A climate march in Germany, 2019. Credit: Mika Baumeister / Unsplash

Thanks to the recently concluded UN climate summit COP26 (Glasgow, 31 Oct-12 November), conditions were just right to see climate change communication at its best, or worst. Over the two-week period, news media worldwide were presented with opportunities to grow or muddy their audiences’ understanding of climate change – the current status, State and private sector positions, impact on communities, action points, and numerous other dimensions of the climate crisis.

The need for critical climate change communication, by the news media especially – the authoritative information source for the general public – cannot be overstated. NASA’s climate scientists tell us that the planet’s average surface temperature has risen largely due to carbon emissions in the atmosphere and other human activities. This heat has been absorbed by the ocean; ice sheets are melting, glaciers are retreating, sea levels rising, ocean waters acidifying and extreme climate events are increasing. Various sources underline the disproportionate impact of climate change on the poorest and most vulnerable, especially women (IUCN issues briefUNFCCUN Chronicle).

Critical climate change communication educates, informs, persuades, and mobilizes action by covering not just the official story and the messages of power holders, but by breaking down the scientific evidence for a lay audience and bringing in the opinions of those most affected — global south communities, the poorest and women primarily.

The Paris Agreement of 2015 bound countries to take action to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius in order to prevent a climate catastrophe. The 2021 summit aimed to secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach, to secure finance and to finalize the rules that make the Paris Agreement operational.

Whether a critical approach to climate change journalism will become the rule during the Glasgow Agreement (draft: https://bit.ly/3onlLej) implementation period up until the next summit remains to be seen.

Sarah Macharia

Sarah Macharia is WACC program manager for gender and communication. She is also the international coordinator for the Global Media Monitoring Project and general secretary of GAMAG. WACC Global is an...