Zero Emissions Day, observed on September 21, is a global event to raise awareness about the need to phase out fossil fuel usage and achieve net zero emissions. Despite international agreements like the Paris Agreement, fossil fuel usage continues to rise, and the climate crisis worsens. Journalists face challenges in telling this story to local audiences.
Today, Thursday 21 September, is Zero Emissions Day. The purpose of this global event is to raise awareness around international agreements to phase out fossil fuel usage, as laid out in the Paris Agreement in 2015, and highlight just how far behind we are when it comes to the goal of “net zero”.
Instead of falling, however, the use of fossil fuels around the world continues to rise, and the concentration of gases which contribute to the climate crisis goes up. The issue dominates political agendas, and has seen important events such as the recent Africa Climate Summit and this week’s special session at the United Nations plenary.
Yet for local journalists, telling the story of why all countries and people need to be aware of the challenges and solutions around the climate crisis is tough. A report from the Reuters Oxford Institute for Journalism suggests that many readers still struggle to engage with climate stories in the media or find them confusing or irrelevant, as the effects seem distant in time and space to their daily lives. Most research and writing about climate in Africa is undertaken by people who do not live on the continent. For many readers, more pressing concerns take precedence over climate concerns. When access to food, education and healthcare is precarious, worrying about carbon emissions is a low priority.
Yet, as many initiatives across the continent have shown, local media and action can be very much part of the solution to the climate crisis. Take South Africa’s citizens who have installed 4GW of solar panels in the last year, or Uganda’s roadmap to renewables. Change is happening locally.
To support local media, OpenUp is working with Africa Data Hub to make access to historical data related to the climate crisis easy to access for local reporters. The African Climate Observer remains the only free, public tool which can quickly tell you what the temperature and rainfall was for any month in the last 30 years, for any location on the continent. It takes large, complex, global datasets and makes them accessible for local reporters.
But OpenUp's work hasn’t stopped there. When we started wrangling this data we noticed a challenge when visualising temperature change. For every location we could find, it has been meaningfully hotter in the last 30 years than it was the 30 years between 1950-1980. The visualisation loses its impact - how do you illustrate a changing climate when the climate has already changed? We are the frog in the water, not noticing that it’s already boiling - to paraphrase United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres.
To address this, we’re working on a major new piece which shows how data can be used to tell the story of the climate crisis in Africa, and look at related issues such as the connection between debt relief and lack of money to address climate-related challenges.
The latter is going to be a big issue for November's climate summit, COP28, and could be the most significant way to release funding for renewable energy and climate mitigation in Africa. Find out more about what activists like the Climate Action Network are up to here.
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