Jakob Dall

Photographer Jakob Dall shows the consequences of climate change in the world's most vulnerable countries. His new photo book +2°C documents three decades of climate change.



Article | 06:58 min read

Portrait of

Jakob Dall



Photo by Adam Morris Philp

“My hope is that awareness will make us work faster and that we will adopt more and more sustainable solutions. It’s important that the Western countries help the countries that are most impacted by climate change.”

Jakob Dall

Should we start out with you introducing yourself?

My name is Jakob Dall and I’m a photographer. I’ve always wanted to become the photographer that I am today. I was born in 1971 in Denmark and I grew up deep within a forest called Rold Skov. The nature that I experienced in the forest was very peaceful and quiet. I think my childhood has given me reflections on nature and on life since then.

Why have you chosen to do a photographic book on climate change?

I was in Malawi in 2006 making a children’s educational book. At that time there were all these reports in the media about climate change and that the global temperature would rise and there would be all kinds of disasters. They all talked about it as if it was something that would happen in the future. But what I experienced in Malawi was that climate change was already here. The people I spoke to told me about how they were affected by a famine in 2005 and that they never got any rain and didn’t get anything out of their crops. Rivers were dried out and they had to dig deeper and deeper to fetch water. They were really affected by the drought. I asked people about climate change, but they didn’t know what it was, only that their climate had changed.

Ethiopia, 2008. In southern Ethiopia, for over two years, no rain has fallen at all. And the future looks bleak for people in the Oromiya region. Soil that used to be fertile is now a desert landscape.

A few years later I went to Moyale in southern Ethiopia, a place where it hadn’t rained for four years at the time. Everything was so dry. The cattle were dying and there were water conflicts between different clans where people from one clan arrived with weapons to take over the water source from another clan.

I could see that all the scientists’ predictions were already happening, and I decided to continue to document climate change and the impacts of it. In 2008 I got funding to document some of the most vulnerable population groups and places identified by the climate change report from the UN.

So why is this important for you to document?

When I started there was a lot of denial about climate change, which you still experience in some places. I think it’s so important to raise awareness of what is really happening. I’m sure that the more we know and learn about each other’s daily life in small communities the greater change we can make.

I had a huge exhibition during the COP15 in Copenhagen. My pictures were shown on a large wall next to where all the world’s leaders had their coffee breaks. I was told that a lot of presidents and others were standing completely still, drinking the coffee and looking at the images. I hope the images helped them keep their focus.

Images tell stories and I think it’s important that we are emotionally impacted by climate change. It is the biggest threat to humanity, but it is also a catastrophe that we can handle if we find the right solutions and spread them to the rest of the world. My pictures are not only about disasters, there is also hope within them. We can all do something in this crisis, and we all need hope for this fight for change.

Svalbard, 2019. All life in this vulnerable ecosystem is affected. Warmer sea water from the Gulf Stream enters the icy fjords causing major changes in marine life for native plankton and fish species.

Why is hope important?

It’s important that we don’t just look at these pictures in the book with a hopeless feeling that we can’t do anything because it’s already too late. I call this book two degrees, as a reference to both the Paris Agreement with the world leaders’ decision on the two-degree global warming limit, and the tipping point of when the climate disasters will occur much more frequently.

What the scientists see right now in Greenland is that the ice is melting faster and faster. As a result of the snow becomes darker, which absorbs the heat from the sun and makes it melt even faster.

I’ve documented Svalbard, the island group of Norway and a polar area. They have experienced an eight degree temperature rise during wintertime and their winters have also shortened in duration. The shortened period makes the ice melt a lot more. The glaciers are also decreasing a much faster rate like in many other parts of the world. The houses in Longyearbyen are built on permafrost, but the ice is melting and some of the houses are no longer livable. They must be taken down due to the wooden pillars rotting in the wet permafrost. So, it’s a whole new issue.

You have taken pictures in 18 countries – how did you choose which countries to focus on?

The planet will survive. But will people survive? Will the animals survive? Will life on Earth be gone? If the climate changes how will that affect people? I read the UN climate reports and articles on climate change and found that I wanted to focus on these 18 countries and show the changes in pictures.

Bangladesh, 2009. Bangladesh is one of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries and highly exposed to floods, with its vast coastal area, high population density, high poverty rate and a high reliance on natural resources.

Bangladesh, 2009. Nearly 75% of Bangladesh sits below sea level and faces annual floods, and gradual salinity intrusion is very threatening to food production, coastal biodiversity and human health. By 2050, the country may have lost 8% of its territory due to rising sea levels.

So you’ve seen a lot of people being affected on all these travels. Is there one episode in particular that has affected you personally?

Well, there are many. I believe that when I take a picture I have to feel it within my heart. I have to be there with the person. I have to be there with the child who has lost their family. There is a boy who I also write about in the beginning of the book. I was in Kenya with the Danish newspaper “Information” working on stories about climate change during the COP in 2011. We were driving into this desert-like landscape and all of a sudden, I saw some people hiding in a bush. It looked strange because we were in the middle of nowhere. There were not any villages close by. So my translator and I drove over there.

There were 60 -70 people. Their village had been attacked by another clan for their water resources, goats and cattle because of the drought. It had been the worst drought in 2011.

But the boy Akuuta Elilim (6) was laying on the ground. Him and 20 other kids were just laying in the shade of the bushes. You could tell they were suffering so much and if they didn’t get any help they would die within a few days. That really touched me. So, of course we gave them our water, biscuits and fruit. It was tough sitting there in front of children. You didn’t know if they were going to live or die. That is what happens when temperatures rise. We drove three hours to alert the local Red Cross about the situation and came back the day after with a medical team and aid, so they survived.

Droughts are happening more frequently. There was the big deadly drought in 2011. There was a drought in 2015, 2016. There was a drought in 2018. There’s drought right now, starting that started in 2020. It’s still one of the worst droughts that is going on right now.

Kenya, 2011. The Horn of Africa is one of the world’s most food-insecure regions. Future impacts of climate change, as well as a growing population and a declining agricultural capacity per capita, are expected to further threaten food security.

With all the different things that you have experienced, what is your number one biggest worry?

My biggest worry is that we don’t take climate change seriously and that we don’t really put in the effort it takes to make a big change. We need to talk about it. Politicians need to talk about it. We have to take it so seriously that we change our way of life, if we are going to overcome these issues.

Here in Denmark we will be affected by rising sea levels. If you go to the coasts you can see people are building higher coastal protection to keep the soil and ground from flooding. However, it will be other more poor countries that already experience these big issues that are going to suffer the most.

I am worried that we in the Western countries will continue in the same ways that we always have. We are making more and more sustainable solutions, but we still have a long, long way to go. It’s important that we also help the countries that are most impacted by climate change.

Photo by Adam Morris Philp

I understand that you also feel that there’s hope. Can you talk a little bit about that?

I have seen hope. I’m certain that humans will overcome this crisis. My hope is that awareness will make us work faster and that we will adopt more and more sustainable solutions.

To achieve this we have to help the poor countries adapt to sustainable solutions and to do so faster because they don’t yet have the economic fundamentals to make the big changes themselves. Most importantly, we must help countries with disaster preparedness because the disasters will undoubtedly come. The disasters will become more and more expensive to overcome. So, we have to be better prepared.

How do you maintain your sanity and your hope when portraying these countries in this crisis?

I feel a lot of humanity when I go to different countries. I feel that people open up their hearts and they show me their lives in hopes of better days to come. So how can I give up hope, when the people I portray still have hope for change?

After documenting their daily life, I can travel away from it. And that always feels horrible. But at the same time it feels good when I return and see development in the local communities.

I’ve visited some places that have received help and funding for a garden or a borehole from where they can get clean water. They have learned how to harvest water from their roofs by collecting rainwater with which they can plant vegetables they can sell at the market and then build a better life.

These small scale solutions really affect people in a very positive way. And it’s very low budget compared to Miami building a big wall around its city so it will be rescued from water and can pump out seawater. It’s a big contrast to the economic situation of making boreholes for the families that don’t have clean water.

Photo by Adam Morris Philp

What does working with photography mean to you?

Photography means a lot to me. I’m trying to document people’s daily life in as neutral a way as I can. Even though I know there’s nothing that is completely neutral. I’m simply documenting daily life. And that’s the most powerful thing you can do, as I see it.

This book is a statement from me. It’s big and yellow and shouting +2˚C! The yellow is the colour of temperature +2˚C. When you look inside the book I hope that people will remember that we have to do something. That we have to face the impacts of climate change and we cannot look away.

I want to go a little bit back to how we started this interview with you. Can you talk a little bit more about your childhood?

I grew up with a father who was an architect. He had a really holistic view on life. Every month we got the National Geographic Magazine and I grew up with all the great pictures from around the world. I was looking at the pictures before I could read English. Photography gives you an instant feeling and a story. Even if you cannot read you’ll still be impacted by a strong picture. It made me want to become a photographer, so I one day could tell important stories.

The nature was what I started to photograph because it was in my backyard. For me nature gives us hope and it’s also where you can find your own calmness. When I visit different countries I also see nature, but I often see nature that suffers. And that’s what’s worrying me a lot. I see rivers are drying up where you would normally see elephants drink and it’s devastating. We have to take care of nature, but we also have to take care of the people. It’s in the same solution. We have to do something to keep our world alive.