Media and Climate Change

It is now widely accepted that climate change will affect a society’s crucial areas such as public health, energy supply, water supply, transport just to mention a few. But not only that, global warming is poised to exacerbate the incidence of both slow- and fast-paced extreme climate events such as droughts, floods as well as contribute to increased physical instability which derives from increased water quantities in relation to glaciers and permafrost areas. 

The past decade has brought mixed experiences for the African media industry. While it has largely blossomed and acquired new opportunities for sharing knowledge and information, it has also encountered challenges such as government crackdowns and gagging attempts. The latter mainly stems from issues concerning fundamental freedoms. As it is widely acknowledged, the media was critical to the success of the Arab Spring and climate action in some regions of the world especially in North America and Europe. 

The greatest challenge in the climate change field is that a majority of the populace finds aspects of climate change especially science and governance vague and unclear. Indeed, some of the greatest obstacles to climate adaptation interventions are cognitive and institutional barriers. The latter are related to the governance system while the former are the more complex barriers internal to an individual. This has made adapting to a changing climate in many regions of the world seem immense and unformed by the day’s decision makers, political class as well as the private sector players. 

Frequently, what we come across in many media outlets related to climate change is mostly its impacts specifically the increasing droughts and floods. The stories we rarely see in the media platforms seldom concern capacity building stories related to financial, cognitive, social and institutional aspects. These are the issues the African media should be concentrating on with the same vitality and enthusiasm as other issues such as graft, youth unemployment, peace and security just to mention a few issues. 

Luckily, this situation has not escaped the attention of concerned individuals and groups. With support from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the International Institute for Environment and Development and Internews are working on a Guidebook for climate change journalists in Africa. The Guidebook will include among other things the priority for media coverage of climate change in African media outlets, various organizations working on climate change and their contact addresses, examples of best practice climate change adaptation cases in Africa and other related content.  

And that’s not all, a recent media workshop organized by the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) in Nairobi, Kenya culminated in the formation of the Pan African Media Alliance for Climate Change (PAMACC). PACJA, a consortium of over five hundred civil society organizations working in forty three African countries believes that PAMACC will help vigorously push the African climate justice agenda. This is in an effort to cut a better climate outlook for the continent and apprehend the dependence on international media to carry out the African climate change narrative. 

The World Resources Institute (Spearman and McGray, 2011) has described adaptation in the development context as being broadly characterized by three types of efforts:

  1. Community-based adaptation
  2. Program- and project-based adaptation, and
  3. National policy initiatives

I believe the African media outlets could take charge of climate issues if they could focus their energy in the above mentioned approaches and tell success stories that are yet to be captured. With the efforts to significantly cut emissions that have recently hit four hundred parts per million mark and secure climate finance for poor countries largely remaining a pipe dream, communities across the continent are being advised to begin to adapt themselves  and not wait for governments and institutions. However, it is widely known that not everybody will adapt in time and so some people will have to bear the greatest cost of a changing climate. 

The priority for Africa in the present context is how adaptive capacity can be built and supported. This I believe will revolve around the decision making process, policy development as well as innovation and risk assessment. The African media should help build hope among young people by highlighting success stories in climate action by young people because they are not highlighted. Clearly, climate action is something young people can do as they go about their daily lives especially Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) activities.

The media given its powerful influencing nature would also be helpful in breaking previously held and unhelpful perceptions of climate actors and the sense that there is no point in taking climate action. It is only after doing away with actors’ cognitive barriers to climate change governance interventions that relevant institutions will aid to tackle the adverse effects of a changing climate.

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