President William Ruto arrives for opening of the inaugural Africa Climate Summit in an electric clean energy-powered car at Kenyatta International Convention Centre, Nairobi, on Monday September 4, 2023. 


Wanted: Engaging, relatable, easy to read climate change narratives

The Daily Nation did a good job covering the first-ever African climate change summit held in Nairobi this week. For each day of the meeting, from Monday to Wednesday, the newspaper carried eight pages of news and pictures of the summit.

And the three page one headlines – “Climate: The grim reality”, “Africa’s moment”, and “Ruto: Don’t kill us with debt” –tell in crisp words the theme and urgency of the summit.

There were, though, one or two letdowns. These included unimaginatively worded picture captions, and an embarrassing howler in a picture story headline that read, “DP Gachagua hosts Comoros Vice-President Francia Marquez”, (Daily Nation, September 5, 2023). Ms Marquez, a delegate, is the Vice-President of Colombia. The picture caption, fortunately, got it right.

President William Ruto, the host, did an amazing job shepherding the summit. It is now up to the Nation to inform and educate the nation about climate change following the forward-looking Nairobi Declaration. The Nation should set the tone and tempo of reporting at home climate change, a subject that has been described as the biggest story of our time.

In 2018, UN climate scientists warned there was only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

We’ve seen the warning unfolding with cyclones in Mozambique and Malawi and drought and floods in Kenya and Somalia, not to mention other parts of Africa. Journalists must play their part in producing more and better informed and urgent stories to empower people to mitigate the impact of climate change. The stories must be meaningful, easy to understand, engaging, and relatable.

The bane of climate change reporting has been, and continues to be, the complexity of the subject and difficulty of breaking down stories so that they are understandable to the people. It is also a challenge for journalists to provide stories that resonate with the people.

Practically every facet and level of life, from eating nyama choma to driving cars, has a climate change angle. It’s the duty of journalists to drive home this reality. But the main challenge remains how to make climate stories more accessible and easy to understand. Providing explanatory information is part of this challenge. This is not easy to do but it must be done.

Consider this explainer published on Tuesday this week on Nation.Africa: “Explainer: What you should know about carbon credits.”The bulk of the article (about 70 per cent) is not an explainer at all. The article opens with the sentence, “In the face of escalating climate change impacts and the growing demand for businesses to reduce their carbon footprints, interest in carbon credits is growing.” For a reader who does not know what “carbon footprints” and “carbon credits” are, this article is already a misfire.

The article goes on throwing in other terms that are meaningless to the uninitiated, such as international CO2 emissions goals, global warming, emission targets, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), carbon sinks, carbon markets, false solutions, climate justice, and so on. It is only in the remaining 30 per cent of the article that the writer attempts to explain what are carbon credits and carbon market. And she does not do a good job.

The Media Council recognises the importance of reporting climate change meaningfully. One of its 17 Annual Journalists Excellence Awards is named Environment and Climate Change Award, which is given to journalists “who have shown deep knowledge of covering new development in environmental and climate change”. NMG journalists won 13 of the 2023 awards but that did not include the Environment and Climate Change Award.

What is also interesting is that the entries for the Environment and Climate Change Award fell from 168 in 2022 to 44 in 2023. The drastic drop could indicate diminished interest or quality in reporting climate change.

Nation must do better. With an Editor-in-Chief who has an MSc in Environment, this should not be too difficult.

- The Public Editor is an independent news ombudsman who handles readers’ complaints on editorial matters including accuracy and journalistic standards. Email: [email protected]. Call or text 0721989264