Climate change is one of the most urgent problems facing humanity today. Every corner of the planet is already feeling the impacts of climate change, from devastating heatwaves to sweeping floods. The wealthy and powerful are responsible for the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, the impacts of climate change are disproportionately felt by the poorest and most vulnerable members of society – often in the global south. These vulnerable communities are also routinely sidelined and under-represented in academic research and the media.
Climate action can only be fair and just if a wide range of voices and opinions are heard. Diego Arguedas Ortiz and I created the Global South Climate Database – a free, searchable database of climate experts from the global south – to help elevate the voices of climate experts from the global south in the media.
We recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of the database and have been blown away by the positive response to our project.
Our one-year anniversary
In just one year, the Global South Climate Database has grown to include more than 1,000 climate experts from the global south, ranging from scientists to lawyers to policy analysts. Experts on the database collectively speak more than 75 languages, ranging from Spanish to Swahili, as well as all speaking English. And more than 100 countries are represented.
Journalists from around the world are already using the database to find more diverse sources for their reporting.
The lack of diversity in climate science research
As Carbon Brief’s science writer, I have read hundreds – maybe even thousands – of academic papers on climate research. The topics covered in these papers are diverse and varied ranging from land use emissions to ocean acidification to human development. However, I unfortunately cannot say the same for the papers’ authors, who are predominantly men from the global north. They are brilliant scientists, but not the most diverse bunch.
In 2021, I decided to investigate just how deep-rooted this authorship inequality is. I started by manually assessing the authors of 100 most highly-cited studies of climate-related research published over 2016-20, blissfully unaware of how tedious the task would be.
I found – after weeks of painstaking analysis – that 90% of the 1,300 authors were from institutions in the global north. Meanwhile, the entire continent of Africa, which is home to around 16% of the world’s population, contained less than 1% of authors in my analysis.
I also spoke to scientists from around the world about barriers they have faced when conducting and publishing climate research. Experts from the global south cited a litany of problems, ranging from lack of funding and infrastructure, to language barriers, to institutional biases.
Strange as it now sounds, these conversations were the first time I ever thought deeply about why diversity even matters. Often used as a metric, a target, or simply a buzzword, I had always accepted that “diversity is important” without stopping to question why.
In writing my piece, I came to realise the importance of drawing from a wide range of opinions and life experiences – even in a field such as climate science, which many may believe to be objective and unbiased. The words of IPCC author and adaptation expert Dr Lisa Schipper, whom I spoke to for my analysis, have stuck with me:
“It’s a fallacy to say that science is neutral and that we’re not influenced by other things in our lives. We [scientists] get our training and so on, but world views, the perspectives that we have and our social cultural baggage all influence the way that we understand what we’re looking at.”
Armed with a better understanding of the importance of diversity, I resolved to quote more experts from the global south in my pieces. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done.
Why we launched the global south climate database
There is a wealth of climate expertise from the global south. However, I quickly found that scientists from the global south tend to have a lower online presence than their counterparts in the global north – largely because of their lower publishing rates – making them trickier to find.
Scouting the internet for diverse sources to quote in my pieces was a real time sink, especially when I was working to a tight deadline. It was very easy to become lazy, relying on a rotation of (excellent) British scientists for quotes in my pieces instead of finding new and diverse sources.
To snap myself out of this habit, I opened up a spreadsheet on my laptop and started throwing in the names of any and all climate experts from the global south who had ever given me a quote. As my tiny list grew, I began asking for suggestions. After a few months, my colleagues began requesting names from me for their pieces, and my rapidly expanding spreadsheet began to feel like a valuable resource.
Months later, I was introduced to Diego – associate director of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network – who explained that journalists from the global south are also struggling to find local climate experts. He thought the database could help journalists all around the world. Over the next few months, we worked together to create the database.
Diego and I co-wrote a blog post when the database first launched, explaining our motivation for launching the database – a true test of my creative writing ability, or lack thereof. (“Your headline is killing me, it sounds like an academic paper,” Diego laughed at one point, as we workshopped a title.)
In the blog post, Diego explains the dangers of how continuously relying on the same voices:
“A vicious cycle is created when the same experts from Europe or North America appear in wire stories and global outlets, and become more visible than local sources. This can lead to journalists overwhelmingly contacting experts from the global north for their thoughts on climate science, or directing all of their media requests to a select few well-known global south experts.”
If you are a climate expert from the global south and are keen to share your work with the media, I encourage you to submit your name to the database by filling out this form. My colleagues and I will verify your details and then add you to the database. To help you feel more prepared to talk to the media, we will also share a tailored media skills training pack with you.
We hope the database will be a stepping stone in breaking this vicious cycle, enhancing the voices of experts from the global south and helping journalists from the global north to enrich their reporting.