Community organisations are mastering the difficult art of climate messaging

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Climate Change Awareness Walk in Kumasi, Ghana, hosted by Climate Communications and Local Governance Africa.
Climate Change Awareness Walk in Kumasi, Ghana, hosted by Climate Communications and Local Governance Africa.
Kofi Don-Agor, President of CCLG-Africa
  • Environmental organisations are getting communities involved in climate action through storytelling to communicate the crisis.
  • Some rely on local arts, including theatre, drawings and photos, to create awareness of climate change.
  • Influential community members are trained to understand environmental issues, and then they help share the message with others.
  • For climate change news and analysis, go to News24 Climate Future. 

In 2021, four Nigerian farmers won a legal battle against Shell after enduring years of oil spills that caused harmful pollution to their lands. 

Supported by the environmental movement Friends of the Earth International, the farmers accused Shell of negligence.

A Dutch court ordered Shell to compensate the farmers for the losses they had suffered - one of a growing list of lawsuits led by indigenous people against major polluters and the first international legal action of its kind for a Dutch corporation.

"But this did not happen overnight. It happened because we listened to them, documented their grievances, and presented clear evidence," said Babatunde Obayanju, communications coordinator for Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN).

Environmental Rights Action (ERA) is a Nigerian advocacy non-governmental organisation founded on 11 January 1993 to deal with environmental human rights.

Environmental movements like ERA/FoEN understand the importance of local context to communicate the climate crisis. Now they are focusing on climate change as well as localised environmental disasters like oil spills.

"These people understand that there is a change in their environment with respect to the climate, and most likely have a local name for it," said Obayanju.

"What we have tried to do over the years is to help them understand the internationally recognised name of the environmental problems they are facing," he added. Shell is just one of the organisations in their sights.

READ | Timeline: Half a century of oil spills in Nigeria’s Ogoniland

According to a 2014 study that traced carbon emitted by companies globally between 1751 and 2010, the oil major ranked sixth among the biggest carbon emitters, contributing 2.12 % to global emissions. The company and its subsidiaries in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region have been responsible for a number of environmental disasters in Nigeria and communities have fought for years for compensation.

ERA/FoEN is one of the pioneers of a campaign to halt oil exploration altogether. Today, more and more advocacy groups have embraced the movement and even made a song out of its key message to "leave the oil in the ground".

"We know there is power in visuals, songs and folktales to communicate these problems," said Obayanju.

Ghana-based Climate Communications and Local Governance Africa (CCLG-Africa) is another organisation drawing on community activism. It has fully integrated local arts, including theatre, drawings and photos, in its messaging.

"We realised that a lot of people need to see to believe," said Kofi Don-Agor, president of CCLG-Africa.

"In the local community, we look at the environmental problems affecting them and, occasionally, we employ people to use art to depict the effect," he said.

In 2021, CCLG-Africa organised a climate walk in Kumasi, south-central Ghana, and invited different groups in the community. Among those present for the event were chiefs, queen mothers, the military, Christian groups, Muslim communities, teachers, students and farmers.

"Because climate change affects all occupations, we normally design programmes to engage everyone," said Don-Agor.

"One of the best approaches we have used over time is focus group discussions led by opinion leaders," he added.

"These opinion leaders are usually influential community members who we train to understand the environmental issues affecting their community, and in turn, they help their communities. We organise the training in either English or the local language.

"Not everyone has bought into the idea of what we are doing, but the few that have bought into it are among our collaborators," he said.

Among CCLG-Africa's champions is the speaker of the parliament of Ghana, whose support has helped the organisation to advance its agenda. Don-Agor also strives to maintain good working relationships with other members of parliament.

"When we want to host a programme, we allow members of the parliament to co-own the programme; they finance the programme, and then we provide the human resources," he explained.

READ | 'If they are coming to drill oil, who can guarantee there will be fish left in 15 years time?'

Earlier this year, the organisation provided training to some members of the parliament.

"We engaged them on effective methods to communicate the problem of climate change at the local level," he said.

He believes it is necessary to involve lawmakers in conversations around climate change because of their distinguished position as the mouthpiece of their constituency.

Don-Agor admits that to launch an effective climate communications campaign in Africa, organisations need to conduct intensive research to understand the indigenous people in their target communities.

"Localising climate communication is the way forward," he said.

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