Sanaka Samarasinha holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Maryland School of Law and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the University of Kansas. He has over 25 years of experience serving within the United Nations, working in 40 countries. Samarasinha has held pivotal leadership roles throughout his illustrious career and spearheaded transformative initiatives across diverse regions. As the UN Resident Coordinator in the Pacific (2018-2023), Samarasinha served as the principal UN official in Fiji, Vanuatu, Palau, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati, and Micronesia. He led 31 UN agencies and managed an annual budget of $250 million to drive sustainable development and resilience-building efforts. His leadership during natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic underscored his ability to mobilize resources and foster high-level political dialogues, resulting in tangible regional cooperation and development advancements.

Before his role in the Pacific, Samarasinha was the UN Resident Coordinator in Belarus (2013-2018), facilitating groundbreaking dialogues on democratic governance and human rights. His innovative initiatives, including the #UN70BelarusExpress, empowered local communities to take ownership of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and foster inclusive development. Samarasinha’s expertise and unwavering commitment to promoting sustainable development, good governance, and human rights positions him as a formidable force in international diplomacy and development. Fluent in English and Sinhala, with basic proficiency in French and Russian, he continues to leverage his extensive experience and skills to drive sustainable development and foster global cooperation.

With your extensive international diplomacy and development background, how do you perceive the current state of global efforts to combat climate change, and what urgent actions do you believe are most necessary?

We are making progress; it’s just that the pace is insufficient, given the urgency. Immediate actions needed include transitioning to renewable energy sources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and implementing robust conservation strategies. We must also prioritize climate adaptation measures for vulnerable communities. International cooperation and political will are essential to drive these actions forward. Ensuring climate policies are inclusive and equitable is crucial to sustainable development and resilience.

You have highlighted the crucial role of journalism in environmental crisis management. Can you elaborate on how journalists can raise awareness and drive action on climate change issues?

Journalists can effectively raise awareness by providing accurate, timely, and comprehensive coverage of climate issues. Investigative reporting on the impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather events and their socio-economic consequences, can highlight the urgency of the crisis. Engaging storytelling that humanizes these issues can mobilize public support. Journalists should also hold policymakers and corporations accountable, pushing for transparency and action. Collaboration with scientists to communicate complex data in an accessible way is critical to informing and empowering the public.

In light of the triple planetary climate change crisis, biodiversity loss, and pollution, what strategies do you recommend to ensure accurate and comprehensive media coverage to combat dis- and misinformation?

From my experience, combating dis- and misinformation requires a multifaceted approach. One of the strategies that can help is strengthening fact-checking mechanisms and promoting media literacy programs. The idea is to empower audiences to discern credible sources. Another strategy that can work is collaboration between journalists and scientific communities to ensure the accuracy of information. Media organizations should also prioritize training for reporters on environmental issues and support investigative journalism. Additionally, fostering diversity in media ownership and ensuring that local, indigenous, and community-based outlets are well-funded can provide a broader, more accurate perspective on these crises.

How can international frameworks and legal mechanisms be strengthened to support better sustainable fishing practices, such as those needed to preserve tuna stocks, which you have passionately advocated for?

International frameworks can be strengthened by enhancing fishing activity monitoring, control, and surveillance. We need to promote greater transparency and accountability among nations and fishing industries. Supporting regional fisheries management organizations with adequate resources and authority can significantly improve enforcement. Additionally, international cooperation is essential to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Sustainable fishing practices can be upheld by incorporating the latest scientific data into management plans.

Given the significant challenges journalists face in reporting on environmental issues, what measures can be taken to protect their rights and ensure their safety, especially in regions prone to conflict and environmental degradation?

Protecting journalists requires a robust legal framework that upholds press freedom and safeguards against violence and intimidation. Governments should enforce laws that protect journalists and hold perpetrators accountable. International bodies can provide support through monitoring and advocacy. Media organizations must also prioritize the safety of their reporters by offering security training and resources. Also, creating networks for journalists to share information and support each other can enhance safety.

Your leadership in the Pacific and Belarus has driven substantial progress in sustainable development. What lessons from these experiences can be applied globally to enhance climate resilience and environmental sustainability?

There are many lessons that, from my experience, can help in enhancing environmental sustainability. One is the need to empower communities to take ownership of projects. Empowering communities to lead projects ensures they are culturally appropriate and effective. Another important lesson is the need to build multi-sectoral partnerships. Building strong partnerships with governments, NGOs, and the private sector can mobilize resources and expertise. It is also important to focus heavily on data. Emphasizing data-driven decision-making and transparency fosters trust and accountability. Lastly, is the need to integrate sustainability policies in all aspects of development projects. Integrating climate resilience into all aspects of development planning can ensure long-term sustainability and reduce vulnerability to environmental shocks.

Considering the impact of climate change on vulnerable communities, including women and girls, what role do you see for journalists in amplifying these voices and ensuring their concerns are addressed in climate policies?

Journalists play a vital role in amplifying the voices of vulnerable communities by providing them with a platform to share their experiences and concerns. Investigative reporting on the specific impacts of climate change on women and girls can highlight their unique challenges and needs. By bringing these stories to the forefront, journalists can influence policymakers to consider these perspectives in climate policies. Lastly, collaborating with local organizations and activists can help provide deeper insights and ensure accurate representation.

How can media plurality, diversity, and viability be promoted to ensure that local, indigenous, and community-based outlets play a significant role in climate change communication?

Promoting media plurality and diversity involves ensuring equitable access to resources and funding for local, indigenous, and community-based outlets. Government and international funding should prioritize these media organizations to enhance their capacity. Supporting training programs for journalists from diverse backgrounds can improve coverage quality and relevance. Also, encouraging partnerships between mainstream media and local outlets can amplify marginalized voices. Policies that protect media independence and promote diversity in media ownership are essential. By valuing diverse perspectives, we can enrich the public discourse on climate change and drive more inclusive solutions.

What role do you believe digital platforms should play in combating climate change misinformation, and how can they be held accountable for the content they host?

Digital platforms are responsible for combatting climate change misinformation by implementing robust content moderation policies prioritizing scientific accuracy. They should work with fact-checkers and climate experts to identify and flag false information. Transparency in their algorithms and content curation processes is crucial to building public trust. Platforms should also promote media literacy programs to help users critically evaluate information. Holding these companies accountable requires regulatory frameworks that enforce standards for misinformation control and ensure platforms act responsibly. Public pressure and advocacy can also drive platforms to prioritize truthful and accurate content.

As we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, how do you see the role of press freedom evolving in the context of the environmental crisis, and what actions can be taken to reinforce this freedom globally?

Press freedom is more critical than ever in addressing the environmental crisis, as independent journalism is essential for transparency and accountability. To reinforce this freedom, we must strengthen legal protections for journalists and ensure that attacks on the press are thoroughly investigated and prosecuted. Supporting independent media financially and institutionally can help sustain their operations. Promoting international solidarity among journalists can provide a united front against suppression. Educating the public on the importance of a free press for democracy and environmental stewardship can build global support for press freedom initiatives.


Connect With Sanaka Samarasinha: