Has Climate News Coverage Finally Turned a Corner?
By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope
Some good news, for a change, about climate change: When hundreds of newsrooms focus their attention on the climate crisis, all at the same time, the public conversation about the problem gets better: more prominent, more informative, more urgent.
In September, 323 news outlets from across the U.S. and around the world collaborated to provide a week of high-profile coverage of the climate story, in the most extensive such project on record. The collaboration was organized by Covering Climate Now, a project co-founded by Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation. Participants included The Guardian, the project's lead media partner, and some of the biggest newspapers, television, and radio stations, and online news sites in the world: Bloomberg, CBS News, Agence France Presse, The Times of India, El País, Asahi Shimbun, Nature, WNYC, WHYY, HuffPost, National Observer, Univision, Al Jazeera, Harvard Business Review, and Scientific American. Joining them was an array of smaller, often nonprofit outlets hailing from Alabama to Alaska and Turkey to Togo. Representing 47 countries and much of the United States, these 323 outlets reached a combined audience of well over 1 billion people.
Over the course of the week surrounding the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23, Covering Climate Now outlets published or broadcast at least 3,640 stories about climate change. Social media sharing of Covering Climate Now stories was widespread, with 69,623 individual tweets and 1.93 billion total impressions.
The reach is likely much higher when factoring in stories distributed by news agencies around the world. One, Agence France Presse, distributed 1,200 text stories (in the six languages in which AFP publishes) to its thousands of newsroom clients around the world; it also made available 2,000 photos, 391 videos, and 170 graphics. The magnitude of AFP's climate coverage cannot be calculated without knowing how many clients picked up each of these items, "but the audience is clearly potentially in the billions, and we are increasingly seeing climate content being among the most used by [our] clients" says Phil Chetwynd, AFP's global news director.
The median number of stories per outlet was seven, reflecting the fact that some smaller partners have only one or two staffers. Larger outlets, however, more than compensated. "We ended up doing more than two dozen stories that wouldn't have run except for this initiative," said a senior editor at Bloomberg. The Guardian published more than 150 climate-related articles in its U.S., UK, Australian, and International editions.
All of which helped drive a much-needed increase in overall media coverage of the climate crisis. In September, "media attention to climate change and global warming was at its highest level globally in nearly a decade," reported the Media and Climate Change Observatory program at the University of Colorado Boulder. The watchdog group Media Matters for America commented about Covering Climate Now, "This initiative was unique in the depth and scope of its coverage, and many of the participating outlets touched upon climate change issues that have been either underreported or ignored in the media altogether." The Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, exposed what it called "the secret scourge of climate change" in the form of more sewage in the city's waterways as bigger storms overwhelmed drainage capacity. Rolling Stone revealed how agribusiness is blocking climate action by family farmers. El País, Spain's leading newspaper, devoted an entire issue of its weekly magazine to "La Battala Por El Planeta" (The Battle for the Planet). Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's largest newspapers, reported that record heat may make it very difficult to hold the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo as planned.
At least 185 of our outlets made their climate stories available at no cost for other partners to republish. The Guardian led the way, and more than 40 partners picked up its stories. This content sharing meant that readers, viewers, and listeners got access to more and higher quality climate coverage than any single outlet could provide on its own. The on-camera interview UN Secretary General António Guterres gave the partnership, which was shot by CBS News and made available in both English and Spanish versions, is one such example.
Now, in addition to facilitating other joint coverage collaborations, Covering Climate Now aims to encourage better news coverage of the climate story by writing about that coverage and convening conferences where journalists can discuss and share best practices. Our own reporting and commentary will appear on the websites of Covering Climate Now and Columbia Journalism Review and also be offered for free to any Covering Climate Now outlet that wishes to republish them.
The goal is to make the climate story a routine part of daily news coverage, rather than a subject addressed only on special occasions. KQED, the biggest public radio station in the San Francisco Bay Area, has long been committed to strong climate coverage, but that coverage, KQED science editor Kat Snow told us, had been siloed at the science desk. So KQED's science reporters and editors will soon begin one-on-one meetings with their counterparts elsewhere in the newsroom to explain how to include the climate angle in their coverage. "We want to help our colleagues see that climate change is part of the story for every beat," said Snow. "We'll give them background information and story ideas to incorporate the climate angle in their coverage of housing or education or whatever beat they work."
Finally, we will encourage our colleagues to grapple with the hard truths of climate science. Too often, news coverage has given political opinions precedence over scientific fact, blunting the public's response. One welcome contrast is the approach taken by The Guardian and The Washington Post: When 11,258 scientists released a public letter in early November endorsing a peer-reviewed study warning that the planet "clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency," both newspapers reported the story prominently on their homepages, with the words "crisis" and "emergency" in the headlines.
While much work still needs to be done, climate coverage does seem to have turned a corner. The climate silence that had long pervaded so much of the media has been broken. Now, the challenge is to improve the coverage. What do you wish your favorite news outlets would do to cover the climate story better? Send us your suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in The Nation. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 350 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.