A conversation with Clare Shakya

by | Apr 20, 2020

Clare Shakya

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?

ClareElectric 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?

ClareYes, 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? 

ClareI 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. 

ClareWe need an inspiring vision because climate change is scaryQuite 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.