The 21st century has been a “Multiplex of international crisis”. In the midst of wars and conflicts, climate catastrophe has acquired the centre stage. Its indiscriminate and trans-border nature has prompted global action. But the question is ‘do all states suffer the same?’ No! Pakistan, a developing third world state, has seen itself as one of the most vulnerable countries even with its meager contribution to this crisis. Thus, the question remains what is the effective adaptation and mitigation strategy? Media, the fourth estate, the tool of manufacturing consent, is the best way to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Mainstream media in Pakistan should prioritize, on its agenda, climate journalism to inform all stakeholders of the primacy of this crisis to effectively lessen its adverse impacts.
Climate literacy is recognized to be crucial in reduction of emissions and adaption to climate change. By informing the masses of the anthropogenic nature of climate change, human and institutional capacity to address environmental degradation can be enhanced. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a US federal agency, has defined climate literacy as ‘The understanding of your influence on climate as well as the influence of climate on you and the society. A climate-literate person understands the fundamental principles of the Earth’s climate system, knows how to evaluate scientifically credible climate information, communicates about climate change effectively, and can make informed and responsible decisions about actions that may affect the climate’. United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 13, target 13.3 has also emphasized the significance of widespread knowledge on climate change. It states that countries should “Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning”.
Inadequate awareness regarding climate change in Pakistan is an impediment in addressing climate crisis. In a Daily Times op-ed authored by Ahsan Hamid Durrani titled ‘Tackling Climate Illiteracy in Pakistan’ identified that the pervasiveness of climate illiteracy in Pakistan stems from lack of resources to educate on climate change and lack of access to education that deprives huge portions of our populace of climate education.
The news media, particularly in developing nations, can help increase people’s understanding, as well as their ability to make informed decisions and participate in civic activities, by providing access to information and knowledge. It has been found that public perception and their willingness to take action is greatly influenced by media coverage of climate change. But Pakistani journalist’s face challenges in climate journalism. Professional and economic determinants lead to a lack of media and journalists’ interest in climate coverage. Climate news lacks drama, sensationalism, and political consequences, thus failing to meet the news selection criteria and being ignored. Similarly, climate news requires dedicated and trained reporters and a large amount of resources. Since political news is relatively easy to obtain and attracts larger audiences it is thus prioritized.
Maxwell McCombs and Donald L. Shaw said: ‘Media does not tell us what to think, but it does tell us what to think about’.
According to Agenda-setting theory, media production houses have a certain agenda based on which they give priority to some news items over others. Mainstream media in Pakistan give salience to issues of politics and economics which builds public opinion regarding such issues. Lack of sensationalism in climate news results in it being framed in episodic or thematic manner and rarely making it to the front-page. This kind of coverage does not contribute to improving knowledge and understanding on Climate Crisis.
According to a 2021 survey conducted by the Ministry of Climate Change, Viamo, and UNDP, 43% of young people (aged 19-34) with digital access had a high level of understanding of climate change. Among those without smartphones, this figure fell to 10%. This shows how access to information and electronic media can improve public literacy on climate change. If media coverage is further increased compared to current statistics, it is without a doubt that the general public, policy-making institutions and the government will be better informed regarding climate crisis and will take effective measures to mitigate and adapt to this looming catastrophe.
Individual participation in initiatives will increase when understanding on climate change and its response is widespread. Most people are not aware of government initiatives due to lack of proper awareness campaigns by media, causing citizens to not take successful actions to stabilize the ecosystem. A transition to green economy also relies greatly on public understanding of its significance. The masses will prioritize such shifts when awareness regarding its necessity exists. Dedicated shows and campaigns should be launched to ensure climate literacy
Recognizing media’s effect on public perception, climate coverage should be prioritized on the agenda of Pakistani mainstream media. When climate news is prioritized, its frequency across channels will increase. Either in form of print media, electronic media or radio transmissions, climate change knowledge should be disseminated with increased intensity. The form of climate news should not be anymore episodic rather it should be consistent and focused. Media should mainstream climate change information to economically and socially vulnerable areas as well. Doing so, it can be ensured that the masses are included in the climate discourse. By informing them we can ensure countrywide support for environmentally sound policies and initiatives and increased public participation in adaptation and mitigation measures at community, local and national levels.
Prioritizing climate news on media’s agenda is an efficient approach for improving climate literacy in Pakistan. Currently, large number of our population, mostly the uneducated or living in rural areas, are unaware of climate change and its implications for Pakistan. Through regular reporting on the very real and visceral affects climate change has brought on the global environmental dynamics, the skeptics of our society could also be led to further grasp that this phenomenon is a reality and has to be dealt with. If mainstream media in Pakistan sets climate change coverage on its agenda, public attention can be focused onto it and we can ensure improvement of our ecosystem, and achieving social, ecological and economic sustainability.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.