Covering the New UN Climate Report Amid War in Ukraine

While Ukraine must be front and center, Monday’s IPCC report also demands urgent coverage.

The receiving station of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline near Lubmin, Germany. In response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Germany has stopped approval of the $11 billion undersea natural gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup via Getty Images)

There is great anticipation, but not much suspense, about the next big United Nations climate science report being released on Monday, February 28. Much of the news will be grim. What’s more, the report will have to compete for space in the news agenda with the Ukraine invasion and Russian president Vladimir Putin’s apparent threat to unleash nuclear war if outsiders dare “to interfere” with Russia’s aggression.

The challenge for journalists will be two-fold: to give the climate report the prominence it deserves amid the Ukraine violence and to convey the report’s findings in a way that does not sugar coat the facts but also does not overwhelm audiences with unrelenting gloom. One way to strike this balance is to stress that the report’s worst-case scenarios can still be avoided because solutions to the climate crisis exist — but that swift, bold action is needed.

There are scientifically grounded reasons for such cautious optimism about the climate emergency, as explained in a Washington Post article published yesterday. Global temperature rise can halt almost immediately once humanity cuts emissions of heat-trapping gasses to zero, wrote the article’s authors Mark Hertsgaard, Saleemul Huq, and Michael E. Mann, drawing on their remarks from the press briefing Covering Climate Now and Scientific American co-sponsored last week.

This updated science, which was contained but buried in the big UN climate report released last August, carries paradigm-shifting implications for how people, especially young people, think and feel about the climate emergency and how societies can respond to it. “[T]his is not a get-out-of-jail free card,” Hertsgaard, Huq, and Mann wrote, but “understanding that we can still save our civilization if we take strong, fast action can banish the psychological despair that paralyzes people.” Most needed, they added, is pressure on governments and businesses to pursue “the fastest possible transition away from today’s fossil fueled economies.”

This is essential context for the release on Monday of the Working Group II installment of the Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That said, humanity continues to emit roughly 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, pushing global temperatures higher.

A central focus of next Monday’s report will be how societies can adapt to the projected impacts of those higher temperatures. And make no mistake: The impacts will be profound. As Hertsgaard, Huq, and Mann wrote, even if countries decarbonize as rapidly as possible, global temperatures will only stop rising—they will not fall. Which means, among other things, that “the planet’s ice will keep melting and sea levels keep rising.”

Adapting to rising seas will be an immense, very expensive challenge that underscores the global injustice of the climate emergency, a key theme journalists covering Monday’s report should highlight. Low-income countries have been suffering climate disasters for decades, because they tend to be more exposed to climate impacts and have less financial capacity to protect themselves. Rich countries have agreed to provide climate aid — the obligation was written into the 2015 Paris Agreement — only to renege again and again, most recently at the COP26 climate summit in November 2021.

With Putin threatening the unthinkable, the world suddenly faces the prospect of nuclear war — the only threat to civilization that matches the danger of climate breakdown. All of us must hope that sanity prevails on both fronts. As journalists, our role is to provide facts and analysis that enable the public and policymakers alike to see not only the gathering darkness but also the light beyond and how to get there.

More from us

Ukraine crisis. As newsrooms cover the unfolding events in Ukraine, they can also help audiences understand the story in a broader context, specifically its climate dimensions. Climate angles to pursue include the need to phase out reliance on fossil fuel imports and the impacts of extreme drought in Ukraine. Read more.

Press briefing rewind. Last week’s CCNow press briefing, co-sponsored by Scientific American, focused on some hopeful scientific developments on climate. The video is now online, along with a follow-up note from the discussion and a transcript. See it here.

Awards deadline extended. We are extending the awards entry deadline through March 8th to be considerate of journalists’ time given the conflict in Ukraine.Learn more.

Noteworthy stories

Best climate science. A revision of climate science buried in the last IPCC climate report finds that global temperatures can be reduced faster than we thought. It’s good news but requires immediate action by governments, businesses, and all of us. Read the op-ed by Mark Hertsgaard, Saleemul Huq, and Michael E. Mann at the Washington Post…

Bids under Biden. The largest ever US sale of offshore wind development rights, and the first under the Biden administration, took place in New York and New Jersey on Wednesday with record-setting bids. The government says the area is capable of powering close to half a million homes. By Nichola Groom for Reuters…

Renewing the old. The White House has revealed new policies, many with bipartisan support, directed at revamping the American industrial sector in order to reduce carbon emissions. By Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic…

Facebook falsehoods. A former Facebook employee and whistleblower has filed complaints alleging that the company misrepresented its efforts to counteract misinformation about Covid-19 and climate change to investors. By Cat Zakrzewski for the Washington Post…

Sea level rise report. A new report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finds that sea levels along the US coastline are expected to rise, on average, by 10 to 12 inches in the next 30 years. By Bob Berwyn at InsideClimate News…

What do you think? An ever-growing percentage of US residents think global warming is happening, that it’s mostly human-caused, and that it’s already harming people, according to the latest statewide surveys by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication…

Available for Publication

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Odds & Ends

Reporting opportunity. On Monday, February 28, the US Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case that could limit the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate climate emissions. See background via Scientific American here.

IPCC press event. On Monday, February 28, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will hold a press conference on the latest update to the Sixth Assessment Report. Register here.

EJOC database. The Uproot is launching an environmental journalists of color database as a resource for journalists of color who are seeking to connect with editors, mentors, sources, and other journalists. The membership application, with a February 25 deadline, can be found here.

Jobs. Inside Climate News is hiring a climate, health, and justice reporter. Oklahoma’s NPR news station KOSU has an opening for an agriculture and rural issues reporter. The Cape Cod Times is looking for a climate change reporter.