Public understanding and support are critical as countries respond to the inter-related atmospheric environmental problems of ozone depletion and global warming. Sustained coverage of these issues in the media can promote such understanding and ensure greater political commitments by both developed and developing countries.
Senior journalists and broadcasters from across Asia highlighted this need during the Ozone Media Roundtable held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on 8 and 9 October 2009.
They also reiterated the need for greater sharing of information and expertise between technical specialists and media specialists.
For media professionals to effectively engage in information, education and communication (IEC) on ozone and climate issues, they first need to understand the complex and nuanced phenomena involved. This requires having easy and regular access to experts, studies and meetings.
The Ozone Media Roundtable was convened by TVE Asia Pacific in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It brought together 15 journalists, broadcasters and communications professionals from 11 countries in East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia, all of who have been covering ozone and/or climate related issues in print, broadcast or online media. They were joined by 10 technical specialists and UN officials working on ozone/climate related issues.
Early on, participants recalled how media reportage – especially on television – had galvanised governments to hastily adopt the Vienna Convention in 1985 and its Montreal Protocol two years later.
From Montreal to Copenhagen…
Participants at the Ozone Media Roundtable
agreed that the past 22 years of implementing the Montreal Protocol hold many lessons that are relevant to the current negotiations for a new multilateral environmental arrangement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It was felt that distilling and disseminating these lessons would be particularly helpful for the inter-governmental processes leading to the 15th conference of parties (COP15) of UNFCCC, in Copenhagen in December 2009.
The meeting acknowledged that there is a perception in some people that ozone depletion was an environmental problem already 'solved'. While the Montreal Protocol has certainly been successful in regulating close to 100 chemicals that damage the ozone layer, the recovery process will take several decades more. During this time, it is vital to sustain compliance with the Protocol's provisions, for which public pressure and media vigilance are critical.
Going beyond basic awareness and understanding, participants agreed that the current climate crisis calls for a change of public attitudes and behaviour. Such changes are harder to accomplish, and require sustained IEC efforts over time.
"Facts, figures and rational analysis are necessary, but insufficient, in this process. A healthy mix of knowledge, analysis and emotional appeal stand a better chance of moving people to change attitudes and, ultimately, their lifestyles," said Nalaka Gunawardene, Director of TVE Asia Pacific who has been associated with both ozone and climate communications for over a decade.
He added: "In this process, media based communications would need to be complemented by formal and non-formal education, activist campaigns and policy reforms."
Ozone Media Roundtable participants called upon bilateral development donors and multilateral agencies to invest more resources in capacity building of both media professionals and technical experts. They identified the need for short-term training as well as longer term media fellowships and networking opportunities.
One way to overcome resource constraints that affect many media organisations is to share stories, still images, moving images and other content across borders. As broadband Internet rolls out across Asia, it allows journalists and educators to use Web 2.0 technologies for low cost and faster sharing of material in digital formats.
Participants urged UNEP to continue its engagement with media and communications professionals working in the Asia Pacific region on ozone and climate issues. While UNEP's own IEC activities can benefit from informal consultations and partnerships, journalists and broadcasters can also be a key multiplier of information and analysis generated by UNEP and other specialized agencies.
The Ozone Media Roundtable was held parallel to the regional meeting of the network of government officials working for National Ozone Units in South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Photographs by Wipula Dahanayake (TVEAP) and Khalid Hussain