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LIMA, Peru (13 December, 2012)_Peru has been a pioneer in programs aimed at protecting forests to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but those efforts have gone largely unnoticed in the media, according to a new study by the Center for International Forestry Research and Libelula – Comunicación, Ambiente y Desarrollo.
The survey of national and regional newspapers over the past decade found relatively little coverage about climate change and even less reporting on programs for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) — a scheme that sees money channeled to developing countries to keep their trees standing — even in the Amazonian regions of Peru that have been at the forefront of the efforts.
The findings highlight the complexity of building public understanding of REDD+ programs, said Mary Menton, a research fellow in CIFOR’s Forests and Environment program in Lima, Peru.
“The lack of coverage is surprising, given the amount of effort and funds going into REDD+,” she said.
Sixty percent of Peru is forested, giving the country the second-largest expanse of tropical forest in South America, after Brazil. Nearly half of Peru’s greenhouse gas emissions come from clearing forested land for agriculture.
Peruvian government bodies, international development organizations, non-profit groups and private companies have launched various REDD+ pilot projects aimed not only at reducing emissions by slowing deforestation and degradation, but also at helping local communities increase their incomes by better managing their forest resources.
But those efforts have been all but ignored by the media, according to the survey of eight national newspapers and five local papers from two of the regions with the highest concentrations of REDD+ pilot projects, San Martín and Madre de Dios.
The study, carried out as part of CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+ (GCS-REDD), also included interviews with journalists and experts on REDD+ in Lima and the two regions.
Between 2001 and 2011, the national papers published 203 stories mentioning climate change and forests, but only 33 that mentioned REDD+, avoided deforestation or reduction of emissions and deforestation. In the local papers, only 10 articles mention climate change and forests and another 10 touched on REDD+. The Peru case contrasts sharply with the GCS-REDD+ findings on media coverage in other countries: in Brazil, four newspapers published 409 stories between 2008 and 2011, and in Indonesia, REDD+ appeared in 190 articles by 2010. Yet, in Cameroon and Vietnam, coverage was much lower, with 14 and 18 articles respectively.
In Peru, the national daily El Comercio led in coverage of most climate- and REDD-related topics. La República, another national daily, was second in climate coverage, but had few mentions of REDD+ or deforestation.
Most of the stories were written by reporters from international news agencies, rather than Peruvian journalists, and few examined the issues in depth, according to the study. One recurring theme in stories in national media, however, was legal uncertainty about property rights, which could jeopardize REDD+ programs, and the need for long-range strategic planning.
Experts and journalists interviewed for the study noted that environmental news coverage in the country is uneven and often focuses on conflicts and problems such as illegal logging.
Several said local people are often suspicious of programs such as REDD+ and payment for environmental services because of questions about who really benefits from the schemes. Others suggested that the media should focus first on broader topics such as climate change and plans for mitigation and adaptation, before homing in on REDD+.
One limitation of the study was its focus on newspapers in a country in which many people rely more on television and radio than newspapers for their information.
“There is a need for further research into coverage on radio and TV,” Menton said.
Nevertheless, the study underscores the challenge of building public understanding of REDD+ programs and climate change.
“Getting more information to the media that is accessible and comprehensible is one of the first steps,” Menton said.
Although some workshops for journalists have been organized, more outreach is needed, she said. Giving journalists a first-hand view of how REDD+ programs operate, their outcomes and how local communities are involved could help improve coverage of the issues.
“It’s important to show the media what is happening on the ground, how it’s working, what the problems are and what the costs and benefits can be,” Menton said.