As 2019 ends and we enter a new decade, here are just a few moments from the past year that stood out to us as we prepare for 2020. As the Photography Project Manager, I’ve come across a lot of powerful images in the past year, and I am grateful for the opportunity to support visual storytellers engaging with the climate crisis.
FLOODS, FIRES, AND FUMES
2019 saw extreme weather conditions and record-breaking temperatures hit every populated continent across the world. Devastating superstorms surged from the Bahamas to the Philippines, and uncontrollable wildfires stretched from the Arctic to Australia. In the first set of images, a glimpse of these disasters is shared by photographers from around the world, showcasing how these weather conditions have transformed the homes they grew up in.
HIGH TIDE ENTERS HOME (S L SHANTH KUMAR)
S L Shanth Kumar is a photographer at the Times of India, the winner of the 2019 CIWEM Environmental Photographer of the Year contest (awarded at the UN Climate Summit that took place in New York), and a winner of Climate Tracker and WHO’s Climate and Health contest. If you are interested in seeing more of his work, one of his stories will be featured on the @climatetrackerphotography Instagram for the first week of 2020.
Why we chose this image: As seen across the headlines this past year, extreme weather conditions have grown increasingly common around the world. In India, a delayed yet heavy monsoon led to flooding that killed more than a hundred people, with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh the most affected. On a global level, floods in Argentina and Urugay forced 11,000 people from their homes in January, Cyclone Idai killed more than 1,000 people in southern Africa in March, Hurricane Dorian caused millions to evacuate in the Bahamas in September, and Typhoon Hagibis caused widespread damage across Japan in October. This image was chosen as it metaphorically captures the urgency of these extreme weather conditions – taking place right at the foot of our doorsteps. In addition, we wanted to start off our list by celebrating Kumar being awarded as the CIWEM 2019 Environmental Photographer of the Year, as seen in The Guardian. As 2020 approaches, we hope to support even more photographers around the world who are capturing the stories of climate change unfolding right at home.
AMAZON WILDFIRES (VICTOR MORIYAMA)
Victor Moriyama is a Brazilian documentary photographer working on Indigenous Communities, Environmental Conflicts, Amazon Forest Deforestation, and Public Security and Violence in addition to being a photo-columnist for El País. He’s a frequent contributor to: The New York Times, Bloomberg and National Geographic.
In 2019 he founded the @historiasamazonicas project, a collaborative platform of Latin American photographers working in the world’s largest rainforest. It is an audiovisual activist initiative that aims to keep the forest alive and conserved in the fight against deforestation.
Why we chose this image: Wildfires, fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of drought, are currently burning across Australia, with mass evacuations taking place ahead of New Years Eve. In 2019, fires have also been rampant in the Amazon, California, Indonesia, Siberia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the frequency of forest fires continue to rise across the world. This image of the fires burning in the Amazon was chosen to represent this phenomenon, and as a reminder of the worldwide fury at the extent of large-scale deforestation and attacks on Indigenous communities taking place under the Bolsonaro government – which continue today despite the fires and media attention dying down. We also wanted to include these images given that many of the photographs used by publications at the time to accompany articles on the Amazon fires were either not taken in Brazil or not from 2019, and we wanted to emphasize the importance of using accurate imagery and local photographers in reporting. These images in particular were chosen given Victor’s extensive experience in covering Latin American issues with depth as a Brazilian photographer, and his ongoing support of other Latin American photographers working to preserve the world’s largest rainforest.
CORTADURA SMOG (MIGUEL GOMEZ)
Miguel is a freelance photojournalist based in Spain where he has lived since 2005. He has also worked for the Associated Press in Dominican Republic and the newspapers Listín Diario and El Caribe covering riots, sports, spot news, and political summits. He teaches political photography workshops in Ecuador, Spain, and Argentina, and has won the Journalistic Excellence Arturo J. Pellerano Alfau prize.
Why we chose this image: An estimate of seven million deaths worldwide can be linked to air pollution every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). More than 80% of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO guideline limits – with low and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures. This image was chosen given its link to the last image showcasing the indirect and subtler effects of forest fires, and its representation of this global issue. Cities in low-income countries such as New Delhi and Beijing are the most vulnerable to air pollution – but it also affects millions around the world and knows no boundaries. In addition, the contrast of beach-goers enjoying their day despite the unhealthy air quality and nearby forest fires provides a surreal depiction of the disparity between the scale of the climate crisis and everyday living – reflective of the World Economic Forum’s statement back in January 2019 that the world is “sleepwalking into catastrophe”.
