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How to cover climate change and the environment

Climate reporting

Global warming and climate change has been given more media coverage in the last few years than it has in the past. Major events like COP27 are covered in detail by broadcast, print and online outlets as the industry starts to understand what an important part it can play in relaying the information about our climate and environment. 

Climate reporting is therefore going to be more crucial than ever before. JournoResources held an event last month with Jocelyn Timperley, a freelance climate writer, going over what climate reporting is, how to apply the ‘climate science lens’ to stories and the jargon to watch out for in your articles. 

What makes a climate story? 

Anything that relates to the causes and solutions of climate change can be classified as climate reporting. This can include qualifying sources of emissions, the impact it is having on people and what efforts are being made to reduce the changes that are happening. 

A climate change story relates to the long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. It isn’t the same as local air pollution or daily weather changes, but it can sometimes be linked to this as well. 

Applying a ‘climate science lens’ 

You can apply the ‘climate science lens’ to pretty much all sectors of journalism as long as you consider: 

  • How it’s influencing greenhouse gas reductions
  • If it’s preparing for needed reductions in emissions
  • What impact climate change will have on the future of the sector
  • Any intersection or crossover with other sectors

For example, in sport, you could look at what clubs are doing the most to tackle climate change, or in entertainment, a piece around which celebrities are contributing most towards greenhouse gas emissions via their travel or lifestyle. 

Ultimately, it needs to be of relevance to a wider audience. You need to consider if the story is intriguing and if it has good evidence to support it. It could also be a timely piece of information or some unexplored area of science that then raises bigger questions about the climate and environment. 

The uses of research papers  

Research papers can have many uses when it comes to writing your climate story. They can help provide peer-reviewed sources of knowledge and experts to comment on your article. They can also give context and evidence on how climate change is affecting the people or the area you are reporting on. Plus, they can highlight policy gaps or solutions to any problems that you are exploring.  

Any research papers that you use can also be good sources for interviews if you contact the paper’s authors. There is generally the email for at least one of the authors and most will be happy to help or put you in contact with someone that can. However, it’s best to have a mix of interviews and not just scientists or the research paper author. NGO experts, community/civil groups, policymakers/politicians and business/finance consultants are alternatives to explore.  

Explaining jargon and the best resources 

There can be a lot of jargon when it comes to reporting on climate change and the environment so it is always good to explain terms in plain English. Here are a few common ones: 

  • ESG – environmental, social and governance 
  • NDC – Nationally Determined Contribution, UN climate pledges 
  • Cop 27 – Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (United Nations Climate Change) 
  • Climate attribution – linking particular events to the climate changing 
  • Per capita emissions – emissions per person in a country 
  • Net Zero – when a balance is achieved between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere 

There are also a number of good resources to help with putting together articles. Google Scholar is great for finding science papers. EurekAlert has a collection of press releases. CarbonBrief provides in-depth explanations on key issues around the climate. The Solutions Journalism Network gives training and advice on how to do solutions journalism. Finally, Covering Climate Now has resources, briefings and tips on covering climate stories. 

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