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Climate Visuals – proving that imagery needs to embody people-centred narratives and positive solutions

By Toby Smith on February 24, 2021

Without fridges and freezers, off-grid fishing communities in Ghana’s Eastern & Volta regions struggle to make a decent income. Growth in solar refrigeration has the potential to boost health and earnings and also tackle a key driver of the climate crisis
Photo credit: Nana Kofi Aquah / Ashden

Climate Visuals has come a long way in catalysing a new visual language for climate change. We’re already moving ahead with three major new projects and partnerships for 2021, alongside the launch of a new and improved image library website. We’re now seeking new funding and offering partnership opportunities to take our activities even further. 

All too often, the climate change imagery the world sees is ineffective at driving change – it may be aesthetically pleasing and illustrative but not salient or emotionally impactful.

Our Climate Visuals evidence base and experience proves that imagery needs to embody people-centred narratives and positive solutions, and must resonate with the identity and values of the viewer – not just environmentalists. Only then can we truly drive engagement and promote positive action against climate change.

Waterman Aaron Powley hauls in a net in Fishing Creek, Md., just north of Hoopersville, Maryland. Young watermen are becoming more of a rarity. Some try to continue the family business, which can date more than six generations, saying they don't want to be the one to break the tradition.

Thank you to the KR Foundation for enabling Climate Visuals to take off

We are incredibly grateful to the KR Foundation, which in 2019 and 2020 supported Climate Visuals, a programme of Climate Outreach, to  grow our reach and catalyse a new visual language for climate change. 

In this period, our series of interventions, grants, awards, advice and accessible evidence reached over 500 million people and produced  over 400 pieces of unique media coverage via collaborative partnerships with Getty Images,  The GuardianCovering Climate Now and World Press Photo. Our activities and numerous consultations are based on evolving research, unique industry perspective and a popular image library accessed by over 11,000 individuals monthly. 

Without fridges and freezers, off-grid fishing communities in Ghana’s Eastern & Volta regions struggle to make a decent income. Growth in solar refrigeration has the potential to boost health and earnings and also tackle a key driver of the climate crisis
Photo credit: Nana Kofi Aquah / Ashden

Seeking further support and partnerships

Climate Visuals is now actively seeking funding and additional support to take our work even further in scale and geography. New philanthropic, commercial and high-visibility partnership opportunities would increase this momentum of positive change within visual communications at large, and also empower complementary campaign groups and civil society –  an opportunity to change how we all see and act on climate change.  Our contact details are below.

Railway construction from Poyle to Salakhle.

Already confirmed for 2021, Climate Visuals is delivering three major projects with the Climate and Land Use Alliance, Natural England and TED Countdown.  These are all underpinned by the upcoming launch of a new image library website in March and will conclude with plans for a physical and virtual exhibition at the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow at the end of the year. 

Guidelines for imagery around forests, land use and indigenous rights in Central and South America

A CIFOR consultant gets information about community frontiers in PERU.

In December, we began gathering evidence and conducting  interviews to ascertain how our 7 Climate Visuals principles can be applied and extended to include ethical and values-based guidelines around imagery concerning forests, land use and indigenous rights – all as climate solutions. 

We are focusing on stakeholders across Central, South America and the Amazon, with our research and interventions being funded by the Climate and Land Use Alliance and guided by sector advice from If Not Us Then Who. The ultimate purpose of this project is to better connect global media and communications professionals with the most appropriate and impactful content.

Addressing the lack of diversity in images showing how we can all enjoy England’s natural environment

Four generations enjoying quality time in the allotment.

Closer to home, we are working with Natural England to address the critical gap in the diversity and breadth of the visual language surrounding English nature. 

The ambition is to create new public-facing guidelines around communication of the natural environment and climate change so it can be more beneficial, meaningful and impactful. Our report, due in April, will inform new photographic practice to engage and inspire true diversity in who, where and how we can all enjoy England’s natural environment.

Climate Visuals Countdown: a powerful and diverse collection of the very best in climate change imagery

On a global scale, in partnership with TED Countdown, and harnessing and extending their incredible audience reach, we are developing the Climate Visuals Countdown initiative.  

