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Planet Earth taken by the European Southern Observatory (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Planet Earth taken by the European Southern Observatory (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

We Still Have a Chance: international project unveils 12 Climate Stories for 12 Days of COP27

With 40 days to go before the start of COP27, an international collaboration is preparing to unveil a series of powerful stories that reflect upon the climate emergency. 

We Still Have a Chance: 12 Climate Stories for 12 Days of COP27 has been uniquely co-created by scientists, health professionals, activists, and artists in the UK and Egypt, symbolising the ‘passing of the torch’ between the two most recent hosts of the global climate conference.

The stories will be printed in an anthology – in English, Arabic and Egyptian Arabic – ahead of COP27 and made available to the public via a series of downloadable recordings, each narrated by prominent figures from Egypt and the UK. There will also be a host of supporting events based upon the work, including live theatrical performances in Cairo, a film, digital visualisations, and murals.

We Still Have a Chance builds on the legacy of One Chance Left, an anthology of twelve poems that was produced for COP26 and was the only cultural event to be held within its science pavilion. The project is led by the University of Exeter, in collaboration with the Met Office, the British Embassy, the British Council, The American University in Cairo, Exeter UNESCO City of Literature, ESRC Festival of Social Sciences, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, the Cygnet Theatre, Banlastic and Arts and Culture (University of Exeter).

Professor Lisa Roberts, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter, said: “As world leaders gather at COP27 for urgent climate talks, it is very easy for people to be left with a sense of powerlessness about the difference they can make to such a global issue. As a global university, we are committed to leading meaningful action against the climate emergency and ecological crisis. We know that through storytelling, we can begin to make sense of the world around us, and this collaborative project, uniting the Global North and South, reflects an ambition to co-create a new narrative for our planet – one which is healthier, more sustainable, and socially just.”

The project began in May of this year when the University invited climate scientists, health professionals, youth activists, artists, and storytellers from the UK and Egypt to a series of virtual creative writing workshops. More than 150 took part in sessions led by writer and editor Dr Sally Flint. By using the themes of ‘water’, ‘food’, and ‘adaptation’ characters were created and narrative threads emerged. In a unique editorial process these were woven into 12 short stories to represent everyone who took part.

Among those stories are Mermaids’ Tears, a magical realist melding of microplastics in the Nile with Arabic folklore; Déjà Vu, a tense tale of a city running out of water; and Aish Baladi, in which a catastrophic flood and mudslide have life-changing consequences for a remote Egyptian community.

“Many of the stories contain challenging themes of people living on the brink, of families being forced to endure and fight against a seemingly impossible tide of change,” says Professor Peter Stott, Science Fellow at the Met Office and a member of the project team. “This is a reality for millions of people around the world. But these stories also contain a message of hope – that there is a chance left.”

“I am delighted that the Met Office and the University of Exeter have been able to contribute to this volume as we hand over the COP leadership from the UK to Egypt”, added Professor Penny Endersby, Chief Executive of the Met Office. “I hope the stories inspire new thinking, ideas and energy in all those who encounter them.”

Project partners at The American University in Cairo (AUC) have used the stories in the development of a live theatrical performance called The Earth Turns, which will debut ahead of COP27 with two performances at the Falaki Theatre in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The second performance will be live streamed to global audiences via YouTube as well as recorded and edited into a film.

“Human health is intrinsically linked with the health of the planet, and this is a clear theme in these stories,” said Professor Ehab Abdel-Rahman, The American University in Cairo Provost. “AUC has long been a climate action advocate. Through our recently launched Climate Change Initiative, we continue to tackle the environmental challenges in innovative ways on and off campus. Using storytelling, we can reach and engage broad and diverse audiences and give a voice to both individuals and communities. This collaboration with our partners in Exeter represents the fusion of facts, findings and feelings, and we are looking forward to sharing this through these performances ahead of COP27.”

There will be another performance at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum supported by ESRC Festival of Social Science, and Cygnet Theatre, while Exeter’s UNESCO City of Literature, and Libraries Unlimited will host pop-up storytelling events. Animator Jan Kamensky has been commissioned to create two pieces of work for the project, and three large scale murals, funded by the Knowledge E Foundation, will also be unveiled in Cairo, Alexandria and Exeter.

An additional range of public and educational programmes inspired by the stories is also being supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. This includes arts workshops for schools in Devon and for communities across the South West of England, as well as with those recovering from mental health issues; the creation of graffiti-inspired artwork; photo exhibitions and showcases.

“We are delighted that the development and presentation of this theatrical performance is one of the seven projects selected for funding through our Creative Commissions for COP27,” said British Council Egypt Director, Elizabeth White. “This immersive experience will bring to the surface people’s deep emotions and feelings about the planet we share and will live with them long after they leave the theatre. The recording will become part of the legacy of all the great work done in Egypt under our Climate Connection programme around COP27.”

And British Ambassador to Egypt, Gareth Bayley, added: “It’s fantastic to see how the University of Exeter, alongside a number of other British and Egyptian institutions, are using storytelling to achieve change. We tell ourselves stories in order to live, and in order to understand how to live. The title of this anthology, “We Still Have a Chance”, testifies to the hope that still remains, but also to the seriousness of the climate crisis with which we are faced. We need more initiatives like this to connect with people, and show in imaginative and creative ways how each individual’s contribution is vital to saving the planet.”

Each of the stories within the We Still Have a Chance anthology has been written in English, Arabic and Egyptian Arabic and will be available to download free of charge from the University of Exeter’s Green Futures website. Details of the narrators will be revealed during October.

The project has been orchestrated by an interdisciplinary team of experts from health, climate science and the arts. They are (all University of Exeter unless stated): Professor Ian Fussell, Associate Pro Vice Chancellor of Education, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences; Cecilia Mañosa Nyblon, Project Lead, Education and Skills Partnership Development Manager, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences; Dr Sally Flint, Writing/Editing Lead, Continuing Professional Development Co-ordinator, Lecturer in Creative Writing/Publishing; Professor Peter Stott, Science Fellow in Detection and Attribution at The Met Office and Professor in Detection and Attribution at the University of Exeter; Fatma Sabet, Founder of Shillingford Organics Farm School, PhD student at the School of Education; Honorary Professor Reza Zamani; Sarah Campbell, Associate Director of Arts & Culture; Professor Hugh Roberts, Professor of French, Translation Coordinator; Dr Eliana Maestri, Senior Lecturer Translation Studies, Translation Coordinator; Ahmed Haddad, Creative Writing Lead, Poet, Musician, Egypt; Manar Ramadan, Co-Founder, Research & Development, Banlastic, Alexandria, Egypt; Professor Rosa Barciela, Principal Scientific Consultant and Strategic Head of Health Science Integration, Met Office / University of Exeter; Professor Justin Dillon, University College London.

Date: 27 September 2022