During the Talking Shop “Covering COP27 — From Afar, and on Site,” three journalists who are veterans of covering United Nations climate summits discussed how to report on the upcoming summit in Egypt that starts November 6, 2022.
Carolyn Beeler of The World, Nicolas Haque of Al Jazeera English, and Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson of the Associated Press shared practical tips for reporting on Conferences of the Parties (COPs) — including to bring snacks if you’re going in person! — and argued that linking conference negotiations with what’s happening locally is the best way to help audiences understand the stakes and connect the dots between science, diplomacy, and the punishing impacts of the climate emergency.
“I don’t think we should be hindered by the fact that we’re not in country or on location to cover the story effectively, as long as we maintain our sources and have our contacts on the ground and in our communities,” Jackson said. “My advice would be to really root the story of climate leading up to COP27 in your experiences from your community and then elevate that through whatever delegation your country is sending to COP27.”
Being on the ground at the COP can bolster your reporting, but it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. “The real story of climate change is not happening in the conference center; it’s happening in much more human and textured ways everywhere else,” Beeler said. “It’s very important that we have journalists who are holding power to account, who are there in the room to be able to document what’s happening. It is easier to chase down sources and get them to talk to you, and you can just literally stick a mic in their face. But the reality of what’s happening with climate change is happening everywhere else.”
Tying COP27 reporting back to local, on-the-ground realities helps audiences process that their daily lives are being impacted by climate change and understand that international climate summits are critical moments in our history. If you’re covering COP27 from afar, Haque advises asking people in your reporting area for their opinions on the summit. For example he suggests: “What does it feel like to be in a village where you’re seeing the water coming in? And whilst you see that your home is being destroyed, how do you feel about these people who are jetting away in Egypt and drinking whatever drink they’re drinking and talking about their lives?” Haque noted that journalists should be on the lookout for whether the people who are being most affected by climate change will have a voice at the summit.
The panelists also offered general advice for covering the summit: Pace yourself, do reporting in advance, and plan coverage to make the summit resonate with your audience. During the Talking Shop a number of helpful items were included in the chat. They are:
- Reach out to IPCC authors for your reporting
- COP26 reporting by the panelists
- Carolyn Beeler for The World: “‘A heavy load to carry’: A day in the life of a negotiator at COP26” and “Who will pay for ‘losses and damages’ caused by climate change? Developing countries make their case at COP26.”
- Nicolas Haque for Al Jazeera: “Climate ravages: Sea swallows parts of Senegal’s UNESCO World Heritage site”
- Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson for the Guardian: “Cop26: Pacific delegates condemn ‘monumental failure’ that leaves islands in peril”
- UNFCCC COP27 site
Mark Hertsgaard: Hi everybody. Welcome. Sorry, I still had the mute on. I’m Mark Hertsgaard. I’m the executive director of Covering Climate Now and the environment correspondent at the Nation Magazine. Welcome to another Talking Shop with Covering Climate Now and today our topic, as you all know, is covering COP27 from afar or on site. For those who don’t know, Covering Climate Now is a global media collaboration of more than 500 news outlets with a total audience of some 2 billion people. We’re organized by journalists for journalists to help all of us do a better job on the defining story of our time. It costs nothing to join us. You can go to our website, sign up for our weekly newsletter, join the Slack channel, check out our reporting resources, or apply to join Covering Climate Now if you’d like.
We’d also like to invite everyone to watch the one-hour TV special burning questions that we’ve produced. And this will feature the winners of the 2022 Covering Climate Now Journalism Awards, including all three of our panelists today. Burning Questions is the title of the TV special. It will be co-hosted by our colleagues Al Roker and Savannah Sellers of NBC News. It will broadcast and stream on public television stations across the United States on the World Channel. That’s next Tuesday night, October 25, 8:00 PM Eastern Time, and after that, it will be streaming on our site at Covering Climate Now.
So, COP27 takes place in Egypt, November 6th to November 18. And at this stage of the climate emergency, every international climate negotiation like these COPs is newsworthy. And our role as the press is to inform the public about what does and does not happen at these negotiations and to hold governments accountable by making it clear that the world is watching.
