change through ad-hoc legal frameworks to support environmental policy, which many countries, especially in Africa, still did not have.

[Kenya] Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel peace price winner for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace, on the fourth day of the World Social Forum held in Nairobi, Kenya, 23 January 2007.
Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN
Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai called for legal frameworks to support environmental policy (file photo)
“Billions of dollars have been invested already to tackle the effects of climate change on our people. Many African countries may not have funds to allocate, but it is up to us to make ourselves trustworthy, so that other government would be willing to support us. And I have no doubt that they will,” she said.

“Climate change is affecting Africa tremendously,” she said, while reminding the audience that 15 of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa, according to the World Bank.

“We must find the right way to let our people know why,” she said. “Finding the most appropriate means to reach people and using their own language is the key,” she said.

“We need to simplify messages and let people understand that our actions have an impact on the environment,” Odinga added.

“There is the perception that talking about environmental issues does not sell. We have to get over this belief and understand that we need to talk more about it. Climate change does sell, but it has to be communicated in an easy and more relevant way to make messages accessible,” said Sam Otieno, researcher at the BBC World Service Trust.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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