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Fellow Spotlight: Shifting Behaviors

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A Climate CoLab Fellow in the Shifting Behavior for a Changing Climate contest, Prudence Willats proves to be a great resource of knowledge as she is currently pursuing a PhD in Sinology and Political Ecology at the University of Vienna. Through her research, Prudence examines how climate change, the environment and nature are understood in the People’s Republic of China and how behaviors are shaped by such discourses.

Concurrent with her academic work, Prudence is a contributor to Climate Asia, a project of the BBC’s international development charity, Media Action. Climate Asia looks at perceptions and behaviors related to climate change and the environment; it is the largest research project of its kind undertaken on the continent. The project seeks to understand how people in vulnerable and affected communities experience climate change and identify the resources and support needed in order for these communities to be resilient to the impacts they face.

2014 Fellow Prudence Willats

Prudence’s past experiences include climate change and energy projects with the British Embassy in Beijing and REDD+ and agroforestry work with local indigenous communities in Manaus, Brazil. London-born, Prudence received her BA at Oxford and MA with the EU Erasmus Mundus program in Germany, Austria and China.

We recently caught up with Prudence about her work within and beyond Climate CoLab, here’s what she shared with us:

What do you see as the greatest challenges of climate change and what solutions do you find most imperative?

Climate change is ultimately about people: that’s why it’s called anthropogenic. It is people’s actions that are causing it, and it therefore requires people to change those actions to stop it – or at least to mitigate and adapt to it. But people are unpredictable: you can’t model their behaviours as accurately as you can climate data models.

That’s why I think the most fundamental element of any solution has to be about behaviour change, about inspiring people to do something, convincing them it’s important and showing them exactly how to do it. “People” could be individuals, households, communities, or nations. It can also be states, institutions and systems – all of these are made up of people. That’s why I joined the “Shifting behavior for a changing climate” contest, and why I do perception research – you have to understand people’s values, their motivations and barriers, before you can affect real change.

You’ve been part of many climate change-related studies and projects, would you tell us about one of your many memorable experiences?

I was part of the team who developed the climate programme at the British Council, including the flagship Climate Generation project which engaged 25,000 young environmental entrepreneurs and activists from around the world and gave them access training, networks and resources to scale up their work. I also worked on climate change projects with journalists and media professionals, with teachers, with artists – and of course with other professionals in diplomacy and international organisations working in the field. I am still active as a mentor to many of our participants, who I bonded with on expeditions and international meetings that we attended together.

What inspired you to get involved as a Climate CoLab Fellow?

I like the idea of an online community generated through Climate CoLab and the use of online communication and social media embedded in the programme structure. Most importantly, I think it’s that idea of community, of people coming together – whether that’s face to face or online – to share their ideas, support and inspire each other and move towards solutions to infinitely complex problems.

The young people I used to work with were my first inspiration; the local communities I worked with in the Amazon were my second; and now I draw inspiration from the communities I research across Asia struggling with the impacts of climate change every day, finding innovative solutions even when lacking any kind of resources. I just want to support them in any way I can.

Check out the Shifting Behavior for a Changing Climate contest here: https://www.climatecolab.org/web/guest/plans/-/plans/contestId/1300210

And check out other Spotlights of the Climate CoLab winners, Fellows and Advisors here: https://www.climatecolab.org/web/guest/search#search=searchPhrase:spotlight