22 October 2011

Hidden Heat: communicating climate change in Uganda



As HIA practitioners, we often assume that everybody knows about and understands what climate changes is and has a view on it just like we do. Most often this is not the case.

This is one of the few reports to examine the communication challenges in a low/middle income country. Through a series of 30 interviews with key climate change communicators, this

report identifies some of the challenges and opportunities of communicating climate
change in Uganda.

Click here to download the full report.

Key messages

  • Central to the fight against climate change in Uganda is effective communication and public engagement.
  • There is a major lack of co-ordination in the communication of climate change information in Uganda. Although several governmental and non-governmental bodies are potentially in a position to act as a central hub for climate change information and engagement, currently they are poorly funded and have a low public profile. Perhaps the most urgent priority for effective communication of climate change in Uganda is the development of a central co-ordinating body that can engage with all sectors of society.
  • The media is not fully engaged in covering climate change – certainly not to the extent warranted by the seriousness of the threat. Training programmes to assist both journalists and editors are essential, but civil society organisations must also improve the way they engage with the media, packaging information in a clear and simple way and actively attracting media attention.
  • Local languages lack terms for many key concepts involved in climate change –including ‘climate change’ itself.  Communicators should attempt to explain climate change using terms that already exist, using graphic examples of local environmental problems and innovative communication methods (e.g. dramatisation) to get the message across.
  • At a national and international level, politicians are not being held to account for taking action on climate change – but this is partly because there is such little awareness of the international causes of climate change. Raising awareness about the role of industrialised nations in causing climate change, and pressuring national politicians to make greater progress at international negotiations is critical.
  • At the local level, politicians tend to be poorly informed about climate change, yet local government structures represent a crucial opportunity for reaching large numbers of ordinary citizens. Sensitisation campaigns should focus on local politicians as a key constituency that can catalyse action on climate change.
  • Indigenous knowledge about land management and the environment is incredibly valuable when trying to engage people on climate change – but it must be supplemented with scientific information about the causes and consequences of climate change. Climate change represents a significant challenge to indigenous ways of understanding the weather and farming – and so people must be supported with additional knowledge and information wherever possible, including the improved dissemination of meteorological information through local radio stations.
  • National politicians have the task of developing a model of sustainable development that provides a higher standard of living for Ugandan citizens, but does not compromise the environment for future generations. This is a major challenge, but one in which as many different sectors of society as possible should be given a voice in. 
  • What does a sustainable Uganda look like? Articulating a positive vision of sustainable development for Uganda will provide a major tool in effectively communicating the message of climate change – what is the alternative?
  • Finally, awareness must be raised about the emerging carbon trading sector. There is the potential for carbon trading to deliver much-needed income to ordinary Ugandan citizens, but there are also major risks. An honest and open dialogue about the risks and benefits of carbon trading for Uganda is an essential first step to accessing the financial advantages that carbon trading may bring.
Hat tip: SDRN Network UK