Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) is embarking on a four-month-long study to examine the media and journalistic landscape in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, particularly as it pertains to climate misinformation.
Climate mis/disinformation—deceptive or misleading content that undermines the existence, drivers and impacts of climate change as well as the need for urgent climate action—has very real consequences.
By promoting false solutions and delaying efforts that support mitigation and adaptation goals, the spread of inaccurate and untrustworthy information can steer even well-intentioned communities into harmful environmental practices.
In Africa, for example, home to some of the world's most important ecosystems and biodiversity, climate misinformation has spurred practices that increase fossil fuel use, further exacerbate deforestation and result in inadequate preparation for extreme weather events, public health crises and increased water stress.
This flood of conflicting information about climate change confuses and exhausts communities, which undermines public trust in science as a whole and makes it difficult for scientists to communicate important information to the public. Confusion at the community level bleeds up to decision-makers, delaying climate action and leading to misguided policies. Without knowing whom to trust, communities are less inclined to support policies that address climate change, such as those reducing greenhouse gas emissions and banning harmful practices.
On the flip side, addressing misinformation and promoting accurate information about the climate is crucial for people to make informed decisions about their everyday lives—what food to eat, what fuel to use, how to make a sustainable living—and to demand climate action from policymakers.
Journalists have the potential to correct the record, but without adequate training it is difficult to understand and communicate the complex and ever-evolving climate crisis. Furthermore, news organizations often lack the resources, knowledge or capacity to report high-quality, climate-related information, or to fact-check stories that may contain falsehoods.
To that end, through this project, EJN will aim to find out:
what journalists understand about the term “climate misinformation” and how they are reporting on it;
how they frame climate change in their reporting, as real and driven by human activity or otherwise;
if journalists have come across parties who are spreading inaccurate information about climate change;
and the pervasive narratives related to the causes of extreme weather, drought floods and changes in diseases patterns.
The research will be conducted through a quantitative and qualitative survey and focus group discussions. The final research report will contain initial recommendations for ways and means to fight climate misinformation. EJN will also host a training webinar for journalists in East Africa that serves as an introduction to climate misinformation.
The project is supported by the European Climate Foundation.
Banner image: Charcoal for sale, some in food aid bags, during the 2011 drought in Kenya. The production of charcoal has been a key driver of deforestation in the country / Credit: Flore de Preneuf for the World Bank via Flickr.