This research would not have been possible without the support of the winner of our South Asian Research Competition, Santosh Koirala from Nepal. We also would like to acknowledge the other trackers from our network that helped us collect local perspectives within South Asia, including Sai Siddharth Nandamuri, Raakhee Suryaprakash, Kevin Samuel, Afrida Asad, Ashish Niraula and MD Arif Choudhry.
As one of the most climate vulnerable regions in world, South Asia is feeling the impacts of climate change on a day to day basis. Whether these are slow onset impacts, such as the slowly receding glaciers in Nepal, and the rising sea levels in the Maldives, or extreme events such as the ongoing heatwave in Bangladesh, it is increasingly clear that communities living in climate hotspots are an important voice in pushing for governments to act on climate change, NOW.
These communities, who have the most to lose from climate change, are the cornerstone for climate messaging. Not only as recievers of climate knowledge, but also as voices that can highlight why their governments need to act on climate change today.
In terms of communicating climate change, the burgeoning media in South Asia can play an important role in providing a voice to the very communities that are ignored by decision makers. But whether it is actually reporting on climate change, and its accessibility to the general public, is questionable. Media can only be an effective catalyst for change if the messages it conveys are accessible to people- and this is where the language of media comes in.
Woman watching TV with her family in Khulna, Bangladesh. Photo by M. Yousuf Tushar.
South Asia is home to hundreds of languages, their unique dialects and intonations. Along with other indo European languages such as portuguese, a creole version of which is still spoken in Sri Lanka today, English was introduced into this geography, largely as a result of the colonisation of most of the region. And because it was spoken among the ruling, and those who interacted and benefited from those in power, it remains spoken among the elite/educated/upwardly mobile in these countries, long after independence.
Climate Tracker, in its new research study on Language in Reporting Climate Change: A South Asian Study, looks at the media landscapes in Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and the Maldives, and how climate change reporting links to media languages in each country. What we found was startling.
In almost all the countries studied, climate change reporting takes place primarily in english. While there is reporting in local languages on extreme events such as floods and droughts, these are rarely framed in the context of climate change.
A Nepalese man reads a newspaper in Kathmandu, Nepal. Niranjan Shrestha/AP
There are indications in each country that reporting on climate change takes place primarily in English. This is in many ways a colonial inheritance of class, language and governmentality. According to Shihab Khaledin, a Bengali journalist from Bangladesh, “some newspapers such as The Daily Star, The Dhaka Tribune, The Observer etc publish on climate change issues once or twice in a week or in the editorial page. [However]Bengali newspapers such as the Prothom Alo, The Jugnator, The Somokal also publish articles but after intervals or on special issues’.
And while the reporting on climate change is low in both English and local languages in South Asia, we have found that of the little reporting that does take place, it is mostly done in english. This is most likely a result of the perception that English is the language most accessible to decision makers and the international community.
Krishna Adhikari (Nepal) feels that the reason most reporting is done in English is because data on climate change is largely available only in that language, and that there is very little data available on climate change in local contexts to begin with.. “There are jargons in scientific papers that do not have word-for-word translation. Many words in English itself are difficult to translate in Nepali. Take a word ‘adaptation’ for example, we have to find a way around (in this case; process of adjusting to new climate) to convey its meaning in local language. We don’t have a specific Nepali word for it..’ he says.
Some of the other issues uncovered in our research include the links between literacy and the access to print media, the reluctance of media companies to publish articles on climate change, and a lack of capacity of local journalists to write about climate change.
Read and Download our full research paper below.