By Kemiso Wessie & Enoch Sithole:

-It has been two weeks since COP27, the United Nations’ 27th annual climate change conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.  While important for debate and conversations about the planet’s future, conferences like COP27 do not magically mitigate the very real consequences of climate change.

 Growing concern about the climate crisis raises the question: what are journalism schools in Africa doing to ensure the new generation of reporters are equipped to report on the story?

Many news organisations still view climate and reporting on environmental matters as a separate beat, according to Jill Hope in an article for Nieman Reports.  However, this is constantly being challenged as we see how such rapid changes in climate can affect multiple sectors that seemed unrelated before.

The Covid-19 pandemic saw large changes in newsrooms from retrenchments, pay cuts, cutbacks and an increase of freelancers, as discussed by Kate Skinner in the 2020 edition of State of the Newsroom report. These financial changes across newsrooms mean publications might not be able to afford dedicated climate and environmental reporters.

Various studies on media coverage of climate change in Africa have found that the subject is inadequately covered, giving rise to concern in the light of the severe impact the crisis is expected to have in Africa, given its poor infrastructure.

A recent Reuters Institute survey found that “climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity but only around a third (34%) of publishers think that news coverage (in Africa) is good enough, with a further third (29%) saying it is poor”.

The reasons given for the inadequate reporting include lack of skills among journalists and the fact that editors regard the subject as not being attractive enough to audiences or it “doesn’t sell”.

Hopke suggests journalism institutions create curriculum that will highlight climate literacy, especially in African communities, while integrating it with journalism’s core practices. As the world is increasingly becoming more aware of climate change not only in media but also seeing it in real time with extreme weather conditions and environmental related disasters, there is an immediate need for news media to value this type of reporting.

Climate change affects everyone but only few are willing to promote drastic action; possibly a result of a lack of understanding. Journalists should be trained in not only understanding climate change but also the invaluable role they can play in helping their readers know what is happening and what they can do to change their habits. This points to, as Hopke says, a need for “broader investment in climate literacy training for all journalists.”

Head of UNICEF’s COP27 delegation, Paloma Escudero said: “The impacts of climate change are with us now, but they are far more than floods, droughts and heat waves, they extend to our very sense of hope. Especially in Africa, young people are seeing the impact these shocks are having on themselves and those they love and it is changing their plans for the future. But it doesn’t have to. At COP27, world leaders must listen to this anxiety from young people and take immediate action to protect them.”

A UNICEF article explains that as the impact of decades of poor environmental practices and climate change intensifies, more young people are concerned with making a change, “Climate change impacts everyone but the future belongs to young people.”

With conferences like COP27 stimulating conversation, providing information and exploring suggestions for change, why is this not more widely discussed in the classroom?

Institutions are in a unique position to incorporate climate education into traditional curriculum. After all, it is their students that will feel the full effects of it in the coming years and the journalism student that will have to report it as well as live through it. There needs to be reform in how climate reporting and education is seen.

Hopke states that “Climate communication is to not only educate about the science and impacts but also to promote action and change social norms.”

Speaking to Jamlab, Fiona Macleod, the founder of Oxpeckers, an investigative environmental journalism centre said: “We need to mainstream environmental journalism more; we need to train and encourage more journalists to be working in the environmental beat. There is a realisation that environmental journalism is not just a nice to have but an essential to have.”

Various initiatives have been undertaken to educate African journalists on climate journalism to empower them to approach the subject with more confidence.

Announcing its climate journalism training project, the BBC said “climate change is severely affecting communities across Africa, as extreme weather events such as droughts and floods increase in frequency and severity. These communities need support so they can make critical decisions about their lives and livelihoods, to take action and better adapt to a changing climate”.

BBC Media Action has been working with local radio stations across East Africa, training, mentoring and connecting them with local climate scientists and their audiences, so they are better able to produce trusted, informative and timely radio content about climate and weather issues, according to the BBC.

The curriculum helps inform communities most affected by climate change, connecting them with local experts and possible solutions, and providing inspiration for ways to cope and adapt.

To help reach more journalists the BBC has a “Massive Open Online Course” on climate reporting. The course is free, and available from the BBC website. According to the BBC, the course helps journalists understand the science behind the causes of climate change, how international organisations and communities are responding to it and how they can cover it more effectively for their audiences.

Other projects include initiatives to empower African climate change journalists include the  Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association (KENSJA)Journalists’ Environmental Association Tanzania (JET)Rwanda Network of Environmental Journalists (RNEJ), and Young Reporters for Environment Ghana.

Do you have a climate reporting project or course? Let us know, email: