The UN convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009 (the COP15), negotiations on a post 2012 agreement have greatly intensified. However, there is absolutely no consensus even within and between industrial countries on these issues, while the divide between industrial and developing countries has grown wide.
In addition to commitments on targets and deadlines for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), issues such as adaptation, technology and finance are also on the table.
It is with this objective International Federation of Environmental Journalist (IFEJ) are meeting at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, October 28-30, 2009, to participate in a media Congress on the theme “Bridging North-South Differences in Reporting Climate Change: Journalists’ Role in Reaching an Agreement at COP15 in Copenhagen.”
Although in recent years climate change has received a great deal of coverage in the media, particularly following the 4th assessment report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, there are major differences in the way the media in the global North and South report climate change.
For example, the New York Times recently carried a long article on what is popularly known as “the Asian Brown Cloud”, which describes how poor women are using inefficient cook stoves which pollute the atmosphere and cause global warming.
Instead of blaming poor consumers around the world for worsening the global situation, such media exposure can help find ways of solving both problems at one time.
The ethical issue of industrial countries being responsible for global warming while developing countries face the brunt has still not received the media attention it deserves in some developed countries, even while some industrial countries are now calling upon big emerging economies like China, India and Brazil to cap their emissions by the time UNFCCC meets in Copenhagen this December.
Furthermore, media attention in the North, which often sets the agenda for the rest of the globe, particularly with global news channels, has by and large been confined to the mitigation of greenhouse gases through a range of restrictions, market mechanisms and the like. It has largely ignored reporting on adaptation, which will affect countries in the South far more adversely.
Developing countries are already reeling under the impacts of droughts and floods. The risk of communicable diseases emerging with climate change is, again, first felt by developing countries.
South Asia has received scant attention in the reporting on climate change in the North and, for that matter, other countries in the global South. In South Asia, as many as 210 million people directly in the Himalaya and 1.3 billion downstream in the Indo-Gangetic agrarian belt – one-fifth of the world’s population - are already facing the threat of the receding glaciers which will eventually lead to crippling droughts.
In terms of numbers of people affected in one region, this is the largest number anywhere in the world. One can add several tens of millions living in the low-lying coastal areas of Bangladesh, who will have to be evacuated as ocean levels rise.
It is expected that media can play a seminal role to bridge this divide by providing information on global, regional and local issues. For instance, the action developing countries take to mitigate and adapt to climate change at home – as part of their global commitment or as ongoing development activities – can be reported much more comprehensively to counter the impression that developing countries have been reluctant to take steps to restrict their greenhouse gas emissions.
Similarly, media can analyze trends and issues to help opinion-makers like parliamentarians, government officials and NGOs in both the global North and South aware of the complexities of the problem and come to a more reasoned conclusion, based on such analysis. Furthermore, the role of the private sector in addressing such issues also needs to be highlighted.
The IFEJ Congress in New Delhi promises to be a humble step in bridging the gap that exists on this issue between North and South. The participants in Congress come from both industrial and developing countries and will be able to air their viewpoints and this may lead to greater insights into this most crucial problem affecting the entire planet.
The Congress is supported by Denmark, the COP15 host country. The Society of Environmental Journalists in the US, which has some 1,900 members, is also collaborating with IFEJ in organizing this Congress. The IFEJ was formed in Dresden, Germany in 1993 and this seventeen year old body now has journalists from some 70 countries as its members.
The Congress, which will be held concurrently with the 5th CMS VATAVARAN – Environment and Wildlife Film Festival 2009, will also be followed by an exciting six-day all-expenses-paid field trip to Leh in Ladakh from October 31 to November 5, offering journalists an exclusive opportunity to film, photograph and write on Himalayan glacial melt.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org