Climate Change, We Have to Change......The Way We Communicate!

A communication campaign on climate change adaptation? How hard can that be? Well let’s start with a far from catchy project name –the Government of Jamaica/European Union/United Nations Environment Project Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Project.

Behind that mouthful however is a relatively short (30-month) activity, funded by the EU and supported by UNEP, which aims at addressing climate change adaptation issues in Jamaica in three ways:

·         Work to protect watershed areas through reforestation , carried out by the Forestry Department

·         Work to  protect coastal resources including mangroves and coral reefs by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA)

·         Work to raise awareness about and build capacity for climate change adaptation by the Meteorological Service and the Environment Management Division

How do we communicate all this and more in a 12 month campaign?

The temptation (and pressure) is to rush to produce and spread messages, posters, brochures, etc.  everywhere.  The fact that the Ministry under which the project falls has had “climate change” added to its designation just puts more heat on.  And of course all parties, including donors, need  visibility – the PR bang for bucks.

Well miraculously so far, four months after our launch, we have (we think) managed to avoid becoming the “dog and pony show” we dreaded. We’ve covered four parishes,  discussed climate change issues with  three sets of local government stakeholders, engaged two chambers of commerce on the North Coast, sensitised local media in Montego Bay and Mandeville, reached well over 4000 persons through concerts and community theatre and highlighted the work of the project via publicity efforts.

Our campaign tagline is “Climate Change, We have to Change!”  and we’ve had to take this to heart in approaches to communicate climate change. The result is far from perfect but it has in degrees been reflecting changes needed to engage Jamaicans on climate change issues.  Here are just three ways we have tried to change :

1.       Dialogue before Doing.  An example of this is the ‘transformation’ of our major parish outreach event.  Originally project developers envisaged these as townhall-type meetings to provide citizens with information. Dialogue with parish councils revealed however that this type of meeting has limited reach and holds little interest for many residents.  As such, our townhalls have been reworked into open air edutainment events, integrating community theatre, participation of expert resource persons and a lively concert, to hold people’s interest and attention.  It is still a work in progress but is better than having a lovely room full of empty chairs!

2.        Partnerships before Project- While it would be nice to sell ourselves as “stars” of climate change adaptation in Jamaica, the reality is we are one project in a series of climate change adaptation activities.  We’ve had to recognise and work with groups and individuals who have a longer presence in communities, and tried and proven climate change communication approaches.  As such, the campaign is a partnership not only of implementing agencies, but also with organisations as diverse as Panos Caribbean, the National Environment and Education Committee, the Public Education and Corporate Communication arm of NEPA and the Voices for Climate Change Education Project and others. Sometimes the space for logos (and egos) gets pretty crowded!!!

3.       Champions as well as Challenges-Climate change can be a daunting topic. The negative impacts on small islands like ours seem overwhelming – sea level rise, more intense storm systems, longer dry spells.  Instinctively however people are recognising that they need to adapt, to cope with the challenges. With and without the help of donors and the state, Jamaicans from all walks of life have been learning to adapt for our own survival.  In materials and outreach we must give credit where credit is due. Besides highlighting the challenges, let’s “big up” our adapters, share experiences and provide the resources needed for positive change.