An open call in May will source and license 100 powerful images of climate change taken by both professional and amateur photographers.  The final 100 images and photographers, selected by an independent jury, will receive a total licensing fund of US $100,000 – critical production support during the continued suppression of creativity and photojournalism by Covid-19 restrictions. 

Photographers of all abilities and nationalities will be encouraged to submit existing projects or safely create new work that embodies our Climate Visuals evidence base on how photography can maximize storytelling, increase engagement and encourage positive behavior change. Entries should be focussed on the Countdown themes of positive solutions and consider the themes of energy, transport, materials, food and nature. 

Uniquely, the resulting content – a truly powerful, diverse and verified collection of the very best in climate change imagery –  will be made freely available and accessible under an adapted Creative Commons license. This will enable the editorial media, climate change organisations and communicators to equitably super-charge their visual impact and narratives through Countdown,  leading up to and beyond COP26.

New and improved Climate Visuals image library

The Climate Visuals image library is a trusted source of content for over 350 climate change and environmental groups (see table below), providing a balance between examples of premium Rights Managed and Creative Commons imagery. 

In March our library will be relaunched on a bespoke Digital Asset Management system from Capture, providing the digital architecture to both meet our rapidly growing user demand and provide the entry and distribution portal of Climate Visuals Countdown. 

We plan to grow our library by over 600 images in the next 6 months, with added lightbox functionality, all organised using a user-friendly climate change taxonomy.

Some of the 350 climate change and environmental groups using Climate Visuals library.

COP26 Climate Visuals exhibition

Finally, in November Climate Visuals will be hosting an exhibition within COP26 to demonstrate the best in photography from across all Climate Outreach’s work and partnerships.  

Our dynamic exhibition will use our unique evidence and impact-driven approach to comprehensively curate an image collection from our past, present and future activities – cutting across the COP26 target themes to a diverse audience.

Get in touch

If you are interested in learning more about the work of Climate Visuals and wish to discuss supporting our work, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please contact;

Toby Smith – Climate Outreach, Visuals and Media Lead

Joel Silver –   Climate Outreach Partnerships Lead


This blog post has been illustrated with new photography from Prashanth Vishwanathan and Nana Kofi Acquah, both safely commissioned by Climate Visuals in September  –  a collaboration with Ashden to support their Fair Cooling Fund

By Toby Smith

Toby is the Visuals and Media Programme Lead, with a strategic goal of expanding our presence, influence and impact in the visual and media sectors. He joins us with over 12 years experience as an award-winning environmental photographer who focuses on building innovative and global stories through collaboration and publication in leading editorial outlets.  

Toby graduated with a Masters in Photography from London College of Communication in 2008 after spending 2 years working across Africa utilising his bachelors degree in Zoology and Environmental Science. He is an Associate Scholar of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute and lives near Stroud with his wife and son.

One response to Climate Visuals – proving that imagery needs to embody people-centred narratives and positive solutions

  1. Joe Burlington says:

    March 24, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    I have used some of your images in the past (before Covid restriction). They really are excelent in some circumstances. Thank you
    What bothers me is the bombardment of images that convey messages such as:
    Rockets to Mars [NASA scientists indicate ‘there is no shortage of resources for extravagant research’.
    TV shows, Christmas illuminations and New Year fireworks [Everything better and more extravagant than last year. No need to stint on anything.]
    In contrast: a) WW2: petrol rationed within 2 weeks of declaration of war. Later, railings removed from every park churchyard and garden. b) Champs Elysee shops https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/17/lights-off-france-parkour-collectives-fight-pollution-one-store-sign-at-a-time
    How can it be shown that there is a humanity-and-nature-destroying-catastrophe unfolding … and being accelerated by advocacy of (to refer to one of your images) a switch to electric cars such that we rich people can carry on as before only more so – and never mind the wars in part due to mining the resources to build batteries, wind generators and solar panels? [I am highly critical of such images being include in ‘Climate visuals’.]
    Where are the images that show that the consumption of fuels and energy by we wealthy people must be cut? How can we communicate ‘frugality leading entire communities to a viable and happy(-ish) future’?

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