HIMALAYAN RIVER (IIH)
Iih is a Nepali explorer who traveled from east to west Nepal (around 6000 km) by foot, over the course of 225 days.
Why we chose this image: In 2019, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) published a landmark study revealing that even the most ambitious Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century would melt one-third of the glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region (also known as the “Third Pole”). If global climate efforts fail, the study warns that current emissions would lead to five degrees in warming and a loss of two-thirds of the region’s glaciers by 2100, a critical water source to approximately 250 million people. “Impacts on people in the region, already one of the most fragile and hazard-prone mountain regions in the world, will range from an increase in extreme weather events, a reduction in agricultural yields and more frequent disasters. But it’s the projected reductions in pre-monsoon river flows, due to decreased snow melt, and changes in the monsoon that will hit hardest, throwing urban water systems and food and energy production off kilter,” explains Philippus Wester of ICIMOD, who led the report.
In addition to the display of a pre-monsoon river rushing from one of the most famous Himalayan mountain ranges towards the communities below, the creativity and community that surrounded Iih’s project caught our attention. Armed with just the bare essentials of a bag that weighed 1kg, mobile photography was his main method to capture the stories of those he met on the way, and Instagram became an unexpected platform for him to share his experiences and connect with those who wanted to help by hosting, crowd-sourcing route information, or simply learning more. At Climate Tracker, we hope to embody this spirit and encourage collaborations between young photographers and writers from around the world through creative means such as these.
IMPACTS ON HUMANS
In surveying the large-scale damage that is taking place across entire eco-systems, it is important to remember that these disasters have very real impacts on the lives of individuals and communities – oftentimes synonymous with the most vulnerable populations.
HUNGRY TIDE (SWASTIK PAL)
Born in 1991, Swastik Pal is a graduate from Calcutta University, India. After completing his post graduate diploma in mass communication from Jadavpur University, he received a full scholarship to pursue a Diploma in Photojournalism at the Asian Center for Journalism (a World Press Photo partner organisation at Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines). Presently he is an independent photographer based in Calcutta, working on long term projects. He was nominated for the Joop Swart World Press Masterclass in 2015, 2017 and 2018. He recently completed a Masters in Film Studies from Jadavpur University, Calcutta. His work has been published in the BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of India, the Centre for Science and Environment, and more.
Why we chose this image: Beyond the beautiful textures and quiet reflection depicted in this photo, the Hungry Tide project also draws attention to the link between forced migration and the climate. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 17.2 million people had to leave their homes last year due to climate disasters. On a slower scale, factors such as increasing ocean acidification, desertification, and coastal erosion are also impacting people’s livelihoods and challenging their ability to live in their places of origin. This image was chosen as it is part of a long-term project supported by the Alexia Foundation. In telling the stories of our world, it is vital that each story is told with care, depth, and time. Though breaking news images depicting extreme weather disasters are important, these isolated incidents are part of a greater pattern, and the roots and impacts of these weather conditions are felt by the local communities long before and after these stories make the headlines.
MOSQUITO IN FOCUS (AVJIT GHOSH)
Avijit is a photographer based in Kolkata, India. He has been published in the BBC, the Guardian, Huffington Post, and more.
Why we chose this image: Though climate change is very much a macro-level issue, its impacts can be felt at even the micro-level. As academic research published in The Lancet has shown in the last year, climate change can force the migration of not only humans, but also plants, animals, bugs, and diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) expert Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum made the statement that, “the WHO considers that climate change is potentially the greatest health threat of the 21st century.” As we move forward into a new decade, how will our health pay a price from increasing vector-borne diseases, air pollution, injury and death from extreme weather conditions, and more? This photo was chosen for its unconventional depiction of climate change that tells a powerful story in just a single image, and its ability to link the issue of climate change to vector-borne diseases – a phenomenon that can be difficult to visually portray.
GRBYLE AND FARMERS (ELWELY VALL)
Born in 1998 in Nouakchott, Mauritania, Elwely Val is a freelance documentary photographer exploring local social and environmental issues in Mauritania through visual storytelling strategies. His work has been exhibited at the Addis FotoFest, Ethiopia in 2019, as well as exhibitions in Algeria, Senegal, and the United Arab Emirates. He is currently part of the Arab Documentary Photography Program (ADPP), which is an initiative that provides support and mentorship to photographers from across the Arab region.
