While today’s new generation of journalists in Lebanon have been schooled in media basics, new courses on covering climate change offer tools for breaking down the science and reporting on local environmental threats.
Karem Monzer, a Lebanese journalist, has reported on world hunger and politics. He's now participating in climate journalism courses where he is reporting on clean disposal of solar batteries.
In the region just an hour’s drive southeast of Beirut, Karem Monzer grew up amid a virgin forest of oak, olive and cedar trees stretching across hills to the horizon. Here in the village of Gharifeh, on the slopes of Mount Lebanon, there are fewer than 10,000 residents, just two schools – one private, one public – and the region is known for its olive oil, which the Romans originally cultivated.
Yet this pastoral existence is threatened by Lebanon’s changing climate. Fires have ripped through both countryside and nearby urban areas and water supplies for both residents and farmers are in constant peril, as is appropriate disposal of waste and wastewater.
As a university student, Karem quickly realized that in a country like Lebanon – which in 2019 was in the throes of revolution and is today sinking under the weight of economic and political dysfunction – there would never be a shortage of stories to find and tell. Upon completing studies in film, media, communication arts and journalism, he produced videos, including on Syrian refugees and, last year, he reported on world hunger from COP27 in Egypt. He works for Beirut Today, an independent news outlet.
“I think it was at COP27 that I saw there was even more I could report on,” he said. “I was interviewing World Health Organization managers, and people with the International Red Cross, and I could see that hunger related to bigger problems, namely climate change.”
Shortly later, Karem, now 27, heard about a series of journalism courses that would help him decipher and report on those bigger problems. This month, he joined other young journalists in Beirut for lectures and hands-on instruction by climate scientists in Lebanon’s new – and so far only – environmental journalism training in Arabic.
The class, funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) under its GKI crisis initiative and organized by DW Akademie, allows young journalists to learn both science coverage basics and how best to reach readers and viewers across multimedia platforms. Participants spend time on key local issues, such as air pollution, waste, sewage and land use. They practice with targeted online searches, fact-checking and understanding data. Their work is ultimately destined for Lebanese media.
"When we started training in science journalism in Lebanon in 2021,” said Audrey Parmentier, DW Akademie project manager in the Middle East and North Africa for media development, “it became very clear that journalists needed more specific knowledge on reporting about climate change.”
She and her colleagues therefore called on journalists and students, as well as scientists, academics, editors-in-chief and Lebanese citizens to brainstorm. Not only, she added, was an effective curriculum a goal but rather to broaden the reporting and job skills of younger journalists and teach them how to both understand and explain the many environmental threats out there.
"Environmental topics are still underrepresented in the Lebanese media and in public discourse,” she said, noting that qualified young media professionals can have better access to jobs when they are skilled in explaining complex topics such as climate change.
“With the skills and fundamentals we offer,” she said, “we want to improve the circumstances of starting a career. Both journalism and scientific skills are greatly in demand in newsrooms.”
Feryal Dakkak, age 22, said she knew that by enrolling in the courses, she would learn skills she didn’t, or couldn’t, while at university, where she majored in broadcast journalism on a research track. She is a freelance journalist, video editor and marketing manager in Dubai.
In the climate journalism courses, the first of their kind in Lebanon, Feryal Dakkak is learning practical tools for science reporting that she says she could not learn in a standard journalism curriculum.
“From sourcing to fact-checking and now mobile journalism,” she listed from among the courses topics. “As you know, college courses are always more theoretical than practical.”
She added that she is less compelled to report on Lebanese politics and is more drawn toward drawing the connection between climate change and life in Lebanon itself. In the courses, her focus is on unregulated tree felling for economic benefit in Lebanon.
“It is crucial to be able to explain how human activity contributes to problems like deforestation and biodiversity loss,” Feryal said.
Meanwhile, Karem’s project looks at solar panel waste after the battery dies.
“Lebanon’s solar revolution came out of severe power cuts,” he explained. “People were eager for decentralized, private and independent solar solutions. This included Chinese, Indian and Turkish acid-based batteries, with a five-year life, alongside lithium batteries that last up to 10 years. What happens when they die, though? How can Lebanon address this?”
It makes him think about his childhood home near Mount Lebanon changing, perhaps irreversibly.
“It’s one of the most beautiful areas in Lebanon,” he said. “But the forest fires and deforestation and loss of water […] these are problems that I can see. It’s not just something I’m learning [about], and it’s not fake. And if I think concretely about alternative energy, like solar panels, so that people don’t have to cut trees for wood, and about recycling wastewater rather than the general idea of carbon emissions – constructive ideas – then I’m motivated to report that.”