On 19 October 2016, I spoke on climate change communications to a group of Asian journalists and other communicators at a workshop organized by Sri Lanka Youth Climate Action Network (SLYCAN). It was held at BMICH, Colombo’s leading conventions venue.
I recalled what I had written in April 2014, “As climate change impacts are felt more widely, the imperative for action is greater than ever. Telling the climate story in accurate and accessible ways should be an essential part of climate response. That response is currently organised around two ‘planks’: mitigation and adaptation. Climate communication can be the ‘third plank’ that strengthens the first two.”
I argued that we must move away from disaster-driven climate communications of doom and gloom. Instead, focus on climate resilience and practical solutions to achieving it.
We also need to link climate action to what matters most to the average person:
Cheaper energy (economic benefits)
Cleaner air (health benefits)
Staying alive (public safety benefits)
I offered three broad tips for climate communicators and journalists:
Don’t peddle fear: We’ve had enough of doom & gloom! Talk of more than just disasters and destruction.
Look beyond CO2, which is responsible for only about half of global warming. Don’t forget the other half – which includes some shortlived climate pollutants which are easier to tackle such action is less contentious than CO2.
Focus on local level impacts & responses: most people don’t care about UNFCCC or COPs or other acronyms at global level!
Finally, I shared my own triple-S formula for covering climate related stories:
Informed by credible Science (but not immersed in it!)
Tell authentic and compelling journalistic Stories…
…in Simple (but not simplistic) ways (using a mix of non-technical words, images, infographics, audio, video, interactive media)
Poor venue logistics at BMICH prevented me from sharing the presentation I had prepared. So here it is:
At a special ceremony at Jana Kala Kendraya (Folk Art Centre) in Battaramulla, a global plaque is to be presented to the Speaker of Parliament and Minister of Environment by Marco Gonzalez, Executive Secretary of UNEP’s Ozone Secretariat.
This is one of six events worldwide to mark the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer — the world’s most widely subscribed international law.
Since it signed and ratified the Montreal Protocol in 1989, Sri Lanka has been active on several fronts to phase out various industrial and agricultural chemicals that damage the ozone layer – a natural occurring atmospheric phenomenon that protects all life from the Sun’s ultraviolet rays.
The logo is already displayed by many Ceylon Tea manufacturers and distributors. It marks another value addition to the island’s best known export product, an industry worth US Dollars 1.5 billion a year.
The logo reminds Ceylon Tea drinkers worldwide that their favourite ‘cuppa’ has been produced without harming the Ozone Layer. That means our tea is growing without any Methyl Bromide on tea plantations. Instead, ozone-friendly substitutes are now used as fumigants to protect tea bushes from pest attacks, particularly the nematodes (roundworms).
The Montreal Protocol requires all Methyl Bromide use to end by 1 January 2015 (except in emergency situations and quarantine purposes). Sri Lanka got there ahead of schedule.
“Sri Lanka is renowned for its creative activities to raise public awareness on ozone layer protection. The Ozone-Friendly Ceylon Tea logo is another significant achievement of Sri Lanka,” says Atul Bagai, Senior Regional Coordinator of UNEP’s OzonAction team based in Bangkok, Thailand.
He sees multiple benefits from this branding exercise: “Considering the worldwide popularity of Ceylon Tea, this initiative will greatly contribute to the global efforts to protect the ozone layer.”
Searching for Substitutes
It took many years and involved collaboration between government agencies, private companies, scientists and the international community.
Producing Ceylon Tea — known for its distinctive and diverse range of flavours — is as much an art as it’s a science. In recent years, Sri Lanka’s tea industry has modernised manufacturing, distribution and marketing. It has also responded to rising consumer expectations and regulatory requirements in export markets.
The Sri Lanka Tea Board believes that ‘Ozone Friendly’ status could give a competitive advantage for Ceylon Tea at a time when ethically and environmentally responsible products are gaining markets around the world.
Methyl Bromide, also known as Bromo-methane, is a colourless, odourless and highly toxic gas at normal temperatures and pressures. It has been widely used in agriculture since the 1930s to fumigate the soil against weeds, harmful insects and worms. It is a versatile pesticide that works against various creatures that attack crops both in the field and at storage.
UNEP says alternatives have been identified for most Methyl Bromide applications. These include using other chemicals, as well as non-chemical measures such as solarisation, exposure to steam or hot water, and crop rotation.
In fact, the search for substitutes started in the mid 1990s when the Ministry of Environment alerted the TRI about on-going discussions at Montreal Protocol meetings about controlling Methyl Bromide.
Perceptive officials realised how the highly technical discussions being held in far away places could one day affect how Ceylon Tea was grown and marketed.
