A Scoop for AFP — and a Grim Warning for the World

A draft IPCC report paints a picture several shades darker than what most policymakers, the public, and many journalists understand about the imminent, far-reaching dangers of climate change.

The Suesca lagoon, which is experiencing a severe drought, is seen near the municipality of Suesca, Colombia on February 17, 2021. (Photo by Juan David Moreno Gallego/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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On Wednesday, our partners at Agence France-Presse broke major news that’s a must-read for journalists on every beat in every newsroom. According to a forthcoming report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—viewed in advance by AFP—harrowing future climate impacts are already locked in, even if humanity manages to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. Today’s young people, and those to come, face the greatest danger. “Species extinction, more widespread disease, unlivable heat, ecosystem collapse, cities menaced by rising seas—these and other devastating climate impacts are accelerating and bound to become painfully obvious before a child born today turns 30,” the report reads. The decisions humanity makes now, it says, will determine whether humanity “thrives or simply survives” this century.

These findings won’t surprise anyone following climate science, but the IPCC report evidently paints a picture several shades darker than what most policymakers, the general public, and many journalists understand about the imminent, far-reaching dangers of climate change.

The IPCC is the world’s pre-eminent climate science body, and its findings are meant to guide governments’ responses to climate change, including during global summits such as the crucial COP26 meeting this November. The draft report says that even if the world’s leaders do meet their obligations under the Paris Agreement—to limit global temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees C, and preferably to 1.5 C—climate change “will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades.”  Making a point often overlooked in public discussion of the climate threat, the report observes that, “Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems. Humans cannot.”

The reason for these dire prognoses? The climate impacts that are already unfolding after barely 1 C of global warming—the record heat waves that are so vivid in the American West right now, the droughts, the floods, the monster hurricanes, and more—are happening much sooner than scientists previously expected. This not only raises the immediate stakes for humanity but also makes the need for a rapid course shift more urgent. The report even addresses the once unmentionable subject (in government circles, at least) of economic consumption, arguing that tinkering around the edges—for example, replacing gasoline-fueled cars with electric ones—will not prevent climate breakdown.

At Covering Climate Now, we often warn against journalists taking a fatalistic or “doom and gloom” tone in climate coverage. And these findings from the IPCC don’t mean all is lost, nor, as scientist Michael Mann noted on Twitter, that humanity will inevitably cross the “tipping points” referenced in the AFP story. The IPCC report does suggest, however, that we still have a long way to go to fully get our heads around the climate threat—and precious little time to do so.

This report—officially known as the IPCC’s Working Group 2 report—is only a draft at the moment and could change before its official release next year. Significant changes seem unlikely, however, given how far along the IPCC is in its process, and how closely the findings align with the latest publicly available science. Now that AFP has revealed some of the report’s central conclusions, change should not wait. Journalists everywhere should amplify this news (PBS NewsHour interviewed climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe), uncover more details from the report and press government and business leaders on what they will do to meet the challenge. Unwelcome as the IPCC’s findings are at a human level, they do make crystal clear that humanity faces nothing less than a “climate emergency.”

FROM US

CCNow extreme weather materials. As drought conditions in the American West worsen, headlines about scorching heat, dried up reservoirs, and growing wildfire risks are ubiquitous. But it’s not clear how many of these reports are making the climate connection and informing audiences that such extreme weather is bound to get only worse, unless humanity acts, and fast. If you’re covering the situation in the West, or expect to cover any other extreme weather this season, check out our Extreme Weather Reporting Guide. The guide contains pointers for making the climate connection, suggestions for related stories, and examples of great work on this topic. You can also take a look back at our Talking Shop webinar on extreme weather, held last year. Stay tuned for more from us on this subject soon.

ESSENTIAL CLIMATE REPORTING

  • Concrete plans. The fate of President Joe Biden’s multi-trillion dollar infrastructure plan remains in question, with a bipartisan group of legislators proposing a smaller, alternative plan that takes up some of the original’s infrastructure goals but leaves out many of the more ambitious steps intended to fight climate change. From CNBC…

  • Wind in the sails. Nearly two-thirds of the wind and solar energy projects built in the world last year will beat the electricity generation prices of even the cheapest coal plants—a boon for renewables, at a time when some countries have resisted a transition to clean energy. From The Guardian…

  • All rise. A global panel of lawyers has proposed a formal definition of “ecocide,” part of an effort to target actors responsible for widespread environmental destruction, including by enabling prosecution by the International Criminal Court. From NBC News & Inside Climate News, part of their “Fifth Crime” reporting project…

  • Code green. Experts identify climate change as a top threat to public health, yet the medical profession has lagged in drawing the connection. A growing number of physicians is urging peers to include climate literacy in medical training and integrate environmental factors in their approach to patients. From Grist…

  • “Green city on a blue lake.” Cleveland, Ohio was an early adopter of a “climate action plan” and, since 2018, has centered racial and economic justice in its green transition. Poverty in the city is high, but early action has sparked some revitalization—and leaders see more opportunity, if Biden’s American Jobs Plan gets through Congress. Two climate stories from Cleveland, on social justice and housing, from NPR…

  • Red hot American tundra. Threshold is rereleasing the Peabody Award-winning Season 3 of its podcast, “The Refuge.” The season takes a close look at Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—in the news lately, with Biden suspending oil and gas drilling leases—asking how the refuge came to be so hotly contested and what oil development means for the people and wildlife closest to it. Follow along and subscribe here…

ODDS & ENDS

Coverage opportunity. On June 28, the Sunrise Movement is planning a “mobilization” in Washington, D.C., to protest negotiations around the American Jobs Plan. Those negotiations, they complain, have resulted in a plan that spends “less money than the original plan that was proposed by the President and completely leaves out climate.” The protest, from a group that has undeniably moved the needle on public sentiment in America around climate, is worth keeping an eye on and possibly covering. More info here…

Job opportunities. Southern California Public Radio is hiring a “climate emergency” reporter. Climate Home News in the UK is hiring an intern (apps due July 2). And—not a journalism job but one offering relevant experience—Girl Rising, a storytelling and social advocacy group, is hiring an associate producer, to focus on documentary film and multimedia production, for its Climate Initiative; more info here.

Welcoming new partners. CCNow is pleased to welcome to our collaboration Climate Home News in the UK, The Fuller ProjectFarsight in Nepal, We the World Magazine in India & the US, The Current in (the state of) Georgia, the Sustainable Asia podcast in Hong Kong, the Living on Earth public radio show, and the New England News Collaborative.

 

If you have any feedback on this newsletter, or know of information that should be included here, shoot us a note at editors@coveringclimatenow.org.

That’s all from us today. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!