Yesterday, COP21–also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference–kicked off in Paris. It’s the 21st annual convention that aims to stabilize greenhouse gases worldwide and curb the dire effects of climate change. It’s a big deal because we’re closer than ever to a legally binding, universal agreement.
But try to understand what’s happening at the conference and, well, good luck. The many facets of the conference are difficult for policy-makers and participants to keep up with, to say nothing of the average layperson. So to break it down, the Dutch design group LUST, in partnership with the Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law at Griffith University in Australia, created the Climate Regime Map, an interactive data viz that names the key players, identifies the issues being discussed, and shows their relationships to each other.
To understand the parts at play for this particular conference, you have to broaden the lens to include the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a whole, which was first established at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 as a way for nations to collectively combat climate change. The annual COPs, or Conference of Parties, are essentially yearly check-ins, where the member countries review the Convention’s implementation and decide on new measures to put forth. There are protocols to follow, finances to secure, actions to undertake at the national level, and committees to oversee those actions. The Climate Regime Map shows how each of these facets work in relation to each other through three different maps: hierarchical, nesting, and connections.
Design can help clarify public policy that is multifaceted, complex, and often obfuscated by protocols and esoteric jargon. We’ve seen this with the designers who refined the disastrous Healthcare.gov and L.A.’s attempt to redesign the voting system. In a recent GQ interview with sportswriter Bill Simmons, President Obama, reflecting on his first term, notes the importance of not just creating good policy, but also selling it. “You can’t separate good policy from the need to bring the American people along and make sure that they know why you’re doing what you’re doing,” he says. “And that’s particularly true now in this new communications era.”
The designers of the Climate Regime Map have a similar viewpoint. “Understanding the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change…is critical to ensuring its ongoing viability into the future, which is why ‘mapping’ the Convention in all its complexity is so important,” they write. Their map is an excellent example of how good information design can bring understanding to complicated issues that affect us all.