Frequent and intense droughts, floods, heat-waves, tidal waves and warming oceans are becoming rampant due to climate change. We know and experience them, and yet somehow climate change still appears remote to the average person despite the obvious harsh impacts as well as opportunities that this global conversation presents to individuals, businesses and nations.
There is no doubt that Ghana and indeed the entire world is warmer than previously. Ghana is literally hot. A few minutes after heavy rains and the heat is back in its ‘full glory’.
Despite these obvious changes in weather patterns, public discourse in Ghana on climate change and related issues – such as energy transition and climate financing – have been limited to conferences and workshops, with the general public pretty much unaware of the nitty-gritty in this global conversation. We are not oblivious of the abnormal weather pattern, but somehow the nexus between the ‘new’ weather pattern and climate change is lost on many people – including leaders.
Sadly, the predominant headline from the annual international climate change conference christened the Conference of Parties (COP) has been the long list of participants that represent Ghana each year. Maybe justifiably so, since not much appears to happen in relation to broader public discussion after the noise about the large delegation dies down.
BBC Environmental Correspondent Matt McGrath recently reported that scientists say the heat we are experiencing could break a key temperature limit for the first time in a few years. He wrote: “Researchers say there’s now a 66% chance we will pass the 1.5C global warming threshold between now and 2027”. Exceeding the 1.5C limit means we will see far greater impacts of warming; such as more severe heatwaves, more intense storms and wildfires.
The scientists’ findings are not in doubt, because we experience those things right here in Ghana. No day passes without people complaining bitterly about the unbearable heat. Besides discomfort from the heat, with the attendant health implications, the high cost of keeping the air-conditioner on in the car or at home is dealing serious blows to the pockets of the few who even can afford this luxury, because of high fuel cost and electricity tariff. It is therefore strange that we have failed to mainstream the climate change conversation when it is so relatable.
At a workshop that I attended a couple of months ago, it was obvious a lot was happening in Ghana in relation to climate change – but out of the view of many. It was a clear case of information asymmetry, as public officials appear to be doing so much and yet many are oblivious to what is going on.
It is worrying, for instance, that Ghana launched its national Energy Transition plan just last year; and yet apart from the day of the event, not much has been said about it even in the media. Issues of climate change are so germane that we can no longer restrict them to workshops for a select few, or treat them as one of those handed down programmes. We can all feel the heat.
So, why is climate change still a topic out of reach for many? Why is climate change conversation not as regular as discussions about bad roads, power cuts and rising cost of living?
The communicators will tell you to strike while the iron is hot, and I think we have the right atmosphere to take the climate change conversation into homes. It is the right time to let citizens understand the entire climate change issue; what is required of our government in terms of the mitigation and adaptation measures; what is required of business entities; and what is required of individuals and the attendant benefits, because there are some.
Much of the talk on climate change has been limited to conferences and workshops, both local and international – usually laden with heavy jargon that has little or no meaning to many uninitiated. It is not surprising that even after over 27 different annual international climate change conferences, many in Ghana are clueless about what is in there for us to lose or benefit.
Ghana, just like other countries, has a long list of its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to climate change. These NDCs are climate action plans each country is supposed to roll out in order to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts. How many people know about the NDCs? And if we do not know about them, how does the country get to realise them beyond just a tick in the box?
The issue of climate change is so relatable, especially now; and the key actors need to get off their high horses, mainstream the conversation and get everyone involved. A first step to bring the conversation home is to cut down the use of jargon and use every-day English – communicators can be of help. The world, including Ghana, is getting hotter and hotter; so we need to take measures that stop or reduce activities which are causing the heat while we apply measures to make the world cooler. This is not too complex to understand, is it?
We can start it all by whipping-up media interest in the subject by employing the right communication strategy – one that eventually gets the conversation to trickle down into homes.
I readily see both push and pull factors that can help mainstream the climate change conversation. I consider the harsh impact of global warming – the tidal waves etc. – as push factors; and the social entrepreneurial prospects inherent in the many global funding opportunities as pull factors that attract ordinary people’s interest to the conversation.
The next Conference of Parties (COP28) is just a few months away. If we do not want the large number of delegates to be the event’s leading news again, then the lead-actors need to move now and mainstream the conversation in every home. Let the people know their contribution to reducing the heat (mitigation measures) and what they can do to make the world cooler (adaptation measures). Let them know that inherent in these measures are money-making opportunities for individuals and businesses, in the form of climate financing funding opportunities and carbon trading.
If people realise that they can earn money through this climate change while reducing global warming, then they will see climate change as an everyday bread and butter issue; and the time to act (strike) is now while the weather (iron) is hot.
The author is a marketing communication specialist and media trainer