Poland Climate Change Conference

Journalists from Brazil to Bangladesh hope to show what it means to the developing world

When government negotiators meet in Poland next week for a major United Nations conference on climate change, Brazilian journalist Gustavo Figueiredo Faleiros won’t be emphasizing the big question on most reporters’ minds: where do the United States and European Union stand on committing to greenhouse-gas emission limits at next year’s global climate change conference in Copenhagen?

Instead, Faleiros will examine deforestation and other climate-change threats confronting smaller, developing countries—threats that seldom garner the media attention they deserve. When it comes to the climate coverage of major news media outlets like Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse, he wrote in an e-mail, “their points of view were pretty much those which interest the big developed countries.”

In an effort to correct that bias, Faleiros will be among forty journalists from thirty-three developing countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America who have received fellowships to attend the meeting in Poland. They will report back to their local readers and audiences on how the United Nations-sponsored negotiations might affect them. Their sponsor is the Climate Change Media Partnership, an international group created in 2007 to help close “the climate media divide” by bringing journalists from developing nations to U.N. conferences that they could not otherwise afford to cover.

“We want to encourage locally relevant coverage in countries that might otherwise have little or no media representation,” Mike Shanahan, press officer for the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, said in an interview. The institute, a policy research group, is one of the Climate Change Media Partnership’s three organizers. “These countries want to make sure that their issues of adaptation don’t get swamped by all of the talk about emission targets.”

“Journalists from developing countries are still very much under-represented at these crucial global forums,” James Fahn, executive director of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, said in a statement. Internews and Panos, two non-profits geared at media, communication, and development, are the other organizations that initiated the Climate Change Media Partnership. Their inaugural act was to bring thirty-seven journalists from developing countries to the U.N. climate change conference in Bali in late 2007.

Next week’s meeting, which begins December 1, is the midway point in a two-year roadmap approved in Bali to negotiate stronger greenhouse gas reductions, reduce deforestation emissions, expand adaptation efforts, and somehow figure out how to pay for it. The U.N. hopes to develop a new climate change agreement to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol at a culminating summit in Copenhagen in December 2009.

In Poland, the Climate Change Media Partnership plans to expand the support program it developed in Bali, helping the journalists under its wing to cover the meeting amidst the zoo-like atmosphere of an expected 8,000 participants. It will host a daylong media clinic and daily breakfast briefings, and will help find experts and negotiators for reporters to interview. Shanahan said that the impact of this assistance in Bali was considerable, resulting in about 720 stories during the summit as well as ongoing coverage over the past year. (YouTube has clips of the Bali fellows.) One journalist from the Philippines went home and raised money to run her own climate-change media training for other Asian journalists, he said.

Financial support for the Climate Change Media Partnership’s work in Poland comes from the British government, the World Bank, and several international foundations, including the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, Germeshausen Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The success in Bali led to fierce competition for the fellowships: about 1,100 information requests and nearly 400 applicants for forty slots. Twelve radio and television and twenty-eight print/online reporters were chosen. Some come from vulnerable countries, like Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Zambia, which face major adaptation challenges. The irony, of course, is that most of these less-developed countries did little to contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions that now threaten their land and people. Other fellows come from developing countries with emerging markets, such as China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil, which are part of the climate problem and will be pressed to become part of the solution in the new treaty negotiations.

Four of the Poznan journalism fellows, including Faleiros, are alums of the Bali program and will help mentor the new group while also doing their own reporting. The thirty-year-old Faleiros writes for O Eco online, a Brazilian environmental news agency, covering issues such as tropical forest conservation and biofuel production.

It was during the Bali fellowship that “the whole issue of deforestation emissions as a global problem became much clearer to me,” Faleiros, who recently moved to England, wrote in an e-mail. Experts estimate that deforestation in tropical countries such as Brazil contributes to as much as one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. Faleiros reported and blogged from Bali (in Portuguese and English) and in Poznan expects to “cover the whole negotiations, write the hard news everyday. But what I really want is to come out with good material about forest governance. I will take the opportunity to interview as much people as I can.”

Poznan will launch a tough year of international climate negotiations amongst countries big and small as the U.N. struggles to meet its daunting deadline. Shanahan said that the Climate Change Media Partnership hopes to continue its support, networking current fellows and sending another contingent to the 2009 Copenhagen climate change summit. He is also organizing a panel on climate change coverage in developing countries for the World Conference of Science Journalists in London next July.

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Cristine Russell is a CJR contributing editor and the immediate past-president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and a senior fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She is a former Shorenstein Center fellow and Washington Post reporter.