Talking to the experts: an interview with Clare Shakya, Director of Climate Change group at IIED

Interview with Clare Shakya Alan J Hesse interviews Clare Shakya

A big part of my research when writing the technical content for my educational comic books comes from talking to subject matter experts. At no time is this more important than for the subject of climate change, a constantly evolving field. 

Climate change is still a controversial topic for many people who are confused by the apparent lack of evidence in their day to day lives. Yet the evidence is all around them, and there are millions of people around the world who are already experiencing the raw, life-changing impact of climate change. These range from the residents of small island nations in the Pacific all the way to the socioeconomically marginalized societies in cities such as Detroit. 

Wherever you look, its always the poor who are the first to feel the heat. 

As I prepare for my next educational comic book about climate change, the sequel to The Adventures of Polo the Bear, I am aware of this and so much else that requires careful treatment. The responsibility is considerable: my target readers are children from the age of 9. I want them to know about the reality, but I also want them to have fun reading the story, and know that they should not despair, that the solutions are out there. 

It is vital to get my facts straight. Navigating the pros and cons of renewable energy for example, is a minefield. Am I being naive, to think that I can use a comic book to address subjects as serious as the catastrophic consequences of permafrost melt, rising sea levels, Arctic and Antarctic ice melt, but also the wondrous opportunities to adopt real solutions such as solar and wind power that already exist?

Who better to appease my doubts than someone with decades of experience researching, debating and driving climate change policy and awareness at the highest level. A veteran of the COP climate talks, someone with an inside knowledge of climate justice, and the economics and politics behind it all.

A conversation with Clare Shakya - April 20.

I was lucky to have a chat with Clare Shakya for an interview as part of my research for my next comic book, the sequel to The Adventures of Polo the Bear: a Story of Climate Change.

Clare is the director of the Climate Change research group at the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED). She has over 25 years of experience in development, climate, energy and natural resources. Previously she spent 15 years with DFID, leading the integration of climate change thinking and finance into DFID's development interventions in Asia and Africa Divisions.

Clare is interested in politically astute, agile processes that learn iteratively about how to support a just transformation to a climate positive future.

When it comes to creating an educational children's book about something as serious as climate change, its important for to talk to the experts.

AJH: Clare, what's your main area of focus on climate change these days?

Clare: I'm really focused on getting decision makers to make ambitious commitments and then building the accountability systems around that, using climate finance to effect change. 

If you can get a country, government agency, business or a community to set a long-term goal and work out how they can measure progress and be held to account on progress along that goal, and then provide climate finance to change the incentives for day to day decisions, I think we're more likely to ratchet up ambition. This is central to the Paris agreement and I think that's how you get it. The 'ratcheting' of ambition happens because when you first start working on an area it seems impossible. It has to be a step by step process.

AJH: Could you give us an example?

Clare: Electric vehicles: a few countries have said they're putting a deadline of when the internal combustion engine will be retired and it will no longer be legal to buy a new one anyway. As a result, suddenly every single car manufacturer is looking into electric vehicles much more seriously than they were before. We're already seeing new ones coming on at much lower cost than they were until recently. That's why you get a ratcheting of ambition.

Another example is solar power. The cost of solar dropped massively because oil prices went up and suddenly solar looked cost effective. As a result, the manufacturing of solar increased massively, driving down its unit costs.

AJH: One of the things I want to show in Polo's next adventure is how these renewable sources of energy can offer a viable means to stop depending on fossil fuels to generate energy. Do you think this would work in a comic book?

Clare: Yes, and I think what's interesting to talk about is how much more flexible renewables are to the old way of generating energy. It's all about the way we use that energy. I see one of the narratives that might be interesting to bring out is how changing our habits can also really help move to a 100% renewables system. Looking at solar panels for example, you can have them on top of your house while also tapping into a central solar energy grid that replaces traditional coal-fired electricity. You basically can provide different types of energy for different purposes.

AJH: What are the top three aspects of climate change you consider should be communicated to the readers of my next comic book?

Clare: I was thinking of how we live, how we make use stuff, and how we make things fair. How we can make change more inclusive.

AJH: The bonus question is how you think a comic book with Polo the Bear might be made relevant for the next global climate talks at COP26.

Clare: We need an inspiring vision because climate change is scary. Quite often people talk about doom and gloom. But we need to focus more on how to engage with the change that is inevitable. We could actually completely reimagine our society: how can we look after each other and help each other out when things are going badly? How can we get more engaged in our local communities? Localizing food systems for example could be a really fun thing because suddenly you're growing stuff in your school garden for the school lunches, engaging communities or going to visit farms locally to get food. It's just trying to make the sorts of changes that we all want to see within our food systems, our energy systems, how we live how we how we travel. All of that actually seems exciting and fun.

AJH: A final word?

Clare: I think this is an opportunity to sell a story. We've got the New Green Deal in the US and the European deal in Europe. There are various commissions that have been around trying to inspire people with the possibilities of change. But I guess trying to do it in a more fun and more humorous way might be actually a more effective tactic.


Alan J. Hesse is a conservation biologist, educator and author of educational comic books and cartoons. His current focus is climate change, and this blog makes reference to his ongoing series of climate change graphic novels presenting the adventures of Polo the Bear.


Any opinions or views expressed in this blog post are those of the individual author, unless explicitly stated to be those of GreenExecutive.

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