Communicating the Science of Climate Change

By Senashia Ekanayake 

The scorching sun, followed by abrupt rain to disturb the peace of a warm and sweaty weekday afternoon. The weather has become the topic of discussion at the workplace, in classrooms and with your tuk-tuk drivers while waiting for the traffic light to turn green. However, how often does one think of these irregular weather patterns in Sri Lanka and floods in other part of the world as a short-lived adversity of a long-term impact? Climate change is a topic that is not new to us. Much has been said, especially whilst nearing World Environment Day, however solid action is yet to be implemented.

In order to communicate the importance of combatting climate change as well as with the objective of generating awareness on the subject, Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA) conducted its second Workshop on Climate Change and Development Journalism. The Workshop was held in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) on March 20, 2014.

The Workshop focused on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), science and climate change as well as communicating climate change to the masses.

The speakers for the event included Munasinghe Institute for Development senior climate researcher Priyangi Jayasinghe and CANSA Outreach and Advocacy Co-ordinator and Southern Voices Programme Regional Facilitator for Asia, Vositha Wijeynayake. This was the second of the series of workshops CANSA has mapped out for Sri Lanka. The inaugural workshop held last month highlighted the energy situation in Sri Lanka, the impact of climate change on the tea industry and how capacity needs to be built by different stakeholders in the process.

“By 2032, the country will be nearly 80% dependent on coal. Unless we have stronger policy frameworks, remove fossil fuel subsidies and develop long term lending schemes for renewable energy sources, the country’s energy future looks bleak,” said Energy Forum Director Asoka Abeygunawardana.

“Tea is not only one of the key export crops in Sri Lanka, but nearly 70% of tea production is driven by 60% of tea smallholders. The impact of climate change will result in a multitude of environmental, social, cultural and economic issues the country will face at both macro and micro levels,” said Janathakshan, Member of the Board of Directors Ranga Pallawala.

Climate Change and Science

Speaking on climate change impact from both global (IPCC) and Sri Lankan perspectives; various adaptation and mitigation measures and the importance of sustainable development in the wake of climate change was Priyangi Jayasinghe.

 “The warming in the climate system is evident. The statistical influence of human influence on climate change is visible and the world adds 2 ppm of carbon dioxide every year. At present the world stands at 400 ppm and calamities would heighten if it goes beyond 530 ppm,” said Jayasinghe in reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports.

Speaking on mitigation and adaptation, the climate scientist went on to say that while mitigation was paramount, it also called for a 40% global reduction of greenhouses gases by 2050.

Furthermore, on the lines of adaptation she noted that it was important for developing countries to step up to climate adaptation before seeking mitigation. The latter while as important, is possible only when there are solid adaptation plans in place as it takes into the concern the most vulnerable in a particular country.

When taking a look at the South Asian region in specific, adaptation efforts have been minimum, disorganised and not in line with governmental policy changes.  It is in this light has the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process approved the preparation of National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) by Developing Countries. As part of NAPs, each country has a National Steering Committee appointed to liaise and drive the strategy forward.

The Sri Lankan Story

According to statistics from the Metrological Department, the rise in temperature in Sri Lanka has been predicted as 04.0ºc in 2025 and 0.90ºc in 2050. Jayasinghe pointed out that the lack of initiative towards combatting climate change is perhaps not received due the long-term impacts of the adversity. She noted that while irregular and hazardous weather conditions prevail, its relation to global temperatures rising fifty years from now is yet to realised.

“While awareness should be created and knowledge disseminated on climate change; decision makers and stakeholders should focus on rethinking sectorial changes for construction, reductions to the energy consumption (the increasing demand from households will begin to contribute towards the country’s energy economy) and minimising economical inequality and unequal distribution of resources. Alleviating poverty is one of the foundation measures towards tackling adaptation,” said the climate scientist.

The researcher ended her presentation by stating that climate change could be tackled through sustainable development. She noted that solutions should be sought after in integration and solidarity and cannot be dealt with in isolation.

Communicating Climate Change

Taking over the communications’ session was Vositha Wijeynayake who emphasised on the importance of communicating in a language that was on par with the target audience.

“Communication plays a key role in addressing climate change.  Article 6 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change highlights the need for creating awareness and education on climate change. In achieving the objectives of these article, communication plays a key role,” said Wijeynayake.

She also noted that once the writer, filmmaker or journalist is able to identify and analyse the audience they are catering to, they could use language to suit the likes of their inclination and intelligence.

“Understanding the audience is important if we want to motivate them to take action, and to persuade them to change their behaviour. We cannot speak from where they are, we need to talk to them with a comprehension of their perception. CANSA is trying to bridge this gap of communication which fail to identify the audience when speaking on climate change,” said Wijeynayake.

She then went on to ask the audience, a mix of journalists, writers, climate activists and filmmakers on how they would categorise climate change in an evening news bulletin. It was concluded that the degree of catastrophe to be the decisive marker that would result in it being aired in either local or foreign news or the weather report.

“Despite the obvious need to communicate how climate change impacts us, and it being a daily experience by thousands around the globe, the need is not addressed with adequacy. This is mainly because we seem to talk in a language that people cannot relate to. Thus the importance in working with communicators like journalists in identifying the best way to address, different audiences to change attitudes, and habits that have negative impact on our lives,” said Wijeynayake in conclusion.

On national and regional levels, while devising strategies towards building stronger adaptation, mitigation schemes and climate policy are important, it is the responsibility of media as well as Civil Society Organisations to disseminate the required information that would facilitate communication among the population. Thus, when reaching out to these varied groups of people, it is important to identify the background to their socioeconomic status, the language in which they communicate and their basic needs in society, as to whether it is a sense of security, popularity or responsibility.

CANSA in collaboration with SLPI intend to conduct these workshops and trainings every month. If you wish to attend as a participant or share your views as an expert or even contribute with feedback please email us at

About The Author:

Senashia Ekanayake is a writer, an advocate of Arts, Education and climate change activist. She read for her degree in English, dabbled in the corporate world and is now involved with CANSA Communications.