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|Climate change is perhaps the greatest
challenge facing the world today. In Africa, a continent which is
and still remains vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, the
effects cannot be over-emphasized.
The dire consequences of this
catastrophe are already being felt by citizens across the continent,
yet too often their voices are absent from national and
international climate debate. When policies are being drafted by the
developed countries, rarely do they consider that poor farmer
languishing in the highlands of Ethiopia. When rich countries fail
to agree on the reduction of carbon emissions, rarely do they
remember that they are risking the lives of the poor in Africa.
The impact of the media vis-à-vis reporting on climate change should
not be underestimated. Media messages do not simply 'report' facts.
They also have a direct bearing and influence on the way people
think and act. Noting that climate change is a national disaster in
many African countries, journalists continue to play a pivotal role
in bridging the information gap by educating the public on the cross
cutting issues like global warming. And given the illiteracy levels
of many poor people who cannot understand the words 'climate
change', the media comes in handy to break the jargon.
The disappointing outcome of the Copenhagen conference that
continues to irk many Africans has necessitated an overwhelming
media approach on climate change issues. Journalists continue to
question what went wrong and why Africa got a raw deal from the
talks. Be it the print media, broadcast journalists, online
publications and even bloggers, the Fourth Estate in Africa continue
to demand answers of why Africa remains at the receiving end of
failed global talks.
Germany's international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle is hosting its
third Global Media Forum which will focus on the role of the media
in mitigating the effects of climate change. As is the norm, the
conference will bring together a unique mix of participants which
include scientists, politicians, media users and producers, energy
industry experts, policy makers as well as representatives from
international, grassroots and non-governmental organizations to
discuss how to harmonize individual and collective action in order
to steer the world away from a foreboding future and instead toward
Key issues will include minimizing the effects of unusual and
extreme weather events such as heat waves, wind storms, floods and
droughts. The forum will also address issues on reducing the causes
of climate change and global warming (designing energy policy,
advancing renewable energies, eliminating the use of fossil fuels)
in a bid to transform the world into a post-fossil fuel,
sustainable, low carbon society.
The forum 2010 will address and assess the pivotal issues that have
consigned the world to such a precarious state and seek a viable way
out by looking at the role of the media on an international,
national and local level.
The media must act
Combating global warming and its potential dangers is no longer a
choice but a prerequisite and thus requires various forms of action.
Besides informing the public, the media MUST seek to address a
fundamental change in attitude, behavior and lifestyle of all those
involved, be it in the economic and political realms. The media
needs to help in shaping the consciousness and awareness of
individuals in their understanding of climate change issues. Many
people, including the elite, do not understand the meaning of global
warming, carbon emissions, green house gases among other
environmental jargon and this is where the media must play a
critical role in educating the public.
According to Prof. Manfred Fischedick, Vice President, Wuppertal
Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, the media must play a
crucial role by raising awareness and addressing ‘what must and can
“The gap between what we know and what we do must be closed - this
is by no means an interesting social experiment; it is an urgent
need,” notes the Professor.
Case example: Ethiopia
A recent report released by Oxfam International shows that
small-scale farmers and pastoralists in Ethiopia are likely to bear
the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change in the region,
which will include increased poverty, water scarcity, and food
insecurity. Farmers, who form the majority of the Ethiopian
population, continue to cry foul over inconsistent weather.
While Ethiopia has always suffered from great climatic variability,
including droughts that have contributed to hunger and even famine
in the past, the report details how climate change is set to make
the lives of the poorest even harder.
During the recent Earth Day celebrations, journalists came face to
face with disgruntled farmers who decried the negligence of the
international community in mitigating the effects of climate change.
Many Ethiopian publications and notably weblogs have highlighted
grim stories of disillusioned farmers whose lives are at stake, as a
result of global warming. Farmers and pastoralists around the
country have shared with journalists the toll that climate change is
having on their communities, from ruined crops to dying cattle.
In an interview with Africa News, Hailu Tedesse, a farmer from the
Oroma region said that he is torn between a rock and a hard place.
“I have been forced to sell livestock in order to educate my
children or worse still, remove children from school.” This, he said
is not the solution but a survival mechanism to cope with the
increasing effects of climate change. He can no longer keep
livestock because there is no grass to feed them.
The Oxfam report also quotes another farmer, Sefya Funge saying,
“The rain doesn't come on time anymore. After we plant, the rain
stops just as our crops start to grow. And it begins to rain after
the crops have already been ruined. Because of a lack of feed and
water, most of my cattle have died. The few that survived had to be
sold so that we could buy food to live on. As I no longer have the
means to support my family, only three of my eight kids are still
with me. Losing our assets was bad, but the fact that our family is
separated is devastating."
These two cases represent the many more that continue to be
highlighted by the media. Ethiopian journalists believe that rich
countries have the answer to the climate change problem.
And according to Oxfam, developed countries have the responsibility
to not only reduce emissions that cause climate change, but also
help Ethiopia adapt to climate change impacts that will still affect
the poorest, no matter how fast we reduce emissions.
Climate change is impacting the poorest first, despite the fact that
they didn't contribute to the crisis. As global climate change
negotiations continue, world leaders must not forget the fact that
poor people are dealing with the negative impacts of a changing
climate every day.