Dr Janaka Ratnasiri, then head of the Ministry’s Montreal Protocol Unit, recalls negotiations at Montreal Protocol meetings in the late 1990s. “We had to persuade other countries to get tea included in the list of crops eligible for research funding to eliminate Methyl Bromide. Initially only five other crops – grown mainly in the west – were on that list.”
To make matters more difficult, no other tea-growing country was using this chemical. But his ‘scientific diplomacy’ worked, and Sri Lanka’s case to add tea to the crop list was accepted.
In 1995, the TRI responded with a proposal to research for substitutes. Initial funding support came from the Norwegian aid agency NORAD. The Multilateral Fund of the Montreal Protocol, set up to assist developing countries in protecting ozone, helped continue that research and field testing.
“TRI scientists, led by Ms Sushila Vitarana, worked with meagre sums of money and came out with several recommendations for adoption by the tea plantations,” says Dr Ratnasiri.
Many Hands, One Aim
During the past few years, all Sri Lankan tea plantations – large and small – have gradually introduced substitutes to Methyl Bromide. For example, plantations owned by Sri Lanka’s Dilmah Tea, among the top five global tea brands, have switched to using Basamid-Granular for soil fumigation.
“Although the new methodology is cumbersome, our plantations have adopted it unreservedly in order to reduce the damage to ozone layer,” says Dilhan C Fernando, marketing director of Dilmah Tea.
It was the partnership between policy makers, researchers, tea plantation companies and the development donors that enabled the Sri Lankan tea industry to wean itself from a decades-long dependence on a trusted chemical.
“This is a good example of public-private partnership (PPP),” says Janaka Gunawardana, Director of the National Ozone Unit. “It was with the support from the private sector tea plantation companies that Sri Lanka was able to eliminate Methyl Bromide use. And now, we are using this environmentally responsible conduct to enhance the brand value of Ceylon Tea worldwide.”
“Public-private partnerships are very helpful in implementing international treaties such as the Montreal Protocol,” says Gunawardana. “They can be challenging at times, but we want to build up more collaborations with the private sector.”
The Tea Board aims to have all tea exports displaying the ozone friendly logo by end 2012.
“All tea grown in Sri Lanka is now 100% ozone-friendly. This is a distinction of which no other tea-producing nation can boast,” says the Tea Board website, www.pureceylontea.com.
It adds: “When you reach for a cup of Ceylon Tea, you’re not just refreshing yourself; you’re also helping refresh and renew an environmental resource critically important to all life on Earth.”
On 16 September, the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer will be observed once again all over the world. This year’s theme is “Protecting our atmosphere for generations to come”.
Exactly 25 years ago, governments of the world came together at a historic conference in Montreal, Canada, to adopt the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
In a quarter century, it has rallied governments and industries in both developed and developing countries to phase out, or substantially reduce, nearly 100 chemicals that damage the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.
The Ozone Secretariat and UNEP OzonAction have jointly produced two 30-second videos mark the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol (MP).
These Public Service Announcements (PSAs) hail the extraordinary achievements of this Multilateral Environmental Agreement over a quarter century. They also project the MP as a protector of our shared atmosphere for generations to come.
The first PSA briefly introduces the ozone layer depletion issue and highlights its recovery that was made possible when countries of the world joined hands for saving the ozone layer – a global action at its best.
The second PSA revolves around the multiple benefits of the Protocol: it is not just a treaty protecting the ozone layer, but has multiple benefits for our biodiversity, climate, human health and the global economy.
The third version of this PSA (below) is twice as long, gives more info and moves at a more leisurely pace.
These PSAs, made by friends in the UK are proof that even a highly esoteric and technical subject like ozone protection can be presented in engaging, human interest terms.
Growing up in an Ozone Safe World: that’s worth celebrating!
With his wild hair and trendy suits, Douglas J Varchol can pass for a rock star. He is actually an accomplished independent film-maker, currently operating out of Bangkok, Thailand, covering a variety of science and environmental stories in Asia.
Last week, he participated in the Ozone Media Roundtable that TVE Asia Pacific and UNEP organised in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. After showing his latest documentary film on ozone, titled Earth Report: Perfectly Cool, which was first broadcast on BBC World News in September 2009, he talked about his experience in making the film.
Perfectly Cool is a 22 minute film looking at the challenges faced in trying to phase out a chemical called Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs for short), a coolant gas used in air conditioners across the developing world. As chemicals go, it’s a double hazard: this ozone depleting substance also contributes to climate change by acting as a greenhouse gas.
But non-specialist viewers watch broadcast television for good stories, not science lessons. The challenge for journalists and film makers is to ‘sugarcoat’ the technicalities by wrapping it up in human interest stories. Douglas recalled how he did this: combining imagination, hard work and luck.
