Reporting on Climate Injustice in the Horn of Africa

More than 20 million people face starvation because of a five-season-long drought that “would not have happened” without climate change.

Somali refugee children roll water containers as they bring them back to their makeshift shelter in the Dadaab refugee camp, one of Africa's largest refugee camps in Kenya, on March 23, 2023. Between 400 and 500 people arrive at Dadaab every day, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, mostly driven from Somalia after five consecutive seasons of failed rains. (Photo by Bobb Muriithi / AFP via Getty Images)

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter

“Every person on Earth today is living in a crime scene,” Covering Climate Now’s executive director Mark Hertsgaard wrote in 2021 at the launch of the Guardian’s “Climate Crimes” reporting series. “The fossil fuel industry’s 40 years of lying about climate change,” he added, “have… blunt[ed] public awareness and governmental action against what scientists say is now a full-fledged climate emergency.”

Today, the fossil fuel industry’s crime is cruelly playing out in the Horn of Africa, where over 20 million people face starvation due to record-breaking drought following five consecutive failed rainy seasons. Scientists say it “would not have happened” without human-caused climate change, which made the drought 100 times more likely, according to a new World Weather Attribution study.

The world desperately needs eyes on the ground — in other words, news photographers, and TV cameras — so that people and governments everywhere can see what’s happening. A story by Somalian journalist Fathi Mohamed Ahmed for The New Humanitarian illustrates the desperation: One Somalian mother makes the impossible choice to poison her children so that they’ll qualify for the nutritional assistance needed to keep them alive. The misery unfolding is a textbook case of climate injustice, and needs to be covered as such: Countries in the region have collectively emitted a mere 0.4% of the greenhouse gases overheating the planet.

Most of the world’s newsrooms don’t have reporters in the Horn of Africa or the resources to send them there. Much the same is true, however, about Sudan, but that hasn’t stopped the world media from (rightly) running abundant coverage about its incipient civil war. One step that newsrooms with subscriptions to global news agencies, such as AFP and Reuters, can take is to run their stories about the situation in East Africa. (This AFP graphic shows drought and famine conditions by country.) Newsrooms can also seek out reporting by and hire local journalists working in the region.

Critically, what’s happening in the Horn of Africa should inform the climate coverage journalists everywhere do in their respective regions. Report on how fossil fuel companies’ climate crime is playing out in your own backyard, and who’s being hurt the worst. Sadly, with oceans heating faster than ever and El Niño further boosting global temperature rise, scientists project that the rest of 2024 will be turbulent; there will be plenty of news pegs for such coverage in the weeks and months ahead.

From us

#ICYMI. See CCNow’s interview with Obi Anyadike, the Africa editor for the New Humanitarian, a nonprofit newsroom reporting on humanitarian crises worldwide. Anyadike spoke last year about the climate-fueled hunger crisis in East Africa, why it’s a follow-the-money story, and what’s missing from Western coverage of the Global South. Read it at Columbia Journalism Review.

CCNow Q&A. We spoke with Justin Rowlatt, climate editor for the BBC, about the need for more optimism in climate storytelling and the solutions stories that he’s found resonate most with audiences. Read it at CJR.

Noteworthy stories

COP28. At the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin this week, COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber, who is CEO of one of the world’s largest oil companies, called for the long-term use of fossil fuels with unproven technologies to capture their emissions. His views, at odds with many leading environmental ministers, and science, raised concerns that the world will rollback its climate goals. By Laura Paddison at CNN…

Another carbon bomb. Environmental groups are promising to sue the Biden administration after a document showed it approved liquefied natural gas exports from a $39 billion Alaska LNG project. It comes a month after Biden greenlit a $7 billion ConocoPhillips oil and gas drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope. From the Guardian…

Leading the way. To slash deadly air pollution and cut carbon emissions, California air regulators will require all medium- and heavy-duty trucks to be zero emission by 2036, reportedly the first place in the world to do so. The state also passed a first-of-its-kind rule for the US to phase out emissions from passenger and freight trains. By David Shepardson at Reuters…

Environmental justice. Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva legally recognized nearly 800 square miles of Indigenous lands in a move aimed at reversing exploitation of the Amazon rainforest, which has led to severe environmental damage and violence. “We are going to legalize Indigenous lands,” Lula said. “I don’t want any Indigenous territory to be left without demarcation during my government.” By Lyric Aquino at Grist…

“Flash” droughts. Fast-forming droughts are happening more often and more quickly in many areas around the world due to climate change, according to a new study. Flash droughts are now happening more frequently in 74% of the planet, excluding the two poles, due to less rain, warmer temperatures, and more intense heat waves. By Miguel Ángel Criado at EL PAÍS USA…

Via Twitter

In a Twitter thread, CCNow looks at recent press coverage of activism, especially in light of a protest at last weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Bookmark the thread, which we’ll be updating with notable media coverage of climate activism happening around the world.

Events and Resources

Climate priorities. Project Drawdown, a leading resource on climate solutions, has launched “Drawdown Roadmap,” a science-based strategy that prioritizes climate actions that governments, businesses, and others should take “to make the most of our efforts to stop climate change.” Learn more. 

Equity and solutions. The Solutions Project will hold an Instagram Live conversation on their new “Climate Solutions Narrative Trends” report that tracks the extent to which coverage of climate issues focuses on equity, highlights community-led solutions, and features women as spokespeople. May 9.

Journalism and science. The Italy-based organization Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC) will hold a webinar titled “Journalism and Science: Narratives of Climate Change” with an emphasis on data visualization. May 10. Learn more and RSVP.

Nature-based solution. The Rainforest Journalism Fund is holding “Reporting on Carbon Markets,” an online media briefing on rainforest issues in Southeast Asia. May 17. RSVP.

Industry News

Grist just launched Rural Newswire with the Center for Rural Strategies. The platform was created to help newsrooms serving US rural communities both find and share stories that can be republished for free.

Jobs, etc.

Job. Star Tribune, in Minneapolis, Minn., is looking for a business reporter (energy, natural resources, and sustainability).

Grant. Earth Journalism Network is offering grants to journalists from island countries in the Asia-Pacific region to support in-depth stories on key environmental and climate issues. Apply by May 15. Learn more.

Awards. Submissions for the 2023 Online Journalism Awards are open with categories including climate change coverage, social justice reporting, and visual storytelling. Apply by May 25. Learn more.