Imelda Abano – a Filipina Journalist Communicates the Urgency of Climate Change

Abano is the Asian winner of the Global IUCN-Reuters Environmental Reporting Award in 2002. She was interviewed by Internews about her role as an environmental journalist.

What inspired you to work in climate change/environmental journalism?

Prior to writing about climate change issues, I wrote on women’s issues – health especially, HIV/AIDS, water and other development topics.  Essentially, I realized that all these issues are intertwined in climate change.  As a journalist, I wanted to do my part so people – especially the decision-makers – can make a global response.

Local journalists like me get too caught up with the small picture.  But working on climate change or environmental issues provides a much more open perspective.  I have gotten much inspiration from the real people in the communities most vulnerable in the global climate change scenarios.

Is climate change an accepted fact in your country? How well-known is the threat, and how well-understood is the science behind it?

Yes.  Perhaps, our country’s greatest vulnerability is to sea-level rise, which most studies show will erode and inundate coastlines, displacing residents.  Policymakers in my country are now addressing this issue, but more work needs to be done in terms of policy, ensuring all government systems are helping people adapt.

For instance, Albay Province Governor Joey Salceda introduced the first local government initiative on climate change adaptation in the Philippines and in Asia-Pacific last year. The declaration called in part for the development of national, regional and local climate adaptation plans, increased funding for climate change research and adaptation, and increased media focus on climate adaptation strategies.  Both Congressional and Senate houses have recognized this as the national framework for the mainstreaming of global warming initiatives leading to climate change adaptation.

Although some are aware of the great consequences of the changing climate in my country, more has to be done to communicate effectively on this highly significant issue – a potential vehicle to identify problems, encourage participation, invite innovation on problem solving, and promote adaptation and mitigation.

What are some of the most risky or challenging aspects of reporting on climate change?

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of reporting climate change issue is understanding the science and communicating it.  As science stories go, climate change may be particularly difficult and complex – far more politically charged than many other science-based issues, and loaded with potential journalistic traps and pitfalls.

What kind of responses do your stories on climate change receive? Do you know of any changes that have taken place as a result of your work? 

Many of my stories involve the voice of the communities.  The Health Minister of the Environment implemented measures and additional policy assistance, like routinely cleaning up coastal lines and waste recycling management, for those especially vulnerable in the coastal regions. 

I receive invitations to talk about effective communication of this issue and also mentor fellow journalists on how to collaborate with climate change experts and policymakers.

Please describe a “typical” day (if such exists!) for you doing your investigative research.

Doing an investigative piece takes patience to make it accurate and reliable. My first rule before I plunge into any research is to know the issue first, which requires immersing myself in the affected community. Then I chase the government official involved or the company responsible. 

What was significant for you about the experience you had as a Climate Change Fellow at the conference in Bali?

Being a Fellow provided me with the right tools, resources and the motivation to tackle climate change by understanding the overview of the issues. Meeting experts, policymakers and journalists from other parts of the world also provided me with new ideas and a broader perspective on this challenging issue.

Mark Harvey of Internews Europe interviewed me during my busy day in Bali, and I remember saying that I would organize a workshop for my fellow Filipinos to improve media coverage on this issue.  Just this August, I was able to fulfill my hope and organize a tremendously successful climate change workshop, for Filipino journalists as well as journalists throughout Asia.

I know I can do more to help others understand this very complex issue and exchange ideas with other journalists from other parts of the world to effectively communicate climate change to the public.