Chapter 3 – Empower people to use their own voice

People react best to people. But when we campaign on climate change, we can be drawn into endless technical conversations full of acronyms and technical jargon. Quite quickly it’s easy to forget the human impact of climate change.

We loved talking to Earthlife Africa about their experience centering the experiences of local people:

SPOTLIGHT: SOUTH AFRICA There’s nothing more powerful than the voices of people affected

‘At international climate meetings it’s rare to find people talking in their native language on technical issues of long- term climate adaptation and mitigation, and what the rise in global average temperature means. But when you do find them, you hear people describing their experiences vividly.

We’ve found it’s important that people are able to raise their voices based on their own experiences and context, and then they can use that voice to shape the future they
want. We spend a lot of time supporting and empowering people to come into these global climate meetings, to use their voice and experience to demand change. We do this because we’ve found it so powerful to bring a human face to political discourse.

By bringing people, mainly young activists, into these spaces, we hope to build much greater activism around the institutions that are trying to tackle climate change, like UNFCCC meetings.

We hope that through supporting people who are experiencing the effects of climate change to share their story, we can get more people not only talking about the human issues of climate change, but also support more people to be comfortable using the technical and scientific language commonly used in these spaces.’

Makoma Lekalakala, Earthlife Africa

A great example comes from Youth Ki Awaaz in India:

SPOTLIGHT: INDIA People aren’t victims – they have the right to demand change

‘We start by finding hard-hitting stories of how a community that hasn’t contributed to climate change is being affected by it. This is often stories of individuals from communities
vulnerable to the impact of climate change, and how they lost their job or their livelihood. We find these stories work because people relate to them quickly and easily.

You have to be sensitive and careful though, not to position things in a way that the community is portrayed as in need of sympathy. We think there is a fine line that we always try
to be on the right side of, by doing journalistic reporting of communities vulnerable to climate change, and how climate change is impacting them, without exploiting them or painting them as weak. 

For example, there are these islands in India called the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. They’re looked at as this majestic, beautiful holiday spot. People from places like Delhi and Mumbai go to these islands every year, and they holiday and party. But most of them have no idea about the impact climate change is having on the indigenous communities that are actually protected under law, living on these islands.

And when we started talking about this, and when we started joining panels and talking about the impact on indigenous communities, we saw that the awareness of the people who holiday there definitely grew. We started getting queries from our audience saying things like “Okay, I know this now, what can I do about it?” So, we were able to help them reach a point where they wanted to take action, and they wanted to take the next step.’

Anshul Tewari, Founder, Youth Ki Awaaz

In so many examples we’ve seen the same thing: even if an issue is super complicated and confusing, there will be someone experiencing it whose story other people can relate to, empathise with, and be moved to take action. This is real work: and can take time and patience, but it’s so valuable because ultimately it builds the power of all our campaigns as we find ways to inspire more and more people to take real action on climate change.