Meet the young innovator whose global team translates climate reports
Sophia Kianni and Climate Cardinals are making climate research accessible to a wider world
When Sophia Kianni visited her parents’ home country of Iran several years ago, she was alarmed by the heavy smog that obscured an otherwise starry night sky. She was even more concerned when her relatives admitted they knew almost nothing about climate change, because few climate resources were available in their native Farsi.
In 2020, Kianni came up with an idea while in quarantine from Covid-19: enable more access to critical climate reports by making them available in more languages.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that it’s do-or-die time for action on global warming limits. Recent IBM research reveals that a major driver of sustainability is on the rise: the demands of the everyday consumer. As more individuals awaken to the urgency of environmental sustainability, they push for corporations, governments and citizens of the planet to shift behaviors and support initiatives for systemic change.
Swelling underneath the tide of climate justice is the need for access to data. What happens when official climate reports aren’t available in your language? When critical climate data is siloed, fewer people can contribute to the solution.
Bringing data and people together to address climate justice: Climate Cardinals
As Bahamian human-environment geographer Dr. Adelle Thomas writes, “climate change has no borders — emissions contributed by one country or group have global consequences. Climate justice underscores the unfairness of countries and groups that have contributed the least to climate change being most at risk.”
Sophia Kianni’s desire to help her Iranian grandparents wake up to the urgency of the climate crisis drove her to launch what is now a global initiative to remove the silos of climate data. Her organization, Climate Cardinals, fills a gap in the climate movement: equitable access to information.
Right before graduating from high school, Ms. Kianni mobilized to organize a global network which has now grown to over 8,000 volunteers in over 40 countries, tapping mostly students earning community service hours. Since then, Climate Cardinals has been coordinating the translation of key climate reports into over 100 languages. The popularity of the organization is fueled by digital tools like TikTok and Google Classroom, which raise awareness and get volunteers onboard.
Besides being the founder and executive director of the organization, Kianni represents the US as the youngest member on the inaugural United Nations Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. She’s also been named VICE Media’s youngest Human of the Year, a National Geographic Young Explorer, and one of Teen Vogue’s 21 under 21.
To date, Climate Cardinals has translated 500,000 words of climate information in peer-reviewed journals and media reports. Additional translations of the executive summary of UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI) are now available in Hausa, Portuguese, Somali, Swahili and Yoruba.
In a recent interview, Kianni talked about why her mission focused on language, and how climate change disproportionately affects people of color. “That’s part of the reason why I believe it is so important to be able to educate as many people as possible, and empower a diverse coalition, especially of young people, to learn about climate change so that we have a representative view on how we need to tackle this crisis, from people who firsthand have experience with its effects.”
Kianni will speak in one of several Innovation Talks augmenting IBM Think 2022 on May 9 – 11. These talks provoke creative thinking, inspiration, and education. Learn more and add Think Broadcast to your calendar.