Climate brokers gather best data for policy making

LONDON, U.K. (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — There is no shortage of climate change information for a city planner looking to make a new building flood-proof or a farmer interested in trying out new drought-resistant crop.

However, the problem is that often there is too much of it and it’s not easy to understand.

“We pour this jug of information over people’s heads and hope it sticks,” said Roger Street, director of adaptation science at the United Kingdom Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP).

So, as an ever-wider range of people find themselves dealing with climate change-related problems, putting that information together in a form that people can grasp and relate to is crucial to making good climate policy and decisions, argues an emerging group of “climate knowledge brokers.”

“It’s profoundly confusing to know where to go to get decent climate information,” said Geoff Barnard, who helps lead the brokers group, which is backed by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network and the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP).

“Who do you trust? Where do you get things that genuinely speak to what you’re doing?”

A Climate Knowledge Brokers “manifesto” report was recently released in London. Based on interviews with more than 80 users of climate information, the report aims to create a road map to make sure good information gets to the people who need it.

“In the future, many more people will need to make decisions based on good climate information,” said Florian Bauer, head of “open knowledge” at REEEP.

“(The goal) is to end up with people who can make informed decisions with the best, high-quality information.”

Useful climate information pulls together data from the best sources and puts it in context, the report argues. It’s written in language the audience can understand and is crafted with an eye to what the intended user needs.

“It’s no use just providing people with information if they don’t accept it and learn it, if they can’t use it. Then you have failed as a knowledge manager,” said James Smith, a strategic planner with REEEP.

For example, an effort by the Humanitarian Futures Programme at King’s College London to deliver good seasonal forecasts to farmers in Africa was quickly accepted in some countries, said Vicky Pope, head of integration and growth at the UK Met Office.

However, in countries where farmers looked more to traditional knowledge than forecasts for planting advice, the new forecasts had to be paired with and put in the context of natural signals that farmers were used to consulting, she said.

In Bangladesh, efforts by the International Center for Climate Change and Development to pass on good climate information to national planners have required more than just putting out data, said Clare Stott, a former researcher with the centre.

Instead, it’s taken monthly face-to-face “learning events” with the country’s planning commission and making sure the information gets to the finance ministry, she added.

Part of the challenge of creating useful information on climate change is that some of it needs to be created now for future users who haven’t yet seen climate affect their work and “don’t know they need it yet,” Bauer said.

Another is producing information that focuses less on climate change and more on the effects it will have on a wide range of other areas, such as agriculture, water, health and national budgets.

“Looking at climate change in isolation isn’t good enough,” said Pope.

Bauer said demand for high-quality, useable information on the effects of climate change is growing fast because “almost everybody is becoming a climate decision maker.”

Added Barnard: “There’s a massive job out there to be done that we’re just starting on.”


Stories from our other publications