Money, measures and meetings — the troika that dominates discussions around Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), an emerging mechanism designed to conserve tropical forests in a climate-conscious world.
There’s the cost, currently estimated to be $US 30 billion/year. There’s the satellite imagery and statistical sampling that will chart progress. And there are the long, intense negotiations that hope to overcome the challenges of reaching an agreement and maintaining commitments.
Those three factors swirl around REDD+, one of many items up for discussion at the latest UN climate conference now underway in Cancun. They will be discussed in meeting rooms and hallways and they’ll make their way into headlines over the next couple of weeks. Good stuff all around, right? Sure, but if we want real action on a global scale we are going to have to go a bit deeper than just reporting on the words and commitments of delegates and senior level decision-makers. We also have to engage citizens and help them to understand the impacts of deforestation, why it’s taking place and how our actions can have a positive impact, for nature and for ourselves.
Last month in Bangkok, I sat in a small meeting room with 12 environmental journalists from eight countries in Asia-Pacific. Some of the journalists would be traveling to Cancun; others would be glued to their computer monitors covering the negotiations from their offices in Beijing, Hanoi or Manila. Few of them knew much about REDD+, although they knew that it was important.
They know their audiences, how to structure a story, what sort of technical terms to use and what sort of protagonist to feature. But they lack detailed knowledge of the issues, the ways in which different strategies interact and the evidence and nuances to construct a compelling case. Furthermore, they are challenged to make stories resonate with editors who reserve the right to cut an expensive and well-researched feature down to a 200-word sidebar.
This was eye opening for me. Here in Asia-Pacific, a high-stakes region with the greatest ability to have a sustained impact on efforts to reduce global carbon emissions, journalists are struggling to make the issue appealing to their readers, listeners and viewers.
The negotiations in Cancun will provide good copy for journalists. They can play it safe by writing about the money, the measures and the meetings — who said what to whom. It’s good drama: you’ve got villains and victims, powerful countries and fragile ecosystems, the moral imperative and scandalous profit-making.
But the negotiations are not the only — or even most interesting — story around. Tropical forests affect everyone: from the Penan people in Borneo who get their medicine from the leaves of a tree, to the Kreung people in Cambodia who’ve lost their traditional lands, to the profit margins of a timber company to the American family eating a meal at a teak table from a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified forest in Indonesia.
The media has a role to play in reminding us of this narrative telling accurate, balanced stories that matter for our planet in a way that draws readers in and helps them envision a way out. Programs like the USAID/TNC-led Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) partnership can be valuable resources to journalists in playing this role. In the end, that’s how societal change happens: people connect with issues and demand action to be taken in their names.
(Image: Reporters join a TNC-led field visit to see Reduced Impact Logging using the monocable winch system at Belayan River Timber Concession far from their Jakarta offices, in Berau District on the island of Borneo. Image Credit: Nurni, The Jakarta Post)