First, here’s the official synopsis of the film which sums up the story:
Air conditioners are damaging the environment. One widely used coolant gas, HCFC, damages the ozone layer. With booming sales of domestic ACs around the world, the problem has grown in recent years, despite vigorous international efforts to reduce ozone depleting chemicals. Under the international agreement known as the Montreal Protocol, HCFC will be phased out worldwide by 2030. An ozone-friendly replacement gas – HFC – is now used in Europe, but that gas is a potent greenhouse gas — which means it contributes to global warming. However, an answer may be at hand. Earth Report travels to China, centre of the global AC industry, to investigate the cost of cool and meets the industry representatives working on a solution – and Sa DingDing, a musician with extreme views on air conditioners.
Watch the first 4 mins of Earth Report – Perfectly Cool
Humanising science stories is hard enough, and when the subject is something people can’t see or feel, it becomes harder. As I wrote a few days ago, the Ozone Layer – located between 10 and 50 kilometres above the Earth, and invisible to the naked eye – is not something tangible like cuddly animals or endangered plants. Moving ordinary people to care for something they can’t see or touch is tough, even if all life on Earth depends critically on it (the Ozone Layer absorbs most of the Sun’s harmful ultra-violet days).
Douglas had his work cut out for him. Throw into this mix the fact that the editorially independent film was being made pooling funds from six development agencies – each with their own agenda – and that the story was filmed in China where filming permission still involve a lot of paperwork, it’s a small miracle Perfectly Cool was completed. And as we saw, Douglas tells a good story without compromising accuracy or balance.
So did he keep perfectly cool during the making of this film, I asked. He revealed that there were moments of panic and despair, although in the end everything fell into place. While the editors at BBC World were satisfied with the film, some technical specialists consulted for the script had felt it was over-simplified.
Ah, I do know that feeling! When I made a film on ozone in 2006 (Return of the Ozone Layer: Are We There Yet?) it took us 18 months to finish, and went through endless revisions. The UN system seems to just love making films by committee…
With his film, Douglas faced additional hurdles. For example, he takes us inside the Gree company‘s factory producing air conditioners. In 2004, Gree became the largest AC manufacturer in the world, but they had never before allowed television cameras inside their plant. That took lots of time and effort to set up.
Sometimes, things not going according to plans actually helps. When on location, Douglas serendipitously came across elements that were not in the original story treatment but enhanced the human interest: for example, a modern day wedding where the new couple gifted reusable chop sticks to all their guests. That was good environmental conduct – but then they headed off to choose air conditioners for their new apartment…
Douglas paid a tribute to his Chinese researcher Lihong Shi and crew, without whose local knowledge and contacts he couldn’t have made the film.
In the end, Douglas pulls it off. Despite its seemingly esoteric and complex subject, Perfectly Cool is perfectly watchable — and not just for science buffs like myself.
Douglas, who once worked with Wired Science making science programmes for American PBS, said he set out to make a film on HCFCs that even his mom (a high school teacher) could understand. I can’t speak for her, but those of us who watched it in Chiang Mai were enthralled.
Tata Young, 28, is a Thai-American singer, model and actress who is one of the best known performers in Thailand, with a growing following across Southeast Asia. Last week, she was among the performers at the “What on Earth!” concert in Bangkok, part of the EU Green Days event to coincide with the latest round of negotiations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN-FCCC.
Tata is the latest Asian entertainment celebrity to join the climate bandwagon. Inside the UN Convention Centre in Bangkok, the climate negotiations were making slow progress. Environmental activists and campaigners were trying every trick in their books to speed things up — but governments bickered over selfish interests even as the planet heated up.
Tata’s newest album, Ready for Love, has its cover printed on recycled paper and sports a sticker that says “Protect the Ozone Layer”. Her interest in campaigning for ozone was sparked when she donated her time filming an ozone related public service announcement for UNEP last year.
The PSA is one of four that UNEP’s ozone team in Asia produced in 2008 as part of their public awareness campaign. They all draw attention to an important date that is drawing close: by or before 1 January 2010, all consumption and production of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, one of the main destroyers of the ozone layer would be phased out in all countries of the world. That is a significant achievement under the Montreal Protocol that nations of the world adopted in 1987 to save the endangered ozone layer.
The PSAs started screening in movie theatres in the Philippines earlier this year, to be followed by Thailand and other countries in the region.
Watch Tata Young’s ozone PSA for UNEP:
In June this year, talking to journalist Nirmal Ghosh, Tata Young said: “It’s important that people are aware of the little things you can do to protect our world, are aware (of ozone) and know what’s going on, especially because unlike garbage and other types of pollution, you can’t see the ozone layer.”
Tata is now singing and speaking for the ozone layer on her own steam. Unlike some other UN agencies, UNEP does not have a formal goodwill ambassador programme. But she has de facto become one.
Full credit to her for this choice. After all, the Ozone Layer – located between 10 and 50 kilometres above the Earth, and invisible to the naked eye – is not something tangible like cuddly animals or endangered plants. Moving ordinary people to care for something they can’t see or touch is that much harder, even if all life on Earth depends critically on it (the Ozone Layer absorbs most of the Sun’s harmful ultra-violet days).
Tata used to hit the headlines in Thailand for some songs which were considered a little too ‘hot’ for the conservative guardians of culture. But looking at the less-than-glacial pace kept by climate change talks in Bangkok, perhaps activists should roll out Tata Young to turn on the heat…
Don’t laugh. The perception of the TV viewer in this cartoon (which first appeared a couple of years ago in the Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio, United States) is more common that you’d think. In recent years, as climate change rose up in the media’s news agenda and the public’s list of concerns, I have met a number of people – from across educational and cultural spectra – who harbour similar confusion about the two issues.
I showed this cartoon, and referred to the wide-spread confusion, in my opening remarks to the Ozone Media Roundtable, an event to engage Asian media professionals on the nexus between ozone depletion and climate change. The meeting, held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on 8 – 9 October 2009, was organised jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and TVE Asia Pacific for invited senior journalists and broadcasters from the Asia Pacific region.
Ozone layer depletion and climate change are linked in a number of ways, but ozone depletion is not a direct or major cause of climate change.
In fact, the relationship between ozone and climate is both complex and nuanced, which has prompted some experts to call it a ‘Tango in the Atmosphere’. Ozone affects climate, and climate affects ozone. The authoritative UNEP GRID Arendal website says: “Ozone depletion and climate change are two distinct problems but as they both modify global cycles, they cannot be totally separated. There are still many uncertainties concerning the relations between the two processes.”
In recent years, research has outlined that global efforts to protect the ozone layer has also delivered climate benefits as many of the chemicals that damage the ozone layer – such as chloroflurocarbons or CFCs – also cause global warming.
In 2007 a scientific paper calculated the climate mitigation benefits of the ozone treaty as totalling an equivalent of 135 billion tonnes of C02 since 1990 or a delay in global warming of seven to 12 years. That same year countries meeting in Canada, under the Montreal Protocol, agreed to an accelerated freeze and phase-out of Hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFCs)—chemicals designed to replace the old, more ozone-damaging CFCs – in the main for the climate benefits.
I am in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, conducting the Ozone Media Roundtable, a high level event to engage Asian media professionals on the nexus between ozone depletion and climate change. The meeting, held on 8 – 9 October 2009, is organised jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and TVE Asia Pacific for invited senior journalists and broadcasters from the Asia Pacific region.
TVE Asia Pacific and UNEP convened the roundtable meeting in Chiang Mai to explore the ozone/climate nexus from a communications perspective. We brought together a small group of senior journalists and broadcasters who have been covering ozone and/or climate issues. We also invited a few ozone and climate technical experts to discuss the close links between ozone layer protection and climate change mitigation.
I work with moving images, but I also know the power of still images — especially when they are highly symbolic. Looking for a good visual link between ozone depletion and climate change, I came up with two images of our planet, seen in different ways that represent the two global environmental challenges.
The first image is better known, and is a colour enhanced satellite image of the Ozone Hole that was discovered in 1985 by British scientists Joesph Farman, Brian Gardiner and Jonathan Shanklin of the British Antarctic Survey. The ozone “hole” is really a reduction in concentrations of ozone high above the earth in the stratosphere. It is defined geographically as the area wherein the total ozone amount is less than 220 Dobson Units.
This discover was largely responsible for galvanising international attention and response to the threat of ozone depletion. After a series of inter-governmental meetings and negotiations, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was finally agreed upon on 16 September 1987 at the headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal.
The second image is not as widely known, but represents an even greater environmental calamity that is currently unfolding: global warming and rapid changes in climate it has triggered. The image is a colour enhanced image of the Earth’s temperatures in 2100 AD (less than a century from now), as projected by the Earth Simulator — one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers — which Japanese scientists use to project the climatic disasters in next 100 years.
The system was developed in 1997 for running global climate models to evaluate the effects of global warming and problems in solid earth geophysics. It has been able to run holistic simulations of global climate in both the atmosphere and the oceans — down to a resolution of 10 km.
Between these two images, we are looking at two of the biggest environmental challenges of our times. How the climate crisis can learn valuable lessons from the ozone crisis is what we discussed at the Ozone Media Roundtable.