Africa is already feeling some of the hardest impacts of climate change. This is not a secret: international media has published many in-depth reports and stories on the continent’s struggle against the climate crisis. But are they doing a good job at climate reporting about Africa?
Africa is struggling to get back on its feet. The continent faces the numerous challenges imposed by centuries of colonial history, political instability, crippled economics, and high poverty rates. This makes it one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change impacts, and yet the one with the least resources to tackle this problem. To add insult to injury, African countries are among the least to blame for historic and current greenhouse gas emissions.
Ndoni Mcunu, a Ph.D. candidate researching climate change impacts on agriculture at the Global Change Institute at Witwatersrand University and the CEO of Black Women in Science (BWIS), thinks media from the Global North is not doing Africa any favour with their climate coverage. “We are not telling our own story, thus it’s being stolen from us. The media is not asking enough experts about climate change. It could also be that they are asking too many experts but not actually asking the people on the community. Therefore the work we are doing is not being told right and because the people doing the work on the ground are not getting the spotlight we become a pity party” she said.
Ndoni highlighted how indigenous knowledge of African communities is usually neglected in climate reporting and that the narrative is more lenient towards showing Africa as the dying continent rather than showing positive stories and spreading awareness about how communities can be supported.
Mat Hope, the editor of British climate news site DeSmog UK and resident in Kenya, agrees. “In the mainstream media, there is some interest in long climate stories, but not a lot. Also, the only interest is really when climate stories can be political stories as well… Despite the fact that Africa is on the frontline of all climate change impacts, [the mainstream media] never really send their reporters to those frontlines to understand the issue in that sense.”
Climate change is a depressing topic
Climate change is a sad, terrifying topic and that’s how it’s being covered right now by many media. However, the 2019 Reuters Institute News Report, showed that nearly 32% of people tend to avoid all news now because they negatively impact their mood. So as much as it’s good to emphasize the danger of climate change, being relentlessly negative can draw people away from the topic.
The lack of solution-based journalism in climate reporting makes it hard for people to interact with the issue and become more aware of their abilities to fight back. “We have been living in this land for decades and we have been managing the impacts of climate change without necessarily having training or skills support, so how come we are still alive? The media is not doing enough to tell the positive work, the narrative is wrong,” said Mcunu.
“Solution-based journalism is important because it gives people hope in facing the climate crisis…it makes [the climate crisis] seem like an active story rather a passive one., Because climate change isn’t just something that is happening. It’s something that actually we interact with” said Hope.
What can we do better?
For Mat Hope, the current reporting is too broad and focused on the international scene. This is, in his opinion, particularly true for Africa-centric stories. “It’s not really about what I would consider the real story,” he said.
Ndoni Mcunu was recently misquoted by some media outlets, after speaking in a panel hosted by Greta Thunberg to highlight the climate change threats facing Africa. The researcher believes this mistake wasn’t just a simple typo. For her, the mistake derives from what the international community expects from Africa.
“It’s important to change the current narrative because we are not seeing enough change or support to climate change in Africa. And with this narrative, we will never have international respect. Our voices will always be undermined,” Mcunu said, adding that “if you want to offer solutions to our continent you come to us first, you don’t tell us what to do.”
Mat Hope also thinks there’s room for improvement. “What media can do better or differently is try to understand the issue from an African perspective. I still see this [story] very much covered from how [the climate crisis] will affect Western economies… It’s an old fashioned way of reporting where it has to have a domestic focus. But this is a global crisis caused by rich countries in the western world, which will disproportionally affect many countries, and so it should be reported as such,” he concluded.