The 2007 Nobel Award to former US Vice President Al Gore and the 3,000 scientists of the UN Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) recognizes the need for advocacy and established fact as crucial for getting the world to take impact of global warming and other forms of climate change seriously. Edward Girardet underlines the critical importance of also ensuring that the public-at-large be properly informed.

Geneva — “What am I supposed to tell the 84,000 people living in my country? That we have no hope? That we’ll have to leave our islands?” lamented Antoine Joseph Onezime, television news editor from the Indian Ocean nation of the Seychelles. “We’re not responsible for global warming, so why should we pay for it?”

None of the international specialists at a recent journalists’ workshop exploring the global impact of climate change dared respond candidly. One of them, an American academic, later confided: “I didn’t want to tell him directly, but basically, his country’s screwed.”

However, as Geneva-based international lawyer Charles Adams noted, there are other possibilities. “You could consider class action with other island states against those responsible. There are precedents,” he suggested. This would also draw worldwide attention to their predicament.

For Onezime, the message was hardly encouraging. As with other low-lying island or coastal areas such as the Maldives or the Gulf of Mexico, the prospects for the Seychelles to survive increasing storms and ocean surges aggravated by global warming looked glum.

Even more perturbing was the talk of where the planet’s environmental refugees will go if conditions become unsustainable. An estimated three billion people – almost half the world’s population – live in coastal regions. What happened in New Orleans, could easily happen elsewhere – and on a more regular basis.

“Vulnerability is increasing,” Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization told the visiting editors, reporters and producers from over 30 countries, including China, India, United States, Canada, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Montenegro and Ukraine. More people are living in cities, many of them close to the ocean, he explained. “Disasters happen when hazards overtake people in vulnerable places.”

For some, it may be too late. Up to several hundred million people worldwide could be forced to flee their homes over the next two or three decades. A mere 2 degree Celsius increase is widely regarded as the tipping point for global catastrophe. According to Olav Hohmeyer of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), the facts clearly show that mankind’s own detrimental involvement is ‘highly probable’ and that the international community must act decisively.

Dealing with changing weather patterns, however, is also one of putting the message across in a precise and critical manner.

Whether fast emerging economies such as India or China, or lesser developed nations such as Kenya or Afghanistan, but also the United States and other mass producers of greenhouse gases, communities need to make informed decisions about what to do, including whether to continue polluting.

“It has taken a decade or more for climate change to make it to the front pages of the global media,” commented Mexico-based Mariusa Reyes of the BBC’s Latin American service. “It may take much longer for the concept of risk reduction of natural hazards to be digested, first by news editors and then by whole communities.”

Yet in order to achieve greater and swifter awareness, and to save crippling expenditures in the years ahead, the message has to be compelling enough to engage people at all levels and all parts of the world.

Some 32 editors, journalists and producers from countries such as India, China, United States, Britain, Madagascar, Ukraine and Chad recently came to Geneva to better understand the global impact of climate change and what can be done back in their homelands to alleviate the problem. They represented media groups ranging from Conde Nast’s Gourmet Magazine to the Kenya Nation.

Organized by the Geneva-based Media21 Global Journalism Network initiative and the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, the journalists first attended a weeklong series of informal and highly interactive Davos-style panel sessions with over 40 experts discussing different aspects of climate change. This included exploring the impact on local economies, island states, the environment, tourism, health – such as HIV/AIDS – war, farming, and migration.

Among the panelists were humanitarian, development, environment, economic and business representatives from international bodies such as WWF, World Health Organization, Columbia University’s International Research Institute on Climate Change, the Reuters’ Foundation AlertNet, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Meteorological Organization, WorldVision, CARE-International, Unicef, UN Development Programme, Royal Dutch Shell, Suez, Geneva University and Lausanne’s Mountain Research Initiative.

Accompanied by mountain and environmental experts, the journalists then headed up to Switzerland’s Riederalp and the Aletsch Glacier region for a weekend field trip to examine the impact only on mountain communities.

 

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