climate change

[OPINION] Demystifying net-zero and climate reporting in the Philippines

John Leo C. Algo

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[OPINION] Demystifying net-zero and climate reporting in the Philippines
'People are never going to take action unless they care. People are never going to care unless they understand.'

What are the biggest challenges to addressing the climate crisis?

Most people would probably give answers like the following: lack of accessible finance, lack of political will, tensions between countries, among many others. They are undoubtedly important factors to consider, yet there is one issue that is just as critical but not as emphasized: communicating it to the public.

The role of the media is vital for effectively informing millions of Filipinos about this the climate crisis and empower them to take action. As Lloyd Cameron, economic and climate counsellor of the British Embassy Manila, eloquently summed up as to why this is the case, “People are never going to take action unless they care. People are never going to care unless they understand.”

Yet effective climate communication is a puzzle that is still being solved to this day. Media practitioners do not only face the crucial task of how to report it to their audiences, but also the problem of being well-versed in the language used to discuss this issue.

Learning the language

On April 16, the Philippines’s first-ever “Net-Zero 101 Media Training” was held by the Net Zero Carbon Alliance, Eco-Business, and British Embassy Manila. It gathered more than 40 media and corporate communications personnel to improve their understanding of net-zero and how to report this topic to broader audiences.

One of the biggest issues that emerged during this event is the difficulties in understanding the terms being used in climate discourse. For example, the term “net-zero” is often used interchangeably with “carbon neutrality” in communications. While they pertain to similar outcomes (i.e., emissions cancelled out by removal), they differ in scope of emissions and how a country or business approaches its reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet “the learning never stops”, said Ping Manongdo, Country Director Philippines for Eco-Business. She emphasized that resources are available to build knowledge and capacities on comprehending the climate crisis, such as the global assessments by the IPCC and local scientific studies.

Must Watch

The Green Report: Why we should care about where evacuation centers are built

The Green Report: Why we should care about where evacuation centers are built

Manongdo added that it is the mandate of journalists “to deepen their knowledge on net-zero and climate change, to report accurately, and to report the story behind the story”.

Uncovering this may be done with knowing what constitutes a “science-based” approach. For instance, the media needs to be equipped with the proper knowledge on whether a business plan is truly aligned with the targets under the Paris Agreement, especially limiting global warming to 1.5°C. 

Understanding both how to assess a “science-based” approach and the intersectionality between business and climate issues is vital for properly reporting on said issues. This would enable practitioners to ask the right questions, find the right angles, and write engaging stories that go beyond just numbers and technical terms.

“When that happens, it’s our job as media to probe and dig further. Maybe they don’t have science-based targets, but what if they have a transition plan? It is still worth a story,” said Hannah Fernandez, chief correspondent in Manila of Eco-Business.

Changing the culture

Discourse during the media training shows that there are plenty of stories that can be covered related to the climate crisis. Ranging from the sustainability and low-carbon transition plans of the business sector to the struggles of communities in dealing with local impacts, there are many ways for the media to highlight how the different sectors and regions in the Philippines are affected by said issue.

Yet the current set-up of the media landscape in the country is lacking in highlighting the climate crisis. While stories on this issue are often placed under the “environment” beat, reporters have also attempted to make their pitches by highlighting the elements of their articles that correspond to beats that are traditionally more appealing to readers, such as business and politics.

The establishment of “climate desks” or units within media rooms focusing on climate issues is slowly gaining traction globally. For instance, The Guardian, Reuters, and The Independent have their own climate desks, while hundreds of other media outlets are forming several collaborations designed to produce more engaging climate coverage for different audiences.

However, establishing climate desks in the Philippines would not be as easy. Biena Magbitang, Southeast Asia Director of Climate Tracker, noted the factors in establishing these include insufficient budgets and the lack of reporters to comprise such units.

Despite these challenges, she emphasized that journalists can still make climate issues more relevant. Citing her experiences in covering the global climate negotiations with other reporters, Magbitang mentioned that Filipino media can still turn the outcomes of a conference happening abroad into locally-relevant stories.

“Whenever we bring journalists to COPs, you have to start your coverage not where the COP is, but from home,” she added.

It is also up to the Philippine media to access available grants to improve their coverage of climate stories, according to Megan Rowling, Editor of Climate Home News. She referred to major news agencies in the Global North that are tapping into philanthropic funding to cover specific issues while taking steps to assure their independence from financiers.

“Most news rooms I know of have quite strict criteria on accepting this money, so the organization providing money is not allowed to interfere in editorial decisions,” she said.

While having climate desks would help improving coverage of a crisis that grows in urgency and public awareness by the day, both Magbitang and Rowling pointed to a higher priority being the need for local media to be capacitated to effectively communicate climate stories to everyone.

“One doesn’t have to be a specialized climate change reporter. Whatever beat it is you’re doing, climate change is everything now,” Rowling said.

“We need every reporter to be a climate reporter,” Magbitang added. –

John Leo is the National Coordinator of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas and the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines. He has been representing Philippine civil society in UN climate and environmental conferences since 2016. He has been a climate and environment journalist since 2016. 

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!