Climate change and the challenge to government and media

By Andie Canivel

The media must find ways of engaging the public, and promote awareness about how

people can do their part. Climate change is the collective result of damage from

unchecked human activities that diminished nature’s capacity for

renewal and recovery. 

MAN AND Mother Nature serve as an enduring theme in literature. The news in 2023 focused on Man versus the Environment, spotlighting the multiple crises of climate change as the foremost manifestation of this conflicted relationship. 

Media have subjected to scrutiny the governments’ response or failure to respond to the crucial issues arising from climate change. The magnitude of the problem has made these issues paramount in the news agenda. It is the government that has the capacity to mitigate the harm and ill effects of climate-related disasters which spare no one. Without a coherent policy and comprehensive programs, all efforts will result in puny short-term measures to address what is a long-term challenge to the country

Climate and Disasters

 In 2022, the country topped the list of most disaster-prone countries in the world according to the annual World Risk Index. As of this writing, state weather bureau Pagasa’s records showed ten storms entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility in 2023. While the number has declined from the historical average of twenty typhoons per year, the typhoons have intensified in force, coming in quick succession and with unprecedented regularity, leaving vulnerable communities without time and resources to respond and recover.

Storms aside, news also picked up on the wide-spread and persistent flooding that has afflicted communities in low-lying areas.   

Media noted Marcos’s absence during the onslaught of Super Typhoon Egay in July 2022, which caused billions in damage to infrastructure and agriculture in Central and Northern Luzon. In September, Super Typhoon Goring, Typhoon Hanna, and the southwest monsoon left parts of Northern Luzon and Western Visayas as well as Metro Manila submerged in floodwaters. CMFR pointed out that the media reports did not mention the president’s lack of attention to the disasters.

2023 also marked one decade since the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda (internationally Haiyan.) Media marked the event by going to affected communities to check on the state of recovery ten years later. Special reports recalled the hardships and dire circumstances endured by some reporters on the ground during the disaster. The struggle of some communities to rebuild in the aftermath also featured prominently in coverage. (See: “Yolanda ten years later: Media goes back to communities, zoom in on perennial problems”)

On the other end of the weather spectrum, temperatures rose causing extreme heat. In July, Pagasa had declared the onset of a “weak” El Niño that would last several months. Casiguran, Aurora province in Central Luzon set the record for the highest-ever heat index recorded in the country at 60°C on August 14. This is notable not just as an historic high, but also because of its occurrence outside of the summer season, the hot months of March to May. While the El Niño phenomenon figured in media’s reports, news accounts did not adequately explain the cause of extreme heat as most media also failed to explain why with the El Niño July brought the cool weather and constant rain. (See: “Media and climate change: Spikes in temperature went unexplained, unexplored)

GMA Integrated News earned hearty Cheers for two reports that explained the potential impact of the looming El Niño in Mindanao and on weather patterns in general. GMA reporter and weather presenter Katrina Son cleared up public confusion as to how sudden rains could be so common when Pagasa announced that the country was experiencing an El Niño. Son explained that the dry conditions that characterize El Niño cause higher temperatures and humidity — which trigger rain.  

The prevailing El Niño is predicted to peak in the early months of 2024. Pagasa warned that the country may experience the hottest year on record in 2024.  

Another disaster, this time, man-made, marked the month of March. An oil spill in the waters of Mindoro province fixed the media spotlight on the issues the mishap raised, taking in different perspectives and highlighting the need for a quick and science-based response to contain the oil spill.  

and Energy

 Some media called attention to the dominant role of development, in particular the most controversial reclamation projects in Manila Bay. Local communities and environmental advocates called on government to put a stop to the projects citing the negative impact of the projects on marine ecosystems and floodwater management. The Philippine Daily Inquirer focused on the threats to the livelihood of fisherfolk while Rappler discussed the potential conflict of interest involving a political ally of Marcos. 

Once again, the chief executive’s response lacked focus. President Marcos eventually ordered a temporary suspension of all Manila Bay reclamation projects to make way for a government evaluation of their environmental impact. However, CMFR noted the inconsistent application of policy and other contradictory decisions as Marcos later allowed two reclamation projects in Pasay to resume even before the completion of the impact assessment. (See: “Climate talk: Marcos’s contradictory policies on reclamation, energy, mining

News went regional to follow another extractive industry, mining, at odds with local communities’ quest to preserve their land and resources. (See: Media on Environment: Clash between defenders of environment and drivers of development trigger spike in coverage”) Some locals in Sibuyan Island in Romblon province were hurt in the dispersal of their human barricade set up to block the path of mining trucks. Not long after, coverage showed residents of Brooke’s Point in Palawan also blocking the path of nickel mining trucks in their community after being “inspired by the fight” of those in Sibuyan Island.

The development of the hydropower energy industry has similarly been reported as a concern of Indigenous communities working to protect their ancestral lands. CMFR cheered Northern Dispatch for mapping out the hydropower projects in the Cordillera region and bringing out a historical perspective of the issue by interviewing village elders. (See: “NorDis explores impact of hydropower projects on Cordillera Indigenous communities) Additionally, the Marcos administration’s policies on nuclear and renewable energy are two other areas of concern where some media have identified disparities. 

Overall, coverage of climate change and environmental issues for the year 2023 revealed the need for change all around. Climate change is not a passing phase. Government needs to lay out a more long-term policy strategy to mitigate its impact and protect communities from disasters.

For its part, the media must find ways of engaging the public, promote awareness about how people can do their part. Climate change is the collective result of damage from unchecked human activities that diminished nature’s capacity for renewal and recovery. 

The challenge requires collective efforts that is not limited to government alone but also to the business sector, the enterprises of commerce and industry. A more aware public should press government to develop a pro-active policy that involves all in the effort to achieve balance between the demands of growth and development and the need to nurture nature. MT