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date: 24 April 2017

Climate Change Communication in Colombia

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Colombia is in a privileged position to take advantage of international climate agreements to finance sustainable development initiatives. The country is a signatory of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreements. It is a non-Annex I party to the UNFCCC, has low emissions in relation to global numbers (0.46% of total global emissions for 2010), and possesses biogeographical conditions that are ideal for climate change mitigation through greenhouse gas sequestration and emission reductions. Simultaneously, the country’s economy has recently been harshly compromised during extreme climatic events that have made evident Colombia’s vulnerability to climate change.

While these conditions should justify a strong approach to climate change communication that motivates decision making and leads to mitigation and adaptation, most sectors fall short of getting their climate change messages across. Official information about climate change is often too technical and rarely includes a call for action. There are few exceptions related to materials for environmental education for children, and a noteworthy recent strategy to deliver the Third Communication to the UNFCCC in a form that is more palatable to the general public. In spite of strong lines of research on climate change, particularly related to hydrology, deforestation, and ecology, academic products are rarely communicated in a way that is easily understood by decision makers or has a clear incidence on public policy. Messages from mass media frequently confuse more than inform the public. A notorious and common example is that TV news stations use weather-related disasters, climate variability, and climate change in an indistinct fashion and communicate on the subject discretely, while broadcasting international events or punctual occurrences.

The approach embraced by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that work on the ground has distinctive characteristics. NGOSs directly face the challenge of working with diverse population groups in this multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and mega-diverse country. They customize languages, channels, and messages for different audiences and contexts, with the ultimate goal to build capacity in local communities, influence policy makers, and sensitize the private sector. Strategies that have proven to be particularly effective result from the work of interdisciplinary groups involve feedback from audiences, and incorporate adaptive management.