How to center resilience and adaptation in climate change coverage

Jan 4, 2024 in Environmental Reporting
climate crisis

In November, the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference – commonly known as COP28 – was held in Dubai.

During the conference, ICFJ Community Manager Paul Adepoju spoke with David Kerkhofs, climate adaptation coordinator at Humana People to People, about how journalists can best cover the climate crisis and show readers how communities are affected by it.

“We have to realize that the climate is changing,” Kerkhofs said. “We’re not going to be returning to normal anytime soon, so we’re going to have to prepare for the future.”

Here’s more advice from Kerkhofs on how journalists can center resilience and adaptation in their coverage of the climate crisis: 

Centering vulnerable communities

On the opening day of COP28, countries agreed to operationalize a new loss and damage fund to provide financial support for destruction due to climate change. Countries have pledged over $700 million to the fund. 

“That is progress,” Kerkhofs said. “Even if it’s not enough, and it’s not going fast enough, and there should be more money in it [...] it has been established. That’s a step forward.”

Looking at how countries have responded to the threat of climate change on the whole, however, Kerkhofs remains concerned about the lack of support for the world’s most vulnerable communities. This is an area where journalists can help, by guiding discussions around the impacts of climate change.

Journalists should look at the ways that people are preparing for potential climate events, Kerkhofs said, and highlight how communities are updating their existing systems to respond.The climate crisis’ consequences differ depending on location, so these responses need to be uniquely tailored to individual communities’ needs. 

Kerkhofs encouraged journalists to adapt their coverage to focus on the current consequences of climate change in their areas, instead of just covering potential future effects, for instance of fossil fuel usage.

“People are dying today because of [climate change]; this is not something that is going to happen one day, in the future,” Kerkhofs said. “We see it all around us: cyclones, floods, heat waves, droughts, you name it [...] and I don’t think that’s very well represented in the media.”

Climate resilience, or the ability of groups or communities to withstand climate shocks, is another important measure for journalists to examine, said Kerkhofs, adding that his motivation for highlighting the effects of vulnerable communities comes from his experiences witnessing the harmful effects of climate-related events in Africa and the Caribbean.

Although it may feel like political leaders aren’t working hard enough on these issues, Kerkhofs continued, there are activists and civil society organizations that have dedicated their careers to working towards solutions, adaptations and climate resilience. They have seen some results from this work, such as the creation of the new loss and damage fund and the promising – if still too limited – commitment to phase out fossil fuels

Covering COP conferences

Having reported on past COP conferences, Adepoju offered additional suggestions for journalists covering them:

  • Don’t just chase headlines and major announcements. Instead, find opportunities to discuss specific issues with leaders. Topics such as how countries are building resilience to natural disasters, and how they are adapting to current climate crises are both great starting points to discuss with stakeholders.
  • Social media can be a good place to find inspiration. Search relevant hashtags to learn what people are talking about.
  • Find leaders whose communities have been directly affected by climate change and learn how they are responding. Amplify these voices and the solutions they are proposing.
  • Keep track of conference proceedings on the official website. Here, you can see the agenda, session documents, and any measures that have been adopted, as well as contacts to reach out to. Journalists can also use the site to search by topic and learn about specific issues to research.
  • Localize your climate activism coverage. What are key issues in your community? What are your country’s priorities coming out of the conference?

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash.