The impact of climate change is reshaping our world. Across Africa, climate change is already increasing forced migration and displacement, referred to as ‘climate mobility’.
The Global Center for Climate Mobility (GCCM) launched the Africa Climate Mobility Initiative as a research and policy project to address the future of mobility in Africa in the context of climate change. With the goal of raising awareness and shifting the narrative in global climate discussions, the initiative was launched during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP27 in Egypt, where climate adaptation strategies were high on the agenda.
The collaboration between the GCCM researchers, editors, photographers, and policy experts shows how we can take action to adapt to climate mobility. We explain the complex topic and make it relevant to a broad public – from those learning about the topic to those managing the future of climate mobility – while not losing the perspective of how climate mobility is already impacting people’s lives.
Climate mobility is a term referring to displacement and forced migration due to climate change and is an adaptation measure for many to address climate change impacts. However, it will continue to be unequal in space, time, direction, and social composition. Understanding this complexity is essential to manage the future of a growing and mobile population in the continent.
Given the relevance and urgency of the topic, as well as the many actors involved, our goal was to engage, inform, and allow users to explore the data further.
With this in mind, we designed and developed a microsite that informs those that are not familiar with the topic by shifting the narrative from big numbers to personal stories. The microsite also serves as a knowledge base built upon the novel mobility data containing an in-depth report on research results, an agenda for action to pave the way forward, and a data explorer to dive deeper into the mobility data.
The challenge for our team was to translate the immersive 2-year research into an appealing storyline that made climate mobility easy to grasp. Our team dived into available data to find interesting patterns and ways of visualizing the research. Being familiar with the content outline and available data sources, we started on the concept design of the product. We focused on putting people first, showing the local impact of climate change, instead of displaying the metrics only. This results in a touching and human-focused story.
Dealing with a significant number of high-resolution datasets was a great challenge. We had to make all this information accessible, easy to follow, and able to load across devices and bandwidth. We had data at multiple resolution levels (15km and 5km) for multiple scenarios (up to 4) and time periods (up to 3), and sometimes different units (absolute values and percentage of change relative to a baseline). We resolved this by allowing users to filter through years and scenarios within specific datasets and building tilesets that contained data for all available years and scenarios, reducing the need to reload new data.
We challenged ourselves to write content that focuses on the local level and tells how climate mobility already affects people in Africa. To achieve this, we used data, photography, and videos to create 11 storylines.
The website and report reflects a proactive and optimistic outlook, visible in the vibrant, colorful design and playful typography. Images and data visualizations have big and bold styling to draw attention.
We worked with the GCCM team to develop a storyline structure that would catch users’ attention with short, impactful titles, offer a localized insight in a texture map, and share a major research finding as a story prompt to then share more information combined with real personal stories through photography and videos.
In order to emphasize the hopeful tone of the initiative and the chances of success in our adaptation to climate change, each story links to one of the actions in the Agenda for Action.
In order to make abstract data more tangible and relatable, we built texture maps with a unique style to engage with users. These maps do not only feature the environmental African context, but also serve as a way to share localized insights that showcase the diversity of future climate mobility.
To better inform and aid understanding of the topic, the microsite and report insights are backed by graphs and charts that present a detailed view of the project data – such as analytical maps, trends over time including uncertainty margins, possible scenarios, or demographic breakdown.
The final striking visuals and their informative captions rely on their simplicity to convey the main research insights.
The microsite Voices from the Frontlines was envisioned in its essence as a medium to share research insights through the stories of those who have experienced or considered mobility as a way to adapt to climate change.
Photography and videos taken by local professionals and edited to align with the microsite’s visual design capture the landscapes, people, perceptions, and situations that translate scientific research into relatable content.
The extensive climate mobility data built and researched by the Africa Climate Mobility Initiative’s partners resulted in 11 engaging stories and an accompanying in-depth report that provides further details on the research findings.
While learning from these insights provides a clarifying overview of the future extent of African climate mobility, releasing the data in an intuitive manner was essential to help managers and policymakers develop local and regional climate adaptation plans.
The data portal in the microsite allows visitors to look at different scenarios and future forecasts of the collected geographic and social-economic high-resolution data.
The multiple ways of presenting the climate mobility data and research outcomes come together in the Voices from the Frontlines microsite, where users are progressively presented with insights that can build their interest, knowledge, and adaptation strategies, both from personal and technical perspectives.
The initiative was launched in the GCCM Climate Mobility Pavilion at COP 27 in Sharm-El-Sheik as a way to be included in the global climate discussions and receive attention from global leaders. As an introduction to the research and microsite, we produced 12 unique videos as 2-minute story snippets.
These videos combined photography, data visualization, and an overview of the insights that were also distributed among relevant stakeholders as an in-depth PDF report.
Having multiple user goals (engage, inform, explore) meant using different technologies to analyze, process, and display the data. This way, we used a combination of Python, QGIS, and Blender to build 3D interactive texture maps that are animated in the microsite using WebGL and MapboxGL. We created static charts, graphs, and maps using automated Python and QGIS pipelines to generate vector images from data that could then be edited if needed to align with the design. Finally, we converted the geospatial grids into vector tiles that could be rendered in the data explorer using MapboxGL.Read more about the technical approach
The Content Management System we customized for the project became a key element of the microsite. It does not only allow for future scalability allowing for ongoing content creation, but it also serves as the medium to control texture maps animations, figure legends, and captions, as well as the metadata, filters, and styling of data layers in the map portal.
The collaboration resulted in several communication carriers showcasing engaging stories from a personal and holistic level. Using rich data visualizations, powerful photography, and unique storytelling, the work reveals a continent’s urgency and agency on the move to adapt to climate change.
A new report called African Shifts documents the current realities of climate-forced migration and displacement in Africa. The report paints possible scenarios for future population movements resulting from increasing climate impacts.
The World Economic Forum
The report, launched by the Africa Climate Mobility Initiative, aims to provide evidence, knowledge and policy recommendations to leaders gathering at the COP27 climate change negotiations in Egypt, where climate adaptation strategies are high on the agenda.
Report: Increasing climate risks mean that millions of Africans could be uprooted or trapped where they are due to climate change.
The report highlights that this climate migration will very likely be a response of last resort, as a majority of African citizens are connected to the land they call home, and will be forced to leave as a result of circumstances they can’t control, namely, the impacts of the climate crisis.
We took quite a hybrid technical approach, not settling on one solution but picking the best solution case by case, and we kept an open mind throughout the process. The website had to appeal to a broad public – from policymakers to the African people – and thus we developed different technical strategies to address the users’ needs.
The Webby Awards: Crafted with Code
Key inspirations for the design are the African people on the front lines of climate mobility, the natural environment, and the hopeful outlook toward an actionable agenda.
We aimed at making research-heavy information accessible and relatable to encourage action. The platform is specifically designed to place people at the center of climate change and turn complex research on climate mobility in Africa into compelling stories.
The platform is specifically designed to place people at the center of climate change and to turn complex research into compelling stories. Users can grasp the main research findings through 50 interactive data maps, documentaries, portraits, and written stories. This way, research-heavy information is accessible and relatable for many to encourage action.
Dutch Design Daily