By Lwazi Maseko

Over the years, climate-related disasters have worsened in Africa, with droughts, floods and cyclones causing widespread damage and resulting in the loss of life and the displacement of scores of people. The continent only accounts for 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and yet is disproportionately affected by the negative impacts of climate change.

To articulate the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, climateXchange (cXc) has partnered with the Wits Centre for Journalism to launch a hub in Africa that aims to foster relatable climate content, measure impact, and provide reporting solutions to empower and engage audiences at a local level. cXc, a flagship initiative of Syli UK, is a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting climate journalism in finding new ways to reach new audiences.

“At climateXchange, we believe that we are all storytellers and thinkers. Journalists have a special role in this as the gatekeepers of history, relaying stories and facts to people so change can be made,” said Shereen Daver, cXc Programme Director. She explained the Africa Hub will enable African journalists to shape narratives framed by their lived realities, and reflect issues and solutions specific to their countries.

Daver emphasised the need and importance to galvanise around one of the biggest challenges we are currently facing – climate. cXc collectively creates a difference by making climate content part of our culture.

“The climate crisis is a story of culture – one where journalists have a key role in helping to create credible climate content for culture change,” said Daver, adding that “by prioritising the voices of local journalists and communities in the global majority, we can show human impacts and human creativity in a way that engages audiences in other parts of the world in climate justice.”

cXc are working to better understand what kinds of journalism help people become informed and engaged about climate change, moving away from the fear and doom narrative that is driving disengagement with issues relating to climate change. cXc is also working with partners to assist newsrooms and media organisations in providing adequate coverage of climate change sustainably over the long term, looking at new products and revenue / business models that will keep them operational in difficult times.

“The WCJ is delighted to have been selected as the Africa regional hub of the climateXchange programme,” said Dr Dinesh Balliah, Director for the Wits Centre for Journalism. “The project aligns with our mission to tackle the challenges of climate change through the capacitation of journalists and content producers to make the complexities of climate change accessible and relatable. ClimateXchange will seed a new project at the WCJ — one which aims to mainstream discussions around climate change that are science-driven, accountability-focused and empowers communities to acclimate to the changes that are already part of our realities.” 

Mia Malan, founder and editor-in-chief of South Africa’s Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism, said the pandemic highlighted the importance of accurate information.

“We need to frame climate stories so that they fit into the larger scheme of things, of life, which means that not all stories need to be exclusively about climate change,” said Malan, adding that “stories should not only focus on events, disasters or the release of scientific studies. Journalists need to initiate their own stories where they can show readers how climate change impacts them.”

Mia Malan at the launch event

Malan noted the importance of distribution channels, explaining that journalists should know and understand the best formats to communicate information effectively. For example, audiences are increasingly using TikTok for news, and journalists and news organisations should adapt to the changing media landscape.

Daver noted that research has shown that audiences are aware that climate change is a pressing issue, but very few read about it. As a response, news organisations reported heavily on climate change to better inform the public. However, audiences became disengaged due to content that was complicated in reporting on the science of climate change, or only focussed on the negative.

“We are working to try and change that dialogue; change what is written and how it gets covered, and look at how people can interact with climate journalism in a positive way,” said Daver. 

“Partnerships are essential,” said Malan, adding that “you cannot approach a crisis alone”. She said that scientists, activists and journalists should work together, which will help journalists better understand science, how it works and the policies surrounding it.

The launch offered guests a plant-based menu which included locally sourced food and beverages to fit with the cXc philosophy of supporting an exchange of knowledge through culture, of which food is a major driver.

“It is essential we learn about food security and where our food is sourced from, and that we understand that the planet cannot sustain animal agriculture with the current level of crop farming which feeds the billions of animals raised for consumption. Moving away from animal consumption is one of the key factors that can make significant positive changes in the world,” said Daver.