The policy brief is based on the premises that people and policymakers need good information to make effective decisions – whether at the household or global level – and that most people get their information about climate change from the media.
The good news is that across the global South, climate change journalists are growing in number and experience, and are creating networks to help each other. The bad news is that coverage remains limited relative to the scale of a problem that threatens the livelihoods of billions of people, and can be of poor quality and not relevant to local people.
The policy brief points out that while public awareness about climate change is rising worldwide, in many countries public understanding of the causes and consequences remains low. Sometimes reporting on the issues is restricted to specialist environment pages or presented as international news without relevance to local people.
High-quality journalism can inform vulnerable communities of potential impacts and what they can do to mitigate and adapt to them. But to do this it has to be rooted in reality, with locally relevant stories.
Media reports focus on the differences in risk and responsibility between developed and developing nations. But they often make little mention of how risk and ability to adapt vary within countries.
Meanwhile many government initiatives fail because they do not invest in effective communication, and policymakers see the media only as a channel for promoting their own message.
Strong journalism can result not only in better informed publics but also better informed policymakers. For example, although the media can disseminate useful information during a flood, countries will be better served by involving journalists in adaptation plans to improve preparedness for such emergencies — in essence, seeing good quality journalism as a form of adaptation.
The policy brief argues that policymakers should build media capacity by supporting initiatives to increase the knowledge, skills and resources available to journalists, improving media access and engaging the media in policy and planning.
It also states that policymakers have an obligation to ensure that journalists are well equipped to interpret and communicate complex information about the science and policy of climate change.