Why we chose this image: According to a 2019 IPCC report, increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and greater frequency of extreme weather conditions are disrupting the food security of communities across the world. In addition, agriculture, forestry, and other land use contribute to around a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture and the food system are key to global climate change responses, and this image demonstrates one of the many effects that changing weather patterns have had on local communities dependent on agriculture as their livelihoods. This image was chosen for its ability to link climate change to individuals and communities that are being impacted in unexpected ways, humanizing the damaging effects of climate change. We also wanted to highlight the important ‘In the Light of Change’ project that Vall is currently working on with the ADPP. Vall seeks to change humanity’s view of the future and the impact of climate change after he experienced the effects firsthand, when ocean waters flooded the house that he was born and raised in the Mauritian capital of Nouakchott.
RESPONSES AND RESISTANCE
Finally – perhaps most importantly – in sharing the images that reflect some of the major moments, patterns, and impacts of climate change from the past year, we also recognize the importance of balancing images of large-scale destruction and impacts on humans with the inclusion of stories of action and hope for effective climate communication, as research from the Climate Communications Project demonstrates. Images depicting the urgency of climate change is important, but they only tell half the story. How are we responding to the climate crisis, and what else can we do moving forward? “The Lost Decade of Climate Action” has been turbulent, but this past year has also seen an unprecedented shift in public awareness and action.
CITY NOMADS (SANNE DERKS)
Sanne Derks is a freelance photojournalist with a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology, working mainly on self-initiated projects for international media. She tends to take a solutions-focus in her stories, and often reports from Latin America. She is a member of Women Photograph, and her work has been published in international media such as the The Guardian, El Pais, Deutsche Welle, and Al Jazeera.
Why we chose this image: This year’s annual UN climate conference, COP25 in Madrid, was one of the longest on record and the results were seen as disappointing to many in the international community. With a large disconnect between the current progress and global goals to limit temperature increases, there has been an effort to maintain the relevancy of the UN climate process. However, another arena in which climate action can be seen is citizen-led movements, complementing the grassroots movements that have been emerging from around the world in the past year. As a result, we wanted to include this image that places the emphasis on citizens as agents of change. In addition, we also wanted to highlight Sanne and Ana’s upcoming project, which is an important examination of citizen-driven responses to climate change in different countries in Western Europe.
COP25 (ALLAN JAY QUESADA)
Why we chose this image: 2019 has been a year of resistance, with the growth of the Fridays for Future movement in addition to uprisings in places such as Chile (the original location for COP25), Lebanon, Iran, Hong Kong, Egypt, France, and India. Some journalists and academics have even termed the year as the “Global Protest Wave of 2019.” Though the triggers for and results of the mobilizations differ, the common thread of citizens expressing their discontent is on the rise. We chose this image in particular as the disconnect between the demands of attendees and policymakers at COP25 can be seen, and reflects the necessary role of Indigenous communities and women in the climate justice movement.
GRETA THUNBERG (MANUEL LOPEZ)
Manuel is a freelance photographer and climate activist based in Bern, Switzerland. Since 2019, he has been covering the climate crisis demonstrations in his native Switzerland. He is fighting for equality and the environment – mostly with his camera.
Why we chose this image: Taken in January 2019, this image reflects one of the defining symbols of the climate movement this year. First becoming known for her activism in August of 2018, Greta Thunberg has since inspired a global movement in over 150 countries, and was chosen as the “2019 Person of the Year” by Time Magazine. This image in particular was selected as it was taken almost exactly one year ago – showcasing how far the movement has come within just one year.
The scale of the climate crisis can at times be overwhelming, but Greta and other young activists such as Autumn Peltier, Isra Hirsi, and Xiye Bastida have shown that a refusal to accept the status quo can have a far-reaching impact on the climate movement across the world. As we enter such a decisive decade, it is vital that we keep this momentum moving forward and continue to push for action at the systemic level.
Cover Image: These ‘warming stripe’ graphics are visual representations of the change in temperature as measured in each country over the past 100+ years. Each stripe represents the temperature in that country averaged over a year. For most countries, the stripes start in the year 1901 and finish in 2018. For the UK, USA, Switzerland & Germany, the data starts in the late 19th century. Graphics and lead scientist: Ed Hawkins, NCAS, UoR.Data: Berkeley Earth, NOAA, UK Met Office, MeteoSwiss, DWD.
Curated by Katherine Cheng.
If you are a photographer, editor, or community interested in collaborating, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in seeing the work of one photographer every week, follow us at @climatetrackerphotography.