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2020 is on track to become the planet’s hottest on record. Experts say the climate crisis could erase the progress made in human health over the past century, and the communities hit hardest by climate change are among the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, momentum for climate action is growing, renewable energy is on the rise and the world’s second-most-polluting country — the United States — has chosen a president-elect determined to rejoin the Paris climate accord.
In an ICFJ Global Health Crisis Reporting Forum webinar, Imelda Abano, Philippines and Pacific Region coordinator for Internews' Earth Journalism Network (EJN), David Callaway, founder and editor of Callaway Climate Insights, and Gustavo Faleiros, founder of Brazil-based InfoAmazonia and environmental investigations editor for the Pulitzer Center, sat down with ICFJ Senior Program Director Jennifer Dorroh to discuss top climate stories to cover in 2021.
While specific story ideas are dependent on region, the panelists agreed that climate change will take over the news cycle. According to Abano, who is based in the Philippines, the main story in Asia is the intersection of climate change and natural disasters. However, Faleiros, based in Brazil, said political tensions caused by climate issues will be an ongoing story next year and beyond.
Meanwhile, Callaway noted that in the United States, the first big story in 2021 will be the transition to President-Elect Joe Biden, and an exploration of his policies on climate change and the effect they will have globally. Another big story, according to Callaway, is going to be the global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and whether it will actually be a green recovery.
Connecting with audiences
There is still a disconnect between climate change and its importance on the average audience member. Faleiros noted that climate change touches every aspect of people’s lives, and by incorporating it into various beats, journalists can bridge the gap and it can lead to greater understanding by the public.
Callaway also said that part of the problem is that climate change has always been reported as something that's going to happen in the future, so this sense of urgency hasn’t dawned on the public yet.
Compared to coverage of the past, Abano noted that including innovative tools such as mobile reporting, drones, maps, infographics and simulations has added an edge to environmental reporting as a whole, and helps bridge that connection to audiences.
Breaking into climate reporting
Climate reporting can be a daunting task with so many sub-categories that can be explored and dozens of potential beats. Callaway’s advice is to choose a specific area to focus on, “otherwise you can just drown in them.”
Climate change journalism, particularly in the business press, is in a relatively early stage, said Callaway. But there are a lot of opportunities for young journalists interested in incorporating it into their reporting and investigations.
One major challenge for climate change journalism is finding ways to compete with political and sensational news. The good news, Abano said, is that more and more journalists want to report on climate-related issues.
Improving coverage in the future
Abano has some ideas for improving climate change journalism in the future. “It’s strengthening the capacity or the skill of journalists in understanding climate change issues,” she said. “Because if you yourself cannot understand the issue, then how will your audience?”
Abano added: “We should, of course, humanize climate in human interaction if we want to if we want the world's attention.”
Callaway echoed this sentiment saying that journalists should be prepared to understand these abstract scientific concepts, large data sets and utilizing tools such as artificial intelligence.
“Environmental reporting has been around for a long time,” Callaway said. “But as it becomes more mainstream, as the public and the world begins to start to realize what's at stake, you're going to see more and more media, more and more journalists want to do that type of coverage.”
Faleiros’ advice for journalists looking to incorporate climate issues in their reporting is to become familiar with scientific language and the ethics of research articles. He also recommends learning to deconstruct difficult research data to create visuals and other ways of translating what’s at stake for everyone.
“And I think we should keep connecting and do some of these collaborative stories,” Faleiros said. “I'm seeing a lot of potential for journalists to work together on different issues.”