Brazzaville — Ahead of the Rio+20 conference in Brazil next week, African journalists have called on governments to allow them to report independently on issues related to global warming.
At a gathering last week in Brazzaville, the Congolese capital, dozens of journalists deplored the restrictions by some states, whom they accused of colluding with big business and turning a blind eye to their environmentally unfriendly operations.
The meeting, convened by the African Network of Environmental Journalists (ANEJ), highlighted the continent's environmental challenges and sought to deepen journalists' understanding of these issues in order to promote public understanding.
Research has shown that while Africa's greenhouse gas emissions amount to less than four percent of global output, Africa is the continent likely to be most affected by climate change. As the continent warms up, droughts and the attending food crises have already begun to affect large areas.
The ANEJ meeting included a focus on the various multilateral environmental agreements (MEA) that bind the global community to action. Several important MEAs were entered into at the 1992 United Nations Conference on the environment dubbed the "Earth Summit". Two decades later, little has been achieved. Many other agreements urging reduction in the emissions of greenhouse gas have not been adhered to fully.
At the Brazzaville gathering, journalists shared experiences of climate change in their respective countries, including concerns about desertification in the Sahel nations, and droughts affecting thousands in East Africa. Kané Illa of Niger lamented the danger of advancing desert on agricultural land. Farming is a principle source of revenue in Niger.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguessou, who was named in 2009 the African Union's lead climate change spokesperson ahead of the Copenhagen climate talks, encouraged African media practitioners, saying the "green economy is within reach of Africa…. provided developed countries end their rhetoric for concrete action".
Congo Brazzaville is credited for its ambitious U.S. $2.5 billion reforestation plan that should create about 50,000 jobs in 10 years. Nguessou listed several challenges impeding sustainable development in the region: lack of funding; climate change, including desertification, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity, food and energy crisis, urbanization, increasing poverty and unemployment.
While thanking the European Union and the Congolese government for their support in organizing the event, which coincided with World Environment Day, ANEJ's president and Mauritanian journalist Sidi El Cheiguer said developed countries are "historically responsible for the warming climate but are eluding their responsibilities, thus creating disastrous consequences for the black continent".
During the different discussions, journalists encouraged governments to follow the lead of countries that have adopted Freedom of Information laws that will allow unhindered reporting about the environment. The communique adopted at the end of the conference encouraged both developed and emerging economies to take drastic steps in cutting fossil fuel emissions.