Scholars join forces to enhance climate change communication


A consortium of universities in Southern Africa, in partnership with other global institutions, has embarked on an initiative to enhance climate change communication, which has been identified by scholars as a major barrier hindering the implementation of meaningful climate action, particularly in relation to adaptation and mitigation.

The University of Botswana (UB), which is leading this effort, hosted a two-day workshop on 8 and 9 February with the theme ‘Communicating Climate Change in Southern Africa: Research, Policy, and Advocacy’.

The main objective of the workshop was to bring together various stakeholders, including university experts, to interrogate how climate change is communicated – particularly in the context of Southern Africa.

The workshop is a fundamental component of the Planetary Utilisation of Sustainability (PLUS) project, which unites the universities of Botswana, Fort Hare in South Africa, Namibia University of Science and Technology and Universidade Pedagogica de Maputo (Pedagogical University of Maputo) in Mozambique with the universities of the Andes and Antioquia in Colombia and the University of Giessen in Germany.

During the workshop, scholars discussed communication challenges surrounding climate change, particularly the disconnect and breakdown in communication between climate-change scientists and non-expert groups, complex scientific language and practical ways of developing climate messaging and providing access to climate change information.

Some of studies shared included, ‘Indigenous knowledge forecast indicators used in Kgalagadi and Kweneng districts in Botswana’ by Lulu Nkomeng Dipao and Michael Nkuba; ‘The challenge of climate change literacy in Africa: A conceptual understanding and reimagining’, by Professor Ikechukwu Umejesi of Fort Hare University; and ‘Confronting climate change communication deficit in Southern Africa: A case for a critical ‘climate change’ ethnography, by Dr Langtone Maunganidze of Midlands State University in Zimbabwe.

Universities and climate advocacy

During the workshop, Professor Olga Kupika, a senior research fellow on climate change adaptation at the Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana, emphasised the crosscutting roles played by universities in climate advocacy.

These involved leveraging their research, innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration and communication efforts to drive climate action and advance global climate goals.

“In the 21st century, universities are emerging as crucial agents of change in climate advocacy. Their role extends beyond education and research. They serve as hubs for innovation and catalysts for sustainable development initiatives, driving positive change in society. Academic institutions are a lifeline in conducting world-class research and fostering innovation to address climate challenges and promote sustainability,” she said.

“Effective communication is, therefore, critical for universities to amplify their climate advocacy efforts and engage diverse stakeholders. By effectively communicating their research findings, innovation and impact on society, universities can raise awareness and bring scholars to the forefront of impactful climate action.

“Universities’ official websites and academic and social media platforms must be harnessed to convey messages on climate change,” she added.

Kupika noted that financial and resource mobilisation efforts were a critical component for universities to scale up their climate advocacy initiatives, particularly in Southern Africa, given the constraints faced by the majority of institutions.

She advocated for academia to strengthen their strategic partnerships with stakeholders, including governments, corporations, and philanthropic organisations, to secure the necessary funding and resources to support impactful climate action projects.

Climate change communication and the SDGs

During her presentation, Kupika also underscored the intrinsic link between climate change communication and attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including climate action (goal 13), quality education (goal 4), sustainable cities and communities (goal 11), responsible consumption and production (goal 12), and partnerships for the goals (goal 17).

“Effective climate change communication plays a significant role in achieving several of the UN [United Nations] Sustainable Development Goals. By raising awareness about the impacts of climate change and the urgency of action, communication efforts contribute to goal 13, climate action, which aims to combat climate change and its impacts, including induced extreme events, adaptation and mitigation strategies.

“It also intersects with goal 4 on [the provisioning of] quality education, as it facilitates the dissemination of knowledge and information about climate science, adaptation strategies and sustainable practices, empowering individuals and communities to make informed decisions.

“With goal 17, climate change communication can spearhead partnerships, collaboration and knowledge-sharing among stakeholders, including governments, businesses, civil society and academia, to mobilise collective action and accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs,” she stated.

Kupika said that, to enhance climate change communication, strategies such as demystifying climate change, translating scientific findings into local languages, promoting cultural practices, and engaging local communities must be prioritised.

Strengthening research communities, providing training for climate researchers, media engagement, using digital tools, and evaluating impact were also fundamental components.

“We need to embrace different knowledge systems – for example citizen science – apart from scientific knowledge and to promote local community participation and coproduction of climate solutions,” she said.

Educating future leaders

In an interview with University World News on the sidelines of the workshop, Associate Professor Gabriel Faimau, who is based in the department of sociology at UB, pointed out that the PLUS project was focused on establishing a strong network of universities for the sharing of knowledge, expertise and practices in the area of sustainability.

“The network focuses on the education of future leaders within a global transformation towards a sustainable world.

“Africa is one of the regions most affected by climate change. However, African research on climate change communication, which is crucial, is still lacking. While we strive to fill this gap through different research networks, including the PLUS network, there have been also attempts to infuse climate change and sustainability into the higher-education curriculum.

“There is also a concern relating to participatory research in terms of involving different communities or citizens in climate-change research. Based on this concern, we advocate for citizen science that allows the involvement of researchers, policymakers, members of the public and society as a whole in impactful research,” he stated.

Faimau mentioned that unpacking or translating the complexity of science or research findings into a communicative language understood by non-expert stakeholders and policymakers was a challenge in Southern Africa. The PLUS network aimed to tackle this challenge by providing a platform for African researchers to exchange knowledge in this area, and to collaborate with other global experts in these fields.

“The relevance of the PLUS project is that the network is driven by the idea that the current challenges, including that of climate science and action, can only be solved through global cooperation.

“Therefore, PLUS contributes to building a discourse and cooperation network among its participating partners, including institutions from Southern Africa. We are hoping that, through the network, we are able to develop alternative concepts for sustainable development, climate science and action,” he said.

The project encompasses various activities, which include PLUS summer school lectures, seminars, interdisciplinary workshops, a digital research colloquium and regional conferences.

One of the outcomes of the PLUS project which was broadly discussed during the workshop is the publication of a book entitled, Climate Change Epistemologies in Southern Africa, which will explore research areas that include African epistemologies and indigenous knowledge of climate change, decolonisation of climate change research and communication, and media logic and navigating climate change communication and the art of climate change advocacy.

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