Today’s Talking Shop aims to help all journalists cover this story, whether you’re reporting from Egypt, on the ground, or remotely via the United Nations video feed. And to be clear, you do not need formal press accreditations to cover COP27 remotely. And if you want to cover it on-site, you already missed the date to get accreditation. So you can look, we’re going to put into the chat the link to the COP27 website, and there you’ll find everything you need to get access to the video feeds.
So this is the first COP to take place in Africa and age-old issues of rich and poor will be center stage as they often are. [CORRECTION: Four previous UN climate summits have been held in Africa, including in Morocco, Kenya, and South Africa.] Rich countries are legally obligated under the Paris Agreement to provide a hundred billion dollars a year in climate aid to the world’s poorer countries to help them transition away from fossil fuels and to build resilience against the extreme weather that is increasingly striking them now.
Rich countries have never fulfilled that obligation, not even close. So what we’re seeing recently is some of the highly vulnerable climate countries are threatening what amounts to a debt strike. They are threatening not to pay the debt that they owe, hundreds of millions… billions rather of dollars that they owe to the rich countries until the rich countries come across with their obligation to help with climate aid to those poor countries who of course, had very little to do with causing the climate crisis in the first place.
A second key question at COP27 is going to be how much freedom will climate activists have to speak out given the Egyptian government’s long-standing repression of dissent. Writing last week in The Intercept, our colleague Naomi Klein reported that there are some 60,000 political prisoners behind bars in Egypt, including the democracy activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah, and he is wasting away right now in the middle of a hunger strike. Check out Naomi Klein’s article in The Intercept. Again, one role of the press at these kinds of conferences is to show governments that the world is watching.
Finally, will the world’s two leading climate superpowers, China and the United States, rise above their many other disagreements and resume joint efforts at COP at climate stabilization? Likewise, how will European nations deal with the energy crisis caused by Russia’s continuing aggression in Ukraine? So lots to talk about, including how our reporting can center the human consequences of all this geopolitical maneuvering. And I’ve got to say we’ve got an absolutely stellar group of panelists to join us. I’ll introduce all three of them at once and I’ll be questioning them during the first half hour here. Then in the second half of your questions, which you’re welcome to submit via chat, we’ve had some come in over the RSVPs, always more questions arise during the session. Please post them in the chat. We’ll get to as many as possible. You’re also welcome to tweet throughout the hour using @coveringclimate and the hashtag ccnow.
Now please join me in giving a very warm virtual welcome to our panelists. As I mentioned, all of them happen to be winners of the 2022 Covering Climate Now Journalism Awards and appear in the Burning Questions TV special next Tuesday, October 25. Carolyn Beeler. Carolyn is the environment correspondent and editor at the public radio news program, The World. She’s reported from all seven continents about the impacts of climate change and efforts to address the problem. And in addition to her Covering Climate Now Award, she has also won two Edward R. Murrow Awards.
Nicholas Haque. Nic is a roving news correspondent for Al Jazeera based in Dakar, Senegal. He started reporting for Al Jazeera in 2008 in Bangladesh, his home country. He’s also worked for the BBC, Channel 4 News UK, ITS, and ABC News in London.
And Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson. She is the Climate Collaborations editor for the Associated Press. She’s a Samoan native and a long time journalist covering climate and environmental issues in the Pacific Islands. She’s worked at the Guardian, or I should say for the Guardian, Agence France-Presse and the New Zealand Herald, and she was the editor of the Pacific Environment Weekly. So welcome one and all. Let’s get right into it.
Nic you’re based in Africa, as I mentioned, Western Africa, Senegal, and your piece that won the Covering Climate Now Journalism Award this year, I thought just brilliantly connected climate change and migration. Reporting how the intensifying storms and droughts and other extreme weather that we’re seeing in so many parts of the world. In the case of Senegal, they’re driving young men to attempt that very perilous trek across the desert, across the Mediterranean to Europe in search of employment. You, I understand, are going to be reporting on COP27 from Egypt, from Sharm el-Sheikh. So what stories are you most planning to explore while you’re there?
