As the global transition from fossil fuels to greener sources of energy continues full steam ahead, the Oxpeckers #PowerTracker project takes the tool to journalists on the ground. Andiswa Matikinca reports

How data journalism can enhance reporting: Oxpeckers associate Andiswa Matikinca introduces journalists to the various Oxpeckers data-driven journalistic tools. Photo supplied

Engagements with different stakeholders have underscored the need for a tool such as #PowerTracker to enhance the capacity building of communities, journalists, business owners and others affected by or interested in the Just Energy Transition (JET).

This has become increasingly evident from various calls by affected communities and other stakeholders for us to expand the tool to provinces in South Africa where significant progress has been made with the introduction of renewable energy projects.

The #PowerTracker data and map currently focus on Mpumalanga province, which has had a slow uptake in procuring renewable energy through the government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP). Other provinces have made great strides, but interested and affected parties in these provinces are still in the dark about how they can become a part of the progress made and benefit from the transition.

Civil society organisations working with communities and municipalities such as those in the Northern Cape, which now has 53 renewable energy projects procured through the REIPPPP, have expressed interest in expanding the #PowerTracker tool to facilitate a better understanding of activities taking place in the communities’ backyards.

This can be achieved through training and capacity building workshops for municipalities and communities so they can use the tool to know who the industry players are, what they are doing and what impacts this has on them as citizens. #PowerTracker journalistic investigations can also be used as a means of interpreting and simplifying communications about the renewable energy projects.

Storytelling through data

Storytelling through data journalism is one of the cornerstones of Oxpeckers’ work, and as a pioneer in investigative environmental journalism in Africa, the unit focuses on empowering journalists on the continent and beyond. With the global urgency to address the climate crisis, the #PowerTracker project moves beyond raising awareness about the threats climate change poses to supporting journalists interested in investigating green energy and its complexities.

For example, in December 2023 Oxpeckers introduced #PowerTracker to 29 journalists from the Philippines. The Centre for Investigative Journalism’s Open Climate Reporting Initiative (OCRI), which has supported and collaborated with the #PowerTracker project over the past two years, invited Oxpeckers to provide in-depth training for Philippines-based environmental journalists on how to use data to investigate renewable energy issues.

While the production of fossil fuels has continued to grow across Asia, the Philippines has seen particularly strong growth in wind, solar and geothermal energy production. The country currently has what is described as an “energy mix”, comprising 78% fossil fuels and 22% renewables. With ambitious plans to increase its renewables-based capacity by 2030, the Philippines is making big strides by introducing subsidies for renewable energy production, stronger legislation and the National Renewable Energy Programme.

There are obvious links and similarities between the energy transition in South Africa and the Philippines. Both have a strong focus on the concept of a “just transition”, with the aim of reducing inequality and shifting the costs of climate action onto wealthy polluters while prioritising economic, racial and gender justice.

Much like our work in Mpumalanga, regions across the Philippines are tracking and mapping renewable energy projects to determine their impact and effectiveness. During our training, we were able to take what we’ve learned through our work with #PowerTracker and apply it to the situation in the Philippines.

The Oxpeckers team visited the National University of Science and Technology campus in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, to present guest lectures to more than 30 final-year journalism and media studies students. Photo supplied

Training and professional support

Back in Southern Africa, the Oxpeckers Training and Professional Support Programme recently trained a group of 28 Zimbabwe-based mid-career journalists and academics on environmental and data journalism. The three-day training programme, titled the Nexus of Environmental and Data Journalism, was supported by the FOJO Media Institute in partnership with the National University of Science and Technology’s (NUST) Journalism and Media Studies department.

The training equipped participants with skills, understanding and knowledge in environmental crime, data journalism and energy storytelling. Four journalists are in the process of taking their training forward to produce in-depth data-driven investigations in the coming months, under the mentorship of the Oxpeckers team.

Nqobile Tshili, a seasoned reporter from The Chronicle, mentioned how the training highlighted the importance of humanising environmental stories: “Ordinarily environmental reporting is a specialised field and as journalists we shy away from it, but the training enlightened me to realise that environmental issues are human survival issues and speak to our core survival.

“Secondly, I appreciated how data journalism can enhance reporting. Data journalism complements traditional text and contributes to improved storytelling,” he said.

Yolanda Moyo, a journalist from the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, said the training and introduction to Oxpeckers’ journalism tools inspired her to look more into the energy transition for her newsroom. “I was inspired to look at Zimbabwe’s progress towards embracing renewable energy as the world transitions,” said Moyo in her post-training feedback.

The Oxpeckers team also visited the NUST campus in Bulawayo to provide guest lectures to more than 30 final-year journalism and media studies students, and seasoned Zimbabwe-based Oxpeckers journalist Oscar Nkala shared some of his experiences from the field to inspire the young students from his hometown.

Nexus of environmental and data journalism training: Broadcast journalist Yolanda Moyo (centre) receives a certificate of participation from Bheki Ncube, dean at NUST Journalism and Media Studies department (right) and Nkosana Dube, lecturer and acting chairperson at the department (left). Photo supplied

Capacity building back home

In South Africa, #PowerTracker journalists are hard at work completing more in-depth and focused investigations on whether JET funds are reaching their intended beneficiaries, further interrogating new and existing frameworks intended for local skilling projects as part of the JET, in addition to tracking renewable energy projects that will contribute towards solving the country’s energy crisis and decreasing its reliance on the burning of fossil fuels.

For instance, Oxpeckers journalist Thabo Molelekwa reported in November 2023 how JET financing is being undermined by indebted municipalities in Mpumalanga that are not bankable. He presented the findings of this investigation at a virtual peer-to-peer learning session hosted by Code for Africa’s WanaData group in January 2024.

As the #PowerTracker project continues to grow, the Oxpeckers team aims to continue taking the tool to all stakeholders involved to empower them with information on the fast-moving JET space and its developments.

Find more updates on Oxpeckers programmes in our News section here

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