Viterbo Memorandum by Greenaccord: Time to act on climate crisis is NOW!

Renaissance period Domus La Quercia, venue of Greenaccord 2009 forum

“We know the climate is changing, probably as a result of humanity’s pollution; species are disappearing fast; deforestation is rampant; over-fishing is rife; water shortages are increasing; resource consumption is growing and so is the world’s population.

“…If this catastrophe unfolds, historians will look back and ask how that was allowed to happen with so little media debate. They may wonder what stories journalists were telling while the world was transformed around them.”

Those words are not new. In fact, they were part of the statement of concern issued at the end of the First International Media Forum organised by Greenaccord of Italy and held in Rapolano, Siena, Italy, in late 2003. I was one of 100+ journalists from all over the world who signed that original “Green Accord” for Journalists.

This year’s internationally acclaimed British climate film The Age of Stupid is based on a similar premise. This ambitious drama-documentary-animation hybrid features an old man living in the climate devastated world of 2055 AD, watching the ‘archive’ news footage from 2008 — and asking: “Why didn’t we stop climate change while we had the chance?”

The 7th Greenaccord international forum, held in the central Italian city of Viterbo from 25 – 29 November 2009, has just ended calling upon world leaders to “draw a road map being a binding agreement for a total de-carbonization of world economy before 2050”.

Addressed to the UN climate conference opening in Copenhagen in a few days’ time, the forum’s final document – called the Viterbo Memorandum – urged that no more time be lost.

The Greenaccord forum’s theme this year was ‘Climate is changing: stories, facts and people’. Over five days, some 130 of us from 55 countries – drawn from all continents – stayed at the historic residence of Domus La Quercia in Viterbo, discussing and debating about the challenges faces by our warming planet, and how we as communicators can make a difference. It is what I recently called the Ultimate Race between education and catastrophe.

The Viterbo Memorandum pledged: “On their own side, they (journalists and scientists) vow to cooperate in order to spread correct information on the risk related to climate change and to make aware the public opinion on the need of individual contribution to the solution of problems by modifying their own life style.”

The Memorandum is to be delivered in early December 2009 to Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the Nobel Peace Prize winning Chairman of the UN’s climate panel, the IPCC.

Professor Andrea Masullo, President of Greenaccord’s Scientific Committee, said: “I don’t want our children and grandchildren, in 2050, finding themselves on a planet inhabited by more than 9 billion people and devastated by climate change, re-reading the scientific reports of today…to ask themselves what we were thinking and why we did not do anything when everything that was going to happen was clear.”

He added: ”In recent years the changes are progressing much faster than expected in the fourth IPCC report. Nevertheless, it seems that Copenhagen will not come again to a final agreement. Many governments feel they can take initiatives costly and complicated the current economic crisis. ”

Launched in 2003, the Greenaccord Forums have emerged as one of the largest annual gatherings of environmental journalists, broadcasters and activists at global level. As an organisation, Greenaccord aims to be an international “virtual table” open to all professionals in information and communication who want to deepen understanding about environment and its protection with their work.

I have been returning to Greenaccord’s annual forums the first one in 2003 – and always return with my knowledge updated and friendships renewed. This year was no exception.

Photos courtesy Yu-Tzu Chiu and Greenaccord

Nalaka Gunawardene at Greenaccord 2009 - Photo by Yu-Tzu Chiu

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When it comes to climate change, we are all Maldivians!

It was Woody Allen who said ‘Ninety per cent of life is just showing up’. Well, part of the remaining 10 per cent must involve waving our hands and speaking out in this increasingly attention-challenged world.

My organisation, TVE Asia Pacific, lacks both a travel budget and a promotional budget. So I need to be both resourceful and persevering when showcasing our work in the vast Asia Pacific region and beyond. I attempt this by turning myself into a one-man cheering squad for our work in the public interest. (If this makes me something of a self-promoter, so be it!).

I was very grateful when our friends in Greenaccord accommodated my last minute request to screen our latest short film Small Islands – Big Impact at their 7th international media forum in Viterbo, Italy, today. This is what I recently made in the Maldives, one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to sea level rise.

I presented this at the end of the fourth day, soon after the gathering of 130 journalists and scientists from 55 countries had listened to 10 Climate Witnesses who travelled from far corners of the world to share their stories of ground level changes induced by climate change.

Here is what I said introducing the film:

Small and low lying island states are on the frontline of impact from climate change. That is why we made this film, so that we can highlight the plight of the Maldives in various climate related discussions around the world.

It is based on an exclusive interview that President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives gave me in August 2009. In this wide-ranging interview, he shared his concerns and visions for his island nation.

President Nasheed is an articulate, passionate climate witness on behalf of his endangered island nation of 325,000 people. The technocratic and amiable President is one of the youngest heads of state in the world today. Interestingly, he worked as a freelance journalist when he was in exile for several years, and remains very accessible to the international media.

As a journalist and broadcaster, I’ve been covering this story for over 20 years, from the late 1980s. I have seen how the vulnerability of small island states – like the Maldives – has risen up in the international discussions on climate. Sustained reporting by journalists has played a significant role in this process.

We have unfinished business. As President Nasheed says so emphatically, we are in this together. We need to work on coping and survival strategies.

When it comes to climate change, we are all Maldivians.

This is the second time a TVEAP film has been showcased at a Greenaccord event. In October 2006, the post-tsunami Asian environmental series The Greenbelt Reports was previewed at the 4th Greenaccord Forum.