Nic Haque: So, just to correct you, I won’t be in Egypt, but we will be covering it from Africa. And I think something really important to remember, this is quite an extraordinary moment to have this COP conference happening away from rich countries and Copenhagen or Glasgow, but on the continent where people are affected by climate change. So that’s really a historical moment for a lot of people in Africa to see that — to see polluting countries and polluting leaders come on the continent to make very important decisions.
But as you mentioned, this is happening in Egypt, a country that has a long history of clamping down on dissent and on protest, a very short history of democracy. And so it’ll be interesting to see if people will be going out to protest. Usually when you go to these conferences, whether it be in Paris, in Glasgow, you have all these protests and that’s part of the show. It’s like the icebreaker, no pun intended, for this event. Now will this take place in Egypt? And will the voices of people who are affected by climate change on the continent be heard? Those are two big questions I think for people on the ground. And of course, there are immediate repercussions of what’s happening with climate change when it comes to people moving and we’ve had a terrible, terrible rainy season. It’s still going on and people are being displaced and when we’re talking about people being displaced, we’re not talking about hundreds of peoples or hundreds of thousands of people. We’re talking about millions of people affected by the floods and that have been on the move, not just in Africa, but also in Asia. So there’s a lot at stake in this conference and we also have to remember that whilst there’s a lot at stake, there’s a big question on whether those being affected by climate change will have a voice in this conference.
Mark Hertsgaard: So Nic, just to follow up quickly, how do you at Al Jazeera and your colleagues plan to try and give those people a voice? The protestors, the people who are not-
Nic Haque: Okay, so there’s several… Yeah. So just to put frame back, Egypt, this is a country where protesting is criminalized. It’s very difficult to demonstrate in that country. Not only that, they go after people on social media, under loose morality laws, they’ve gone after women and influencers. And so even if you’re on social media and you’re in Egypt and you want to voice something against maybe the Egyptian’s government role in exacerbating climate change, well that’s a risk. And it’s a risk because human rights organizations, whether it be human rights watch or amnesty, have long documented the fact that the Egyptian authorities have a record of extra-judicial killings, torture, et cetera, et cetera. So I think it’s really important to follow the conversation beyond the borders of Egypt in the rest of the world and to support those that are in Egypt trying to make those voices or those important points made.
Because those kind of protests that we see, we think, haha, it’s really funny, et cetera. But around the protests have a real impact on the days of these events and pressuring governments to protect the planet essentially. So I mean at Al Jazeera, what we’re going to do, obviously, we’re going to be trying to cover… As some of you know, we have a long history with the Egyptian authorities and some of our journalists have been in prison. Things have calmed down a tad bit I would say. But there will be coverage of what’s happening on the ground, but also more importantly, what’s happening on the continent. And more importantly, what are the African or Asian countries or the ones that have been really affected by climate, what are their positions and how are they going to speak from one voice? So whilst we might have an anchor talking on the ground, my job is to relate it to the reality of what’s happening.
So there’s going to be a lot of words, but what’s actually happening on the ground? What are the fallout effects? We’ll be following, for instance… After the Paris Agreement, there’s been a lot of talk about going away from fossil fuels and alternative energy, and that was in 2015, the Paris Agreement. Where are we now? And what has recent events affected or changed the dynamics? And I’m alluding to the Russia-Ukraine War, this need for powering people’s homes and keeping people warm in Europe. Will this be at the detriment of people in Africa that have oil-rich countries or countries where there’s a lot of gas like Senegal where there’s a lot of gas resources, and suddenly we’ve seen heads of states from Germany and France coming over, opening up these big solar paneled farms, but at the same time saying we’d like a piece of that national gas that you have off your coast. So what are the effects on the fishermen there on the nature there? And that’s something that we’ll be talking about.
Mark Hertsgaard: Thanks Nic. That’s Nick Haque of Al Jazeera and it’s been great, almost humorous, to watch how leaders from Europe have suddenly said, “Hey Senegal, how’s it going? We’re so happy to see you.” And so one of the things in our coverage, let’s make sure that we don’t just talk about how the very accurate situation that yes, Europeans are going to be facing a tough winter because of gas shortages. Let’s remember that that condition exists in various permutations around the world, at least as acutely. And let’s pay as much attention to that as we do to Europe. Now to Carolyn Beeler. So Carolyn, you and I were together in Glasgow at COP26 and your winning piece for us in the Covering Climate Now Journalism Awards partly was about how you shadowed a negotiator for Palau, I believe it was, a nation of low lying islands in the Pacific where rising seas are literally an existential threat. So what advice do you have for reporters who may be not able to be in Egypt, but still want to help their audiences understand the importance of these negotiations as they are following them remotely?
Carolyn Beeler: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the key question really. How can we bring the news that’s happening in this conference center with tons of journalists and people in suits often to the places that are actually impacted by climate change, showing the impact? I was in Glasgow, but I made sure in two stories to be able to really tell the story of what was happening in other places while I was in Glasgow. So I ahead of time set up this shadowing of a climate negotiator from a vulnerable nation to shadow him for the day and really get him to reflect on what was happening in his own country, what the stakes were as he was sitting at those negotiating tables so he could describe what he was fighting for and how that fight was working. So that’s one strategy. You could do that remotely if you wanted to. You could identify somebody ahead of time that you wanted to follow and just check in with them over phone or Zoom or Skype throughout the conference if you’re a local reporter or national reporter or negotiator that represents your readership or listenership.
Another thing that I did last year for Glasgow was I really wanted to be able to show or illustrate orally for our radio listeners sort of what the impacts were looking like. So I connected with a colleague of mine, Halima Gikandi, who’s based in Africa and was doing some reporting on drought in Kenya and had her talk to some folks about the experience they had of drought and losing livestock. So I used that example to tell the story of the loss and damage negotiations, but I actually used sound that she gathered ahead of the summit and wove that into a story that I mostly then reported from the conference center in Glasgow. So that was again, prep work done ahead of time that allowed me to feature the voices of people who were really impacted. So those are two things you could do if you were there and you could also do remotely.
If you plan to cover the conversations about loss and damage this year, adaptation, you could do book reporting ahead of time of a community that’s going to need to raise all of its roads so they’re not flooded when sea levels rise another five inches, and be able to float that into your coverage of the negotiations that are happening on adaptation funding, for example. Yeah, so it’s often about prep work and figuring out what your stories are going to be ahead of time and preparing in that way. And then also making the connections, all the negotiations are closed, people talk in press conferences afterward. But making the connections with negotiators and other people you know you’re going to need to get information from ahead of time so that you know you can tap them for information.
Mark Hertsgaard: That first idea you mentioned Carolyn, about connecting with colleagues in other countries in advance. That’s something that we at Covering Climate Now would be very happy to help folks with. As I mentioned, we have almost 500 news outlets around the world who are part of Covering Climate Now. Most of them are not going to be able to spend the money, frankly, to send reporters to Egypt. But they can do the kind of reporting that Carolyn just talked about that can then be combined into others who are reporting either from the site or remotely.
Now again, Carolyn, you and I were both there last year. Can you just talk to folks who may think, oh gosh, if I’m not there on site, I’m going to miss so much. But as you just said, the negotiations happen behind closed doors and basically we as reporters on site, we listen to the press conferences that they give afterwards. All of that, as I understand it, is going to be available on the UN video feeds that anyone can want from Arkansas or Alaska or Tokyo or wherever. So can you just speak a little bit to that? Should journalists who aren’t going to be there on site, do they really have to worry about missing the story?
Carolyn Beeler: Definitely not. I think there are a lot of journalists that cover these and so there are already a lot of people telling the kinds of stories that are easier to get or can only be gotten from the summit. And the real story of climate change is happening everywhere else. The real story of climate change is not happening in the conference center, it’s happening in much more sort of human and textured ways everywhere else. So it’s very important that we have journalists who are holding power to account, who are there in the room to be able to document what’s happening. It is easier to chase down sources and get them to talk to you and you can just literally stick a mic in their face. But the reality of what’s happening with climate change is happening everywhere else. And so showing the stakes of what’s going on is much easier maybe in your home community or if you take a reporting trip ahead of the COP.
So you tell slightly different stories, but I’ve been focused on climate change since Paris and full-time climate reporter since Paris, and I’ve only been to two climate summits since then. So it’s not essential that you go, that you be there in person, to be able to attend these summits. The one thing that is easier, like I said, is tracking down sources, getting people to talk to you. So that’s about sourcing and developing those sources over time and ahead of time. So they’ll maybe answer your WhatsApp message when you ask them a question.
Mark Hertsgaard: Thanks. That’s Carolyn Beeler of the National Public Radio Program The World. And now I’m going to turn to Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson. Lagipoiva, the story that you did, which is for The Guardian that won the Carbon Climate Now Journalism Award this year, that also focused on the challenges that are facing Pacific Islanders like yourself, like your family, as climate change intensifies. My understanding is that you’re living in the States. So how do you plan to continue to highlight those kinds of stories that you so brilliantly evoked in that Guardian piece? How will you be doing that as part of your COP27 coverage? And also if you could speak about your other colleagues at the Associated Press, how they are approaching this story.
Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson: Thank you Mark, and thank you to Covering Climate Now for this opportunity to highlight some of the work that I’ve been doing at the Associated Press and The Guardian. Well, great question. I’ve been in the US for two years now, but the majority of my journalism career was in the Pacific Islands in Samoa. And so when I speak about this issue and talk about my coverage, it’s really from the local newsroom perspective and in languages that are not English. So that’s where I come from in terms of covering COPs since COP14, which was in Poland.
Now this issue of doing justice to the story on the ground while remotely covering that’s so important. I don’t think we should be hindered by the fact that we’re not in country or on location to cover the story effectively. As long as we maintain our sources and have our contacts on the ground and in our communities. I’m speaking to developing country journalists who have closer ties to their communities, those sources that you have, those stories that you know, the life that you grew up in, that is the strength of the climate story. Using those narratives that you grew up in and tying it to the climate story, tying it to leading up to COP27, that’s the strongest way you can bring in the human face of climate change. So my advice would be to really root the story of climate leading up to COP27 in your experiences from your community and then elevate that through whatever delegation that your country is sending to COP27.
Mark Hertsgaard: That’s a very interesting point Lagipoiva, your country’s delegation. So how does one, as a reporter, we’ve got what about three weeks now before the opening day, a little more than that, a three and a half weeks I guess before the opening day of COP27, which by chance falls right before the US midterm elections. But how does a reporter make contact in advance with the country delegation? Do you have any sort of really practical tips on how to do that and how to convince them, convince the source that is, that it’s going to be worthwhile to talk to you?
Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson: Sure Mark. So first of all, you did ask about my colleagues at the AP and our coverage planning. So first, before I answer that question, we are sending a team to COP27 of our global climate desk. So there will be some very strong coverage, which also includes long serving AP veterans, climate and science writers from the AP. So there will be some really good coverage by us at the COP.
But in terms of that question of contacting country delegations, so we’re fortunate in the Pacific Islands, we are very close to our government delegations in that we are either related, friends, someone dated someone, someone went to school with someone. So it’s a lot easier to create those contacts. To illustrate that kind of fluidity in the network, I have held all badges. I’ve gone as a delegate, I’ve gone as an NGO, as an observer. So it’s much easier for Pacific Island journalists to gain access to the negotiations than say someone from the US, a journalist from the US. So in that way in climate, in a very rare occasion, Pacific Islanders are more privileged in terms of access to the negotiations.
These contacts, again I’ll speak to journalists who are from maybe Asia Pacific communities, you build these contacts over time. I’ve always found that the negotiators are more easier to approach if you build that trust over time. Now for Samoa’s lead climate negotiator, she’s actually my sister’s classmate, so it’s kind of unfair because that relationship was built before me. But my advice would be, follow the work of negotiators way before any COP. Get to know them. Get to know their work, talk to the scientists, the IPCC scientists from your country, get to know the experts from your country that will participate. It’s really important that you stick to your own country and community when covering COP because you cannot cover the big story all the time.
Now, this is really to the smaller local newsroom with limited capacity. Be realistic in the way that