People responsible for making policy, investment, and engineering decisions are struggling to make sense of climate information produced by many climate scientists; especially when this information includes probabilities, uncertainty statements and other technical jargon. Over the last two years I have been working with Rwanda’s climate and environment fund, FONERWA, and have experienced first hand what poorly communicated climate science can lead to. Following a climate information workshop, one participant’s question summarised the frustration of the group, “Why should I care about the climate information if I am not aware of what the effects mean?” Without fully understanding the climate information and its impacts, FONERWA are not in a strong position to critically appraise prospective projects for climate risks and impacts. This has lead to devloping a decision support tool that will create awareness of climate risks and support a rudimentary appraisal of their projects. (more on how we have addressed this issue with FONERWA). Being able to appropriately communicate with decision makers is a critical step in order to drive change. Before discussing approaches to communicating climate information, it is important to address a fundamental question: ‘Why is climate science so difficult for decision makers to engage with?’ Noting that the responsibility falls on both the scientists and decision makers.
- In most cases, the language is too complex for decision makers without a background or education in statistical or natural sciences to understand, maybe even more so in areas where English, French or Portuguese (the three most commonly translated languages in Africa) are not the dominant languages.
- There is a poor understanding of where and how the information can be used to appropriately inform decisions.
- There is a disconnect between the decision makers needs and what is being provided by the science. Providing decision makers with information that is not appropriate for their timescales and interests/needs or that is abstractly framed only causes further confusion. If a decision maker cannot see the link between the information that is provided and the impact on his/her decision then it is unlikely to be used.
- Lastly, there is at times little trust between decision makers and climate scientists. All of the aforementioned points cause confusion and feed into the distrust. Similarly, weather forecasts in Africa are unreliable and decisions that have failed due to incorrect information can create deep distrust.