Climate communication

Courtesy:-   Syed Muhammad Abubakar

The ever increasing impacts of climate change have made the world sit up and discuss ways to tackle it. Increased carbon emissions are causing global temperatures to rise, leading to the melting of glaciers and rise in sea levels –becoming a threat for low-lying island nations.

Many countries are still unaware that climate change is real and happening right now. A recent report, ‘Communicating Climate Science’, by the UK’s House of Commons suggested that effective information methods need to be devised so that information regarding climate change reaches a mass audience. 

Sensitising the unaware regarding the deadly impacts of climate change is much needed in Pakistan. During the past few years our plains have been flooded, our valleys overrun by Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), which have displaced millions of people and forced them to migrate to safer places. We have also witnessed extensive damage to infrastructure and property. Communities could have been saved from this devastation if disaster management authorities had, through the media, warned vulnerable communities regarding the possible threat of floods and enabled timely evacuation.

Any possible environmental catastrophe can be communicated through front-page headlines in local, regional and national newspapers, and on TV channels and the radio. The increasing impacts of climate change can partially be mitigated through greater media coverage, which can instil awareness among the vulnerable.

Unfortunately, this is not happening even though we face losses worth billions of dollars due to floods, droughts, sea intrusion and damage to agriculture. The 2012 flood alone cost the government six billion dollars but the reasons behind such devastation were not effectively communicated to the public. This is mostly because the media hasn’t realised its own potential vis-a-vis creating awareness helping reduce damage from environmental hazards. 

The general opinion is that the media in Pakistan focuses on socio-political and defence-related issues but ignores environmental ones, as political issues are more newsworthy. Environmental issues, no matter how serious, get pushed to the back pages. This is mainly to a failure in understanding the seriousness of the issue and the huge cost of damage related to climate catastrophes.

Sometimes business interests don’t let the media do its job in planning more environment-related stories and programming; sponsors and advertisers are not interested. Corporations, brands, and fashion apparels find it hard to consider the environment their priority. However, all across the globe big corporations allocate budgets to curb carbon emissions and promote the concept of a green economy. People in our country prefer political and terrorism related news and tend to ignore and neglect the significance of environmental stories. They don’t realise the damage environmental degradation can lead to.

This neglect fuels global environmental issues such as climate change and global warming. According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2014 released by the German Watch Institute, Pakistan is ranked number three after Haiti and the Philippines as countries most affected by climate change. This should set off alarm bells for our government and require it to take stringent measures for climate change mitigation as well as mobilise the media to work towards climate change awareness among the citizens of Pakistan. Despite all this, nothing concrete has been done till now. 

After the damage is done – by cyclones or floods – houses lost and families displaced, the media will likely cover the issue by airing stories of disaster affectees, highlighting their misery. However, the media but will fail to highlight the root cause of the problem – climate change.

If we wish to sensitise people we need to sensitise the media first. Capacity building of journalists is urgently required so that they understand the threats our country faces as far as climate change impacts are concerned. 

Ignorance of this issue has taken many lives and millions of people have been affected in the recent past, as climate change has flooded our plains again and again – in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Glacial melt is increasing and is also on an all-time high in Pakistan, which means that there’s a strong probability of another great flood. This means the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) needs to take effective climate change adaptation and mitigation measures by mobilising the media to create awareness amongst the public to move to safer places for shelter. 

It is the government’s responsibility to communicate these disastrous impacts using whatever means possible. It is time that the media also gave due importance to this significant issue. Effectively portraying it will help in dealing with the issue and the government can push the media to do so by giving government ads to those groups and outlets that widely report on the environment. The media must play a greater role in communicating climate change impacts to the public. 

More funds also need to be allocated for the Climate Change Division so that increases in carbon emissions can be curtailed. Unfortunately, this division has witnessed a huge reduction in funds having dropped down to Rs25 million in the 2014-15 budget with no specific allocation for climate change awareness through the media. 

Our leaders need a wakeup call; they have failed to understand the gravity of the situation. The issue is ignored and makes any reasonable individual question the government’s policies. Isn’t Rs25 million just about enough to buy an imported luxury car? Sufficient funds need to be allocated to create climate change awareness among the public so that vulnerable communities, especially those living along the coastal and northern areas of Pakistan, who stand on the frontline of climate change, take necessary steps to mitigate it.

The media is the fourth pillar of the state and it has to portray and report on all that affects and matters to the people. A great responsibility lies on its shoulders to inform people, with truth and honesty, about the current state of affairs of the country, including climate change impacts. 

There is no doubt that human-led activities have worsened the issue but there’s a lot we can do to overcome it. Tree plantation is one simple option, as trees act as carbon sinks and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) which have increased manifold due to the high deforestation rate in Pakistan (2.1 percent per annum according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation).

It’s high time we used an integrated approach to mitigate this deadly climate change we are facing, and will continue to face. Otherwise, floods will devastate our country, and our economy will be affected due to natural calamities. Sea intrusion will eat our lands and livelihoods will be destroyed. There won’t be anything left to do but watch news stories about it on every TV channel.

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