Nature-based solutions have gained momentum in recent years, particularly amongst climate change experts. However, in order for the adoption and scaling up of nature-based approaches at the level of national governments, public awareness must expand. Local journalists are essential agents of change in facilitating this process.
The news media can no doubt be an important ally to environmental science, particularly as environmental researchers and practitioners try to make a case for nature to often unconvinced audiences, including governments. When advocating for the uptake of specific solutions that are not well understood and still in need of large scale buy-in, consistent two-way engagements with journalists are even more critical.
In terms of nature-based solutions, local journalists need to be recognised and valued as important stakeholders that can help to minimise current gaps between global advocacy efforts and what is actually being done or not at the local level.
Concerted efforts are particularly needed to improve the quality, accessibility and newsworthiness of the information available. The technical language of scientific reports and research papers needs to be simplified and put in local context, with content and context targeted at the media, including human-interest narratives.
Barriers need to be lifted to allow journalists to produce their stories in a timely manner by clarifying communication pathways within key organisations and facilitating access to experts.
What are we trying to achieve when advocating for nature-based solutions?
At the very core, the concepts behind ‘nature-based solutions’ are not new as preserving nature has long been recognised as an important asset for human well-being. But this recognition has not always been synonymous to effective and large scale actions to protect ecosystems and avoid their degradation.
As ecosystem degradation continues to contribute to or exacerbate societal challenges such as food insecurity, climate change and disasters, nature-based solutions have emerged as an important set of ecosystem-based approaches that need to be implemented at larger scales to provide community benefits.
As global initiatives and research are progressing, information and resources are building up around multiple aspects including:
- Clarification on what define and characterise nature-based solutions or not
- The building up of evidence and case studies that show that they work and can be cost-effective
- Documentation of best practices and potential pitfalls and shortcomings that need to be considered in practice
- Global tools to facilitate decision-making and help identify priority sites for nature-based measures
- Tools to guide project formulation, implementation and monitoring
But this is exactly where the big communication gap emerges. This wealth of information and tools being generated at the global level is not reaching a broad enough audience, and that’s where journalists can play a crucial role.
How can local journalists be agents of change?
Within the disaster risk reduction field, journalists are increasingly recognised as important stakeholders and are included in consultation processes. It is thus easier to illustrate how local journalists can help support the uptake of nature-based solutions with regards to ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR). Here are four key aspects:
- Nature-based measures are essential for disaster risk reduction (DRR): Healthy ecosystems play important roles in disaster risk reduction. For example, coastal forests can help protect coastal communities from cyclones and storm surges. Conversely, degradation of ecosystems can exacerbate disaster risks. For example, vegetation loss on slopes increases the risks of landslides. Local stories with experts’ inputs and examples on the linkages between ecosystem health and disaster risks have a better chance of driving the message home that nature-based approaches are important components of DRR strategies.
- Government Policy must be accountable: The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction recognises the critical role of ecosystems in the DRR context. However, policy advancements on the subject at the global level are not necessarily mirrored in national DRR action plans, strategies and legislations. Provided they are informed on the specific commitments regarding ecosystem-based approaches, journalists can play an important role in relaying the information, auditing impact and keeping governments accountable.
- Showcasing the how and best practices: A lack of know-how and awareness regarding the effective implementation of Eco-DRR and the potential technical mistakes that need to be avoided can result in project investments that yield little or no community benefits. Stories on impactful projects and their ingredients of success as well as applied research can help address knowledge gaps and potentially minimise inefficient use of resources.
- Highlighting the importance and role of multiple actors particularly community members: Community engagement and participation are important components of Eco-DRR measures with for example, participatory vulnerability assessments being important initial steps that help to guide the identification of relevant interventions. However local contexts do not always provide an enabling environment for community participation whether it is due to centralised governance structures, legislative constraints or just lack of trust and will in giving more power to community groups. Story-telling centred around the value of community-based ecosystem management is thus crucial here in providing an outlet for community voices.