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Tuesday September 26th, 2017

Interview: Délcio Rodrigues, of GSCC


Délcio Rodrigues, the head of GSCC (Global Strategic Communication Council) in Brazil, talked with iCS about the importance of communication for the climate cause. In the chat, in addition to outlining a profile of Brazilian media in 2017, he highlighted the importance of NGO projects, think tanks and academic groups having a well-structured component of dissemination within their scopes – so that their results reach the right audience, with effective messages.

Check out the full interview below, in which Délcio also explains the importance of financing alternative press vehicles and the next steps to be taken by GSCC in the country.

delcio rodrigues

iCS: Délcio, can you explain the role of GSCC in the world, considering its specific strategy of connecting players to expand communications about climate issues?

Délcio Rodrigues:  GSCC was born and remains, internationally, as a communication network in different countries, spread across most of Europe, India, China, Brazil and the United States. By definition, GSCC is not a communications agency, it is not a news agency, nor is it a NGO, that intends to preserve its brand, to increase its brand worth. It was born to be a communication service to be used to foster the climate cause. Who are the customers? Any person who has important contributions to international climate negotiations. Who is the audience? The press.

GSCC was born to deal mainly with the traditional press, written newspapers, but it has evolved enough to work with the alternative press. What we do is a communication service in which try to connect the dots, connect sources – that is, to connect those with something to say with those who need to hear it, i.e., the press. In all countries, we try to maintain a good relationship with groups of sources, think tanks, university groups, NGOs, environmental officers, members of the industry, business associations, climate friendly sectors. We established this network, on the one hand, and a network of journalists, on the other.

iCS: Are there differences between GSCC’s performance abroad and its performance in Brazil?

DR: Here in Brazil we are changing a little, we are not abandoning this strategy at all, but adding to it. A year or two ago, we did a thorough survey/interview with over thirty people, since we wanted to understand what were the gaps, the communication gaps relating to climate change. We identified some issues, including some that we could not handle at all because they were far beyond our possibilities, and some that we could.

So we are increasing our portfolio of services beyond the connection of sources and the press, putting forth a more public face, which will include, for example, a website without new material, but with the gathering of nearly all that is said about climate change in the local and international press. One of the demands that we have noticed is that people could not find a place where they could have access to a wide variety of information relating to climate change.

In addition to the process of putting together this website, which is currently being finalized and will be released prior to COP23, we have been doing a daily newsletter – Climainfo – which gets sent to approximately 4,000 people, all of them sector stakeholders. We select 12 key topics on the subjects covered by the media and provide a summary and a link to the original articles.

And we’re setting up a project to build an informative website with original material, similar to Nexus, but with a focus on climate change. All the material that gets included in that website will contribute to create a narrative on the subject.

iCS: We have witnessed, in recent years, a reduction in the size of newsrooms in Brazil, including in the largest newspapers. How do you see the climate communication in the country today, and how does it compare to the rest of the world?

DR: The scenarios are very diverse in different places of the world. Particularly in Brazil, there are some fundamental issues. In addition to the national crisis, we have a massive financial crisis and even a vocational crisis in a way, which has been affecting the media as a whole. Take the major newspapers, which attempted to have a nationwide reach, such as O Globo, Estadão, Folha, Valor: these newspapers are also declining, as all others have declined. There is no press today, in Brazil, with a nationwide reach. Newsrooms are super lean, journalists are drowning in work, which means that it is very difficult today to have good articles dealing with climate issues – except for three or four journalists who are actually involved with this issue, and, because they hold a certain sway within the structure of the newspaper, they manage to publish some articles on the subject.

The result is that we do not have a real debate on the climate issue in the Brazilian media. The issue appears either when it comes into focus during specific events, such as COPs, or at times like now, when someone starts talking about this crazy hurricane season and wonders about its relation to climate change. But that’s it. So it is very difficult, today, through the traditional media, to be able to lead a real discussion on the climate issue.

iCS: Can alternative channels be a path worth taking?

DR: There are several alternative channels, and even advocacy channels; there are others trying to offer an alternative to larger media and traditional newspapers, such as Observatório do Clima, the odd Pública article, Climainfo which is at its inception…

Brazil’s situation is a difficult one, but I always say that we do talk about the climate. That is because the media always highlights, for example, Temer’s relationship with the rural caucus in order to remain in power. We are talking about the climate when we mention a policy that is being defined for the deforestation of the Amazon, through shady deals. We talk about that every day, we just do not use the term climate change. In many other sectors the same thing happens. That is, we have a daily agenda related to climate change, but no one makes the necessary links to lead the population to understand that discussions about agriculture, sports, etc. are actually discussions related to climate change.

In the Anglophone world, climate discussions are much more present, with full-page newspaper ads showing one side of the issue, then another ad showing the other side; in short, things are at a different level of development. Here we fall short, and we need to work very hard to make the necessary connections.

iCS: In a recent interview to our website, Ana Yang, the president of iCS’ board and Acting Director of Climate Change of CIFF, said that perhaps an alternative to be adopted by climate communication vehicles is to distance themselves from the word climate, in order to reach a broader audience. What do you think of this alternative?

DR: I think it’s good. When we start an article by saying “because of climate change …”, people simply stop reading. Even I, who work in this sector, do that! Now, if you start with a true story and manage to make the connections, for example, if you show how the development of agribusiness, as it is being done today, will actually be detrimental to the future sustainability of agribusiness itself, than that could work better.

It is very important to let people know that you cannot measure climate change communication using the keywords climate change. If you do that, you’d be picking up a volume of communication that would be much lower than the actual volume of communication that exists about climate change. I think we need to understand that too. Our job is not to paste the expression climate change everywhere. Our job is to create a narrative that leads to the reduction of emissions in the daily political decisions and in the strategies of the national policies. The goal we need to achieve is to have people understand the real impacts that these things have already had and will increasingly have and what they should change in their day-to-day decision-making.

iCS: We now come to a question that I believe you get often, but that is increasingly important and current – how can communication actually influence the development of attitudes that lead to the reduction of emissions?

DR: The first thing is that we need to have volume. Quantity of material, research, articles. Imagine what it’s like to compete, having a one-million dollar a year communication budget, against someone who has a communications budget the size of Petrobras’? The order of magnitude is different. It’s very complicated. We cannot change the perceptual framework on the issue of deforestation in Amazonia without a large amount of research, material production and articulation. Once in a while we manage to have Fernando Meirelles open the Olympics by talking about it. Those are very special moments, which are produced with very little resources.

First we need a lot more funds. Second, communication is essential today, it always has been, but with the possibilities of social networks, replications, things have changed completely. You need a lot more. You need to harness the power of social networks, relevant bloggers, new things, filming, research, texts, without all that, nothing works.

Let’s look at iCS, an institution that funds projects from other organizations. It is important that iCS itself and also its grantees know that the products they develop will not have much of a reason to exist if the communication component is not thought through from the beginning of the project. After all, what good does it do to have a project if its findings are not brought to the attention of the public?

Most agents that are in a relationship with iCS and other similar organizations are not government or private entities. Therefore, they do not sign a billion-reais project to explore oil or wind energy, nor do they make any final decisions at the government level to regulate anything. What we are always trying to do is to influence. We try to build ideas, to formulate public policy projects and even to fight certain policies. In other words, we depend on others – on the government and on private entities to make the final decisions.

So if we cannot communicate with them, if we cannot use their own language, if we cannot speak in a way that not only makes them understand us, but actually makes them consider us relevant, then we are not reaching our goals.

iCS: Since you mentioned iCS, how do you evaluate our financing role from the standpoint of communications, and which paths do you think a philanthropic organization can take to reach the goal of conveying a very clear message to its target audience?

DR: I think that organizations like iCS, who understand their role in promoting projects to foster changes in society, may need to require their grantees to think about this matter. When presenting a project to iCS, Avina, the Ford Foundation, the Oak Foundation, entities need to define their communication goals. I know it’s not easy, because many private organizations, and even think tanks and universities sometimes have communication structures that are hard to challenge and very closed, such as the publication of papers in journals that target researchers. But I think that iCS, for example, should require that, at the time of the formulation of a project, its grantees have a communication strategy in place and perhaps go a step further: offer advice to grantees in this matter, since many do not have an institutionalized practice. The interaction of a communications professional with the grantees may be a path worth taking.

iCS: Throughout this conversation, you talked a lot about the importance of alternative media. iCS has supported projects and organizations focusing on climate communication. How do you evaluate this initiative?

DR: It is of fundamental importance. Since there is nothing like this in Brazil, I know that for iCS to venture down this path is more difficult, something like creating a new route through uncharted territory. It is critical that someone do this, learn from the problems. Some communication organizations that have arisen outside of the traditional media have understood that they would not be able to finance themselves only through subscriptions and contributions from readers. It is a long-term and indispensable job.

The situation faced by the press is so bad that is becomes a mutual effort: it is necessary that funders understand that we need a strong media and contribute to its existence; and the media that is born from those efforts also needs to be aware that it must find a way to become more relevant. Without this investment that iCS is making, we will not be able to learn enough to get where we need to be.

iCS funds a series of communication initiatives focusing on climate change, such as the series of reports on energy Diálogo ChinoClimate Journalism , a competition for university students focusing on urban mobility and climate; the journalistic investigation  Sul21, about the environmental impact of mineral exploration in Rio Grande do Sul; and the analysis of national coverage on climate change between 2014 and 2016, as the basis for a new communication strategy for COP23, developed by ANDI.

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