A Climate Change Citizen Journalism Project to Bridge Gap Between Science and Policy

After co-producing the climate change documentary film The Polar Explorer, I had no idea that in 2010, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) would screen it for delegates and negotiators at the UN climate change conference (UNFCCC COP16) in Cancún, Mexico. Bridging the gap between scientists and policy makers by following experts in both fields, it was the first film ever to influence policy at the UN climate change conference. The conference’s final communiqué finally recognized a need for coastal nations to begin to prepare their people and infrastructure for rising sea levels.

I saw an opportunity to work with UNEP’s network of global youth, TUNZA, and enlist them in a crowdsourced film endeavor. What began as a series of workshops at a TUNZA conference in Indonesia in September 2011, became the Youth Climate Report. While there are many valuable collaborative video projects giving voices to youth to discuss the impacts of climate change on themselves and their communities, there are none which empower youth to enter into a learning dialogue with researchers in the form of an interview.

Youth Climate Report is a crowdsourced journalism initiative giving university and high school students involved in local, regional, and international environmental organizations the opportunity to interview researchers, both in the lab and in the field. The submitted videos are then compiled into short documentary presentations that screen at UN climate change conferences.


Grace Chew, reporting from Singapore on a new fleet of electric taxicabs that use technology developed under a joint research program between Technische Universität München (TUM) in Germany and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore

UNEP was eager to be our presentation partner and through them we have had continued access to UN climate conferences. We share a belief that youth must become more science literate than previous generations if they are to understand the myriad environmental problems facing humanity. Young faces on camera posing probing questions to scientists about climate change adaptation and mitigation solutions also help the audience contextualize the message and the importance of the work. The next generation is here, from around the world, on camera, wondering what the heck is going on.

So far we have been bootstrapping the project, reinvesting revenues generated from The Antarctica Challenge, another of our climate change documentaries, with some welcome but small additional support from foundations and individuals. Trying to stay true to a crowdsourced ethos, we haven’t been too prescriptive and have taken interviews as they have been submitted. Provided that the sound quality is good, we haven’t been too concerned about low light or jumpy camera work. Our reporters are provided a letter of introduction and usually find their own interview subjects, often scientists at the university or college they attend. They are told that the interview can be as simple as asking one question of a researcher: “What should delegates and negotiators at the conference know about your work and why is it important that they know it?”

As we continue to push our young reporters to make better work with a stronger impact, we have seen a need to formalize our production and interview training. Up to this point we have had some rudimentary instructions on our website about proper framing and lighting of interview subjects and how to ensure they are getting the best possible sound. We decided to create a kit, an out-of-the-box “country starter kit”, to provide more in-depth training to youth who often approach us with little more than their own enthusiasm through Facebook or other social media sites. Once we have set up this module, we will work with our country coordinators, who have set up Facebook groups with 125 members in India and approximately 25 each in Bangladesh, Ghana, and Indonesia. We will also work with 13 of our country directors across Africa, South Asia and Asia, to assist them with their own training of their reporter teams.

Yvonne Nyokabi, Youth Climate Report Country Director for Kenya

So far we have presented Youth Climate Report episodes one, two, and three at the UN climate change conferences in Durban, South Africa (2011) and Doha, Qatar (2012) and at the UNEP pavilion at the Earth Summit (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. Our next installment, episode four, will screen at the upcoming nineteenth conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) in Warsaw, Poland in December 2013.

This project is truly unique. If you’d like to see our work become even more powerful in its presentation, with youth participating in and facilitating the climate change dialogue between science and policy, while learning empowering life skills, please support us.

This project is part of GOOD's Saturday series Push for Good—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.

via Barry Schapiro / Twitter

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