On one hand, COVID-19 has engulfed the world and on the other, climate change is a looming disaster that makes it important for the media to report timely on our burning planet.

This year’s World News Day celebrated on September 28 shines a light on the climate crisis, calling on journalists to confront the calamity with fact-based journalism.

Over 500 news publications have united for the cause joining this year’s World News Day to drive the message that credible journalism matters to help people to make informed decisions about our planet.

The poor are disproportionately affected by the effects of the global crisis with Africans in particular danger.

According to the African Development Bank (ADB) climate change has left Africa most vulnerable to climate change impacts under all climate scenarios above 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“Despite having contributed the least to global warming and having the lowest emissions, Africa faces exponential collateral damage, posing systemic risks to its economies, infrastructure investments, water and food systems, public health, agriculture, and livelihoods, threatening to undo its modest development gains and slip into higher levels of extreme poverty,” said the ADB in an article.

Actor Victor Garber, called climate the biggest story of our lifetime. Speaking at the 2021 World News Day webinar, he said journalism has helped bring this story to the forefront.

“On this World News Day, we have chosen to lend our collective voice and the spotlight of this day to feature stories of climate change and voices of the affected. News organisations from across the world have dedicated their efforts to bring us the truth on what is the single most urgent issue of our lifetime stories from across the planet we share,” said Garber.

Global News anchor Farah Nasser said the effects of climate change are growing harsher and are felt across the globe and in some regions the pandemic has amplified existing plight caused by changing climate conditions.

“Though the pandemic still lingers, a new normal is upon us. It involves polluted air, smoky skies, increased rain, decreased rain, food insecurity and sweltering heat causing loss of life,” said Nasser.

“The reporting of issues around climate change has real-world ramifications. Lives are in the balance. Truth in journalism has never been more important and that’s why a day like today matters as never before,” she added.

Newsrooms in the global South

African journalists and newsrooms have responded to the climate emergency by increasing their reporting about climate change and the consequent impacts on communities across the continent. These stories highlight how climate impacts the environment and some offer nature-based solutions for sustainable management to protect and restore ecosystems.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, ,2.8 million hectares of forest is lost in Africa annually due to deforestation — a problem that leads to rapidly increasing carbon emissions and contributes to a loss of biodiversity.

Coupled with the decay of ecosystems, the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) reports that Africa loses an estimated $195-billion annually of its natural capital due to illegal mining, logging, wildlife trafficking and unregulated fishing. By ways of training and mentoring journalists to tell data-driven stories that spotlight the crises, Code for Africa (CfA) works with partners to tackle the issues faced.

For example, CfA has driven data journalism stories that highlight Africa’s deepest climate issues. In effort to bring attention to how Africa continues to be affected by climate change, CfA has initiated projects that provide accessible data and context with data-driven journalism that ultimately educates and empowers citizens.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo ( DRC), journalists combined drone footage, video interviews, data visualisations and on-the-ground reportage to tell the story of “Lungs of the Earth” focused on deforestation and poaching at the Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

An award-winning cross-border collaboration by geo journalists titled “Sucked Dry: Huge Swaths of Land Acquired by Foreign Investors in Africa’s Nile River Basin Export Profits, Displace Communities”, led and published by InfoNile, investigated the negative effects of land grabs by foreign investors. Showing how local communities were displaced and wreaked havoc on natural resources in Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt.

In an article CfA Chief Data Officer Jacopo Ottaviani, spoke about the pressures on the Congo Basin due to deforestation, sharing the key role journalism plays in presenting facts, stirring dialogue and prompting responses.

“Precise, factual journalism helps understand the magnitude of the issues on the ground and, in turn, figure out sustainable solutions to develop local economies in countries like the DRC where millions live in poverty,” he said.

Garber said journalists ought to combine the urgency of the crisis with the fact that we live in an era of unprecedented misinformation and obstacles even with the given individual challenges faced by journalists and news organizations.

“The light that will guide us through the climate crisis will be provided by science. Relaying this silence and the facts that accompany it to all of us in a timely and responsible way is the duty of every journalist assigned to the issue,” he said.

In her presentation during the virtual World News Day, The Washington Post climate and environment editor Trish Wilson said that journalists needed to assess if they are meeting the moment, the moment of crisis that the world is in.

“We have to be certain that even if politicians fail even if corporations fail that doesn’t mean we don’t keep up the pressure to cut emissions now that’s our responsibility as journalists to meet the moment and to succeed stories of climate devastation may lead some of us to believe that our planet is past the point of repair but in the midst of these stories there is also hope, hope that if we learn we can change,” she said.

In support of Journalism raising awareness on the climate crisis, entrepreneur Bill Gates through Breakthrough Energy has backed a new online climate news publication called Cipher that is slated to start publishing on September 29.

The publication’s mission is to decode complex topics and make them clear to people at all levels working to solve the climate crisis.

Efforts putting increasing energy and resources into addressing the climate crisis through objective and trustworthy play a vital role in shaping public discourse on the climate crisis in a responsible manner because it enables people to act and shape a green and sustainable future.

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