Climate change is one of the hottest topics world leaders are discussing today. It all started as a global warming issue with scientific reports disclosing a rise in average surface temperatures on earth which was manifested when the ice in the arctic and glaciers started melting worldwide.
While climate scientists and climate policy makers understand what they mean when they say “climate change,” which is long-term trends in climatic conditions, such as the increase in global average temperatures over many decades, with influence from human activity, many journalists find climate language confusing.
Journalists selected from across eastern Uganda got a chance last week at a workshop in Mbale to interact with their senior counterparts in science reporting. Effective climate reporting for journalists was the key focus of the workshop, held under the Understanding Climate Change through Journalism (UCCJ) project implemented by the Uganda Science Journalists Association (USJA).
The workshop, attended by 10 journalists from Mbale, Iganga, Kotido, Kapchorwa, Jinja, Katakwi and Soroti districts was facilitated by seasoned journalist Michael Wakabi, Adjunct Professor of Communication (Kyambogo University) Wilson Okaka, and USJA’s President & CEO William Odinga Balikuddembe.
Odinga said many journalists were finding it hard to define what is weather, climate, climate variability or climate change.
“When extreme conditions such as floods and prolonged droughts hit communities journalists quickly report that as climate change and yet this can be caused by the natural variations in the Earth’s climate and temperatures,” Odinga said.
In his explanation, while referring to resources from the Earth Journalism Network (EJN), Odinga described weather as current atmospheric conditions, such as rainfall and temperature which occur at a particular place and time. He said that weather is what we experience from day to day while climate is the average pattern of weather for a particular place over several years.
He said that Climate Change is observed through records of several decades and it is the reason why journalists should be careful not to report as Climate Change periodic changes in rainfall due to events such as El-Niño and La Nina. Odinga urged the journalists to talk to climate experts before they can broadcast or publish a climate related story.
One way to understand the difference between weather, climate variability and climate change as noted by Odinga is to think about them in terms of time scales.
He said weather is observed in hours or days; climate is observed over years; and climate change is observed over decades and centuries.
Odinga said there was need to build capacity of journalists in rural areas to enable them interpret science as well as enjoy it. This, according to Odinga, would lead to effective science communication for the benefit of the communities where the journalists live and work.
Given that Uganda is pre-dominantly an agricultural economy and over 80 percent of the country’s population is dependent on farming as a source of employment and livelihood, Odinga believes that increased awareness about climatic changes will enable farmers find ways to successfully adapt to changing climatic patterns.
At the end of the workshop, the journalists were awarded certificates of completion and they also founded a network, the Eastern Uganda Science Journalists Network (EUSJOURN), which would enable them to connect with each other easily and help them share resources. It is also through this network that USJA’s activities in eastern Uganda shall be coordinated.
The EUSJOURN executive committee includes Daily Monitor’s Joyce Chemitai (Chairperson), Kiira FM’s Andrew Bazibu Gulumaire (Secretary) and Vision Group’s Elizabeth Akiror (Treasurer).
Report by Diana Bauza