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CLIMATE CHANGE: WE NEED A PROACTIVE MEDIA

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ROME, May 22 2008 (IPS) - There is no moderately well-informed person who does not believe that climate change is if not the gravest threat facing humanity at least one of the top two or three. It is therefore worth asking whether the performance of the media in this regard rises to the challenge, writes Mario Lubetkin, Director-General of Inter Press Service (IPS). In this analysis, Lubetkin writes that addressing climate change cannot be achieved without the application of firm and constant pressure by informed and responsible citizens on governments and industry and without pushing for more effective action by civil society. It is inconceivable that the people can play this role without being well-informed, oriented, and stimulated by the media. Although it is correct to recognise that in the last decades the space dedicated to the environment has increased, it is also right to expect the media to improve their coverage by abandoning their attitude of merely passing on information and beginning to work actively to shape the opinion of the public and those in power such that they comply with the objectives set by the international community to address the problem of climate change.

It is therefore worth asking whether the performance of the media in this regard rises to the challenge and whether they are accepting the mission to generate awareness of the magnitude of the problem.

In general, over the last three decades the media have dedicated significantly more space to environmental issues, albeit clearly nowhere near enough. That which has been achieved is without doubt attributable to the members of the scientific community who, cast at the beginning in the undesirable role of prophets of calamity, were able to explain, convince, and orient the public and the media in particular.

But the quantity of media attention currently dedicated to environmental matters is largely determined by the passivity of the media, which carry the various rejections of global warming and the warnings of the scientists, but usually don’t do much more, though there are certainly certain praiseworthy exceptions. And while this has instilled justified concern in certain sectors of public opinion, it has not translated even minimally into the massive shift in behaviour necessary to turn around a situation that is growing progressively more dire.

In effect, the Kyoto protocol adopted in December 1997 formalises the commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by five percent by the year 2012. However, these emissions have only increased since that time. Moreover, there is a consensus on the inadequacy of the targets set in the Kyoto Protocol (still not ratified by the US and other countries) as well as of signing and implementing other agreements with greater environmental impact.

The goal cannot be achieved without the application of firm and constant pressure by informed and responsible citizens on governments and industry and without pushing for more effective action by civil society. It is inconceivable that the people can play this role without being well-informed, oriented, and stimulated by the media.

The media’s approach to covering the environment should include the following components:

-Objective reporting of the dangers related to climate change without falling into a kind of eco-terrorism.

-Making it clear that protecting the environment is not incompatible with economic development and that sustainable development clearly benefits both.

-Reporting on initiatives and proposals for strategies to reduce emissions in developed countries; the contribution of developing countries will consist of adopting more sustainable strategies that do not affect the continued economic growth to which they have an unalienable right. This is a fundamental issue and a major point of contention because it requires that there be different strategies for and treatment of industrialised countries and developing, non-industrialised countries. The former, because of their intensive and initially inefficient energy consumption are responsible for the current state of environmental crisis and must significantly reduce their emissions; the latter need to increase their energy consumption in order to develop. For this to be compatible with the objectives of Kyoto and instruments adopted subsequently, the industrialised countries must co-operate broadly with developing countries to help them adopt clean and efficient technologies by providing financial and technological support. This differentiation of roles between the North and South is fiercely resisted by powerful sectors of the industrialised countries, which requires of the media an effort at clarification and persuasion.

-Connecting environmental sustainability to the fight to eradicate poverty and to eradicate hunger in the world – the first and seventh, respectively, of the Millennial Development Goals. The relation between the two is profound and inextricable given that climate change principally punishes the poor.

-In its coverage the media should highlight sound environmental practices and, most important, bring about long-term cultural and behavioural change. As Beijing University professor Chai Sza Kiang says, to talk about climate change is to think about the next generations and be capable of transforming this crisis into an opportunity.

Although it is correct to recognise that in the last decades the space dedicated to the environment has increased, it is also right to expect the media to improve their coverage by abandoning their attitude of merely passing on information and beginning to work actively to shape the opinion of the public and those in power such that they comply with the objectives set by the international community to address the problem of climate change.(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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