Is the climate crisis also a communication crisis?

Doaa El-Bey , Tuesday 1 Nov 2022

Al-Ahram Weekly examines the debate on the need for a better environment and climate-related media coverage.

Climate Change


The easiest way to report on a climate-related story is to keep it simple, straightforward, balanced, shed light on the problem, provide solutions and include the right dose of scientific facts and figures. That was the conclusion of a media conference on climate change

Participants in this week’s Cairo Media Conference agreed that the issue of climate change has rapidly become a critical subject that has an impact on people worldwide, including Egypt.

Despite the warning, participants added that media coverage and discussions on climate-related issues were still not enough to raise awareness of the people to the scope of the problem.

Though the conference raised questions on how to produce readable and informative pieces, what are the best tools to use and how to turn a dull topic like climate that includes difficult technical terms into much simpler and easier language in order to reach and inform the public, people generally are probably not interested or have no knowledge of such pressing issues.

The fourth edition of the Cairo Media Conference, held this week, was called ‘Communicating Climate Change: Is the Climate Crisis also a Communication Crisis?’

Tarek Said, a journalist and former coordinator of the Egyptian Editors Forum (EEF), pointed to the fact that more than 30 per cent of the world’s population stopped reading news because it contains “many problems and catastrophes”.

Thus, Said added in his talk, in order to regain that sizeable portion and make sure that important information on critical issues reaches the reader, “we need to cast light on the crisis and provide the solutions.

“Journalism needs to have eyes. It should cast light on catastrophes - in climate or other issues - in a rather balanced way, and provide solutions together with evidence that these solutions are doable and useful. That gives the reader hope,” he said.

Awaz Saleem Abdalla, an Iraqi broadcaster and presenter at Radio Nawa Sulaymaniyah, asked whether Arab media had succeeded in reaching a wide base of readers, whether it espoused a clear strategy in tackling climate change issues and whether it gives priority to these issues.

Abdalla reached the conclusion that Arab media was still deficient covering climate control and needed to be more present and to present itself to its readers in a more assertive way.

Flooding in Pakistan gave Syed Saqib, an assistant professor and member of the Media Climate Network in Lahore, Pakistan, “harsh proof” on the ground of the devastating impact of climate change on the world. In his address to the conference, Saqib stated that his country had recently faced disastrous droughts and cyclones that destroyed livelihoods and damaged infrastructure, regarding the disasters as “a stark reminder that Pakistan is one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change”.

While Saqib expected that these and other natural hazards will increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades, he warned that the present coverage of these calamities create “a state of eco-anxiety”, in other words unease triggered by ecological threats due to climate change.

Saqib highlighted the need for better environment and climate-related coverage that provide solutions and teach people how to adapt and mitigate climate change. He also put his faith in two factors: better education and youth keen on combating climate change.

In her address, Hildegunn Soldal, head of Digital, NRK, of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, outlined a strategy for climate journalism, namely fact-oriented reporting on scientific consensus, focusing on how to limit and adapt to climate change in order to enable readers to make informed choices and take part in public debate.

Marina Milad, a digital journalist at added that reporters have a responsibility to “read more and show less, verify and simplify information, choose an angle and make it human, give solutions if they can and show data with digital tools and interactive maps if possible”.

With young people in mind, the conference shed light on their efforts to face climate change in a different way through the inspiring experience of Rahma Diaa and Hadeer Al-Hadari, journalists and initiators of Sahafet El-Manakh (group of climate change journalists).

A vivid example of how social media can be a useful tool in dealing with climate change, Diaa and Al-Hadari set up a web page, Climate School, that provides training for journalists on how to acquire new skills, share information on climate change and encourage more young journalists to write about climate-related issues. They recently concluded various preparatory workshops on next month’s global environment summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, COP27.

Equally important is hearing women’s voices in the media coverage of climate change since they carry much of the burdens of such change.

The summit ended with a case study, ‘Women and Climate Change… A Gender Study’, by Abeer Saadi, a media development expert, and specialist in conflict zones and gender inequality.

Saadi noted in her study that women bear a disproportionate responsibility for securing food, water and fuel. Thus, when disasters strike, women are the first casualty.

In the aftermath, she added, adult women and young girls are less able to access relief and assistance, further threatening their livelihoods and creating vicious cycles of vulnerability to future disasters.

In that context, Saadi reached the conclusion that the best way to communicate climate change is via visual storytelling because stories have the power to address complex matters and communicate them in a personal way with tangible solutions.

Cell phone technologies, she added, are one of the most accessible to populations at all levels of society “and we are taking these technologies to amplify our solution. Women around the world have a lot to say,” Saadi added.

Adel Al-Mahrouki, Middle East correspondent for CGTN, said that word contents should be conveyed in a way that make people understand, “not terrified”.

The two-day conference, organised by the American University in Cairo in partnership with Oslo Metropolitan University, aimed at providing a venue for Egyptian journalists, media professionals, professors, students of journalism and media schools to discuss and share experiences on how to cover scientific subjects, especially climate-related issues, that will benefit and inform society about the pressing issue of climate change. It acquired special importance this year as it aligns itself with the upcoming COP27.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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