Communicating the Climate Crisis: Media, Communication practitioners cite challenges and ways to make climate change matter

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The Climate Dialogues Media Perspectives on Climate Change Communication

The Philippines is among the most vulnerable countries globally to climate-related events, and yet there is still a need for Filipinos to fully understand the scientific concepts and hazards associated with the changing climate. Publicly accessible information is often event-based, with reporting and discourse typically reactive to and focused on disasters.

Recognizing the vital role of media and communication practitioners in influencing public discourse, the OML Center, together with the Climate Change Commission (CCC) and the UN – International Organization for Migration (UN-IOM) held The Climate Dialogues: Media Perspectives on Climate Change Communication last November 21 via Zoom. The event was attended by practitioners, student journalists, civil society organizations, and the academe from various parts of the country and was meant to  gather their perspectives on the challenges of climate change communication in the country. 

The State of Climate Reporting 

In his welcome remarks, Dr. Rodel Lasco, OML Center executive director, noted the potential of media coverage in shaping and affecting science and policy discourse, aside from public understanding and action. Dr. Lasco underscored the need to amplify national and regional climate change discussions.

Earth Observatory in Singapore (EOS) Research Fellow Dr. Geoff Richards shared his observations regarding trends in climate change communication in the region. He highlighted  the importance of creating stories around information that have significant relevance and impact on audiences. He pointed out that communicators cannot “just report climate change from a disaster point of view” and need to provide information on solutions. 

UN-IOM’s Dr. Eula Bianca Villar, who leads research  on Climate Change Adaptation and Migration, shared their findings on the intersection of climate change and human mobility. Dr. Villar cited the need to recognize how the changing climate affects livelihood and peace and stability, consequently affecting movement patterns. There is also a need to highlight the urgency of action and revisit old narratives such as the concept of “resilience” and “natural disasters”, adding that effective storytelling can enable behavior change  and generate support in finding solutions.

(See also: “The social facets of Climate Change: Perspectives from the Social Sciences”) 

OML Center’s Communications Manager Ms. Kato Sarmiento shared key findings from the Center’s Philippine climate change discourse mapping, which was  conducted with The Nerve, a data forensics consultancy firm. The study, which focused on 2016 to 2019 data, showed that much like disasters, mentions of climate change increased in volume only when there are key trigger events such as presidential elections, multinational movements inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, and annual celebrations such as the Earth Hour. 

However, the study also noted important shifting trends in 2019, such as the growing demand for action and accountability and the role of youth. Sarmiento urged media and communication practitioners to take a more active role in building climate narratives in each region, to amplify citizen journalism, and to elevate climate reporting to help build the adaptive capacities and resilience of their communities.

Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Ms. Jhesset Enano provided her perspective and insights as a journalist. Enano cited the lack of dedicated environment reporters, the need for training to elevate technical know-how of climate change, and the habit of writing “doom and gloom” stories as some of the challenges in telling the climate crisis story. 

She advised fellow communicators to “breakaway from reporting piecemeal stories on the climate crisis.” Enano added that consistency and localizing reports are crucial and also suggested that journalists partner with the academe and civil society organizations to further stories. 

Climate Reporting for Climate Action

Participants were divided into breakout groups to discuss their experiences of climate change reporting in their respective regions, and share their insights on how climate reporting can be strengthened and play a more active role towards change and action. The outcome of the breakout group discussions will help inform the OML Center, CCC, and UN-IOM in designing further engagement with media and communication practitioners.. 

In synthesizing discussions, Ms. Michelle Villariez, national officer of UN-IOM, cited the commonality in the discussions: “We need to highlight the human narrative in discussing climate change.” 

Villariez also noted some of the points raised during the breakout session such as the need to break silos and strengthen collaboration among the media, academe and the government, the importance of capturing local realities and connecting extreme events to the changing climate, and engaging effectively by simplifying terms and instilling urgency by making it matter to the daily lives of people.

Closing the forum, CCC Secretary Emmanuel de Guzman recalled enormous loss and damage from recent tropical cyclones Quinta, Rolly and Siony. “More extreme weather events like these attest that climate change is real and is here,” De Guzman said, calling on local leaders to recognize the climate emergency and address risks in communities. Secretary De Guzman also underscored that recovering stronger from COVID-19 pandemic and adapting to climate change must go hand in hand at the local level.  

The event was hosted by CCC’s Ludwig Federigan and was part of the official activities of the Center for the 13th annual Global Warming and Climate Change Consciousness Week.

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