Reporting on Climate Change

Reporting on Climate Change

Friday, 25 June, 2010

Whether you believe in it or not, the world has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent decades due to climate change. The topic has attracted numerous articles, commentaries, conferences and even an Oscar-winning documentary. Deutsche Welle, the German news service, held a Global Forum on the interplay between climate change and the media on 21-23 June in Bonn, Germany, gathering over 1,300 experts from various fields.

Arguably, the role of the media in communicating climate change has been heightened due to the diluted Copenhagen climate summit statements and the reported mistakes in some IPCC reports. The media, as is well-known, helps shape public opinion, and is fundamental in driving the discussion forward, so as not to lose momentum. This is one of the founding principles behind Deutsche Welle’s yearly Global Media Forum, held since 2008.

The annual event brings together key figures from the world of politics, civil society, non-governmental organisations, culture, business and science in a series of workshops, interactive presentations and exhibitions.

Impact on development

Climate change has impacts on all areas of development, and this has been largely acknowledged by development actors. For example, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving poverty by 2015 is being put under increasing pressure as development agencies have to find new ways of dealing with a global issue. The mounting evidence suggesting that climate change will have the biggest impact in countries battling to fight poverty and control killer diseases, when in fact they are the lowest contributors to climate change, is worrying many in the development field. With climate change threatening to stop or even reverse progress made in achieving the MDGs, participants discussed ways to tackle both of these issues simultaneously.

The forum subsequently stimulated participants to influence the ongoing global efforts in mitigating the effects of climate change on poverty reduction.

Speaking at the forum, eminent professor and expert on climate change, Adil Najam, laid the blame of the devastating effects climate change is having on less developed nations squarely at the feet of richer countries. “According to the polluter pays principle the industrialised nations assured the developing countries in 1992 that they would reduce greenhouse gases and advance the cause of post-carbon society. But the industrialised nations haven’t even remotely kept their promise.” He went on to say that co-operation between nation-states, business and civil society is the key in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Duty of journalists

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the event, Deutsche Welle’s Director General Erik Bettermann said: “I am convinced we need a climate change in the heads of journalists. Reporting needs to be about more than just the day’s news. It needs to drive people to action, while showing deficits, solutions and different perspectives and provide hope.”

Giving the view from the USA, American scientist Naomi Oreskes said the US media still treated climate change as a debate. “Global warming is no longer a debate – it’s a proven fact,” said Oreskes. She likened climate sceptics to those who denied that tobacco was bad for your health, and labeled them “contrarians”.

Bettermann maintained that the media “can create awareness for the unforeseeable consequences of climate change – for human beings and the environment. But they can also highlight the potential of moving towards green technology and ecologically friendly consumption and production. They can showcase creativity and innovation, new models of working and new fields of work – as well as a new quality of life.”

He suggested that the “media must create a forum for the exchange of ideas and opinions – and shouldn’t automatically buy in to those who offer sensational reports from questionable disasters or those who prematurely state that all is clear.”

However, former BBC journalist Alexander Kirby warned against neutralising the climate change debate. “Apartheid is an immoral system and there is nothing to be said in its favor,” said Kirby. “It’s not our job to inject a spurious, mythical balance into an unbalanced reality.”

Climate change in Africa

Effects of climate change are already starting to be felt in Africa, with weather extremes starting to affect West Africa, and especially Ghana. These include longer droughts, shorter but heavier rainfalls, and a delay in the onset of the rainy season.

To combat this, the EU and Africa are engaged in the Climate Change Partnership, having already issued a joint declaration on climate change in 2008. Another initiative undertaken within the framework of this partnership is the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and Sahel initiative, which involves planting a green belt of trees from coast to coast in North Africa to stop further desertification.