A sustainable approach to weather and climate communication in challenging times

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By Richard Graham; UK Met Office 

Over the summer I was asked by the Network of Climate Journalists of the Greater Horn of Africa (NECJOGHA) to speak at a Climate Café on 25 August. I’ve been involved in the support of Climate Cafés but never had the pleasure of being present at one, so for me this was a double first – my first café and the first time it was to be held online. Like everyone, I have become accustomed to attending meetings online during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was excited to hear that NECJOGHA was trying to ensure that this event went ahead, albeit in a very different way.

I have been involved in Climate Cafés since their inception in 2016 as part of the Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa (WISER) Strengthening Climate Partnerships – East Africa (SCIPEA) project, funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development (now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office). These events aim to bridge the gap between journalists, meteorologists and people on the ground across East Africa. Journalists can gain a deeper understanding of what people want from forecasts, whilst the cafés help to demystify meteorological terminology for journalists and people on the ground. Scientists are also provided with the opportunity to see how the media works and what journalists are looking for from them.

A maturing format

In the four years since the Climate Cafés were launched, initially in Uganda followed by Kenya and Tanzania, the content of the events has developed and matured. A mentoring programme via WhatsApp also complements the cafés for media journalists in Uganda and Tanzania. With regards to the cafés themselves, regular participants need less of the initial groundwork, for example supporting journalists in reporting on seasonal forecasts, and the cafés have gone on to cover topics such as climate resilient farming techniques. This latest Climate Café was a great example of how broader topics are relevant to those attending, with the title ‘Achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through climate information communication and application’.

In keeping with the global relevance of the topic, the welcome address was given by Paul Arkwright, the UK’s COP26 Regional Ambassador for Sub-Saharan Africa. The UK and Italy will be co-hosting COP26 in November 2021 and will be advocating for global climate action, including on adaptation and resilience. Paul reflected on this being a core priority for African nations, alongside sustainable recovery from COVID-19, highlighting the urgency of the climate crisis across Africa.

Climate Change is already affecting economies and livelihoods across the continent, despite it being responsible for just 2-3% of carbon emissions. 

Paul spoke about how the UK Government is supporting sustainable development in Africa and how they are committed to championing inclusivity and working in partnership when it comes to effective climate action. He talked about the importance of the work of journalists in raising awareness of the risks of climate change and the action needed.

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Weather and climate information for action

I followed Paul’s opening remarks with a presentation on the observed trends in climate change and predictions from the Met Office-operated World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Lead Centre for Annual to Decadal Climate Prediction, including the strong evidence that some types of climate extremes are increasing in frequency. I pointed out the recent extremes in the shape of floods and droughts in East Africa, and how climate variability is also very important in driving extremes. For effective warning, decision-makers must begin acting on seasonal forecasts – not waiting until the event takes hold. I gave an example of how the Kenya Meteorological Department’s WISER-supported new supplementary seasonal forecast services for the Short-Rains season of 2019 assisted the Kenya Red Cross to be better prepared. Finally, I gave an overview of how interconnecting factors in the global climate system were tilting the odds towards a drier than usual Short-Rains season this year. I urged the meeting to view the detailed forecast statement and summary for decision makers that would be issued by ICPAC after the 56th Greater Horn of African Climate Outlook Forum (GHACOF56 – which also took place virtually the same week).

I was then able to sit back and listen to a range of speakers discussing topics related to the theme of the event, with a focus on the importance of action. The talks were very stimulating and thought provoking and there was certainly a very impressive list of speakers: long-term experts from the region, the prime initiator of the Global Framework for Climate Services, WMO experts and experts in sustainable development. The Q&A session at the end of the event provided an opportunity for discussion amongst the 80+ attendees, who were taking part from across East Africa, the UK and Canada.

What next?

It is fair to say that the virtual Climate Café was a great success despite attendees not being physically together. NECJOGHA collated some feedback from the participants in this news story, and the event was engaging, interesting and informative. It will be interesting to see how these virtual events might continue during the pandemic and beyond. I hope that there will still be future opportunities for some face-to-face Climate Cafés, however, especially if these continue to be rolled out to other countries in East Africa, but there are of course environmental and time benefits to being able to access events remotely.

Just as important is keeping the events relevant and engaging, and the changes I have seen over the years indicate that there is an appetite for keeping the topics fresh and of broad interest. The cafés are also gaining international traction, as indicated by the speakers and participants at this recent event, and will perhaps provide continued opportunity to highlight globally some of the challenges faced in Africa as a result of climate change.

The WISER programme was the funding drive behind the initial Climate Cafés, but NECJOGHA is working hard to ensure that these continue once the current WISER Weather Wise project ends.

Sustainability has been at the heart of the programme, and I for one hope that the work to date will continue and develop for the benefit of East African communities.

Thank you

So, a big thanks to NECJOGHA chair Patrick Luganda and all the team for putting together a very appetizing menu this August and continued 5-star service for all comers to the Climate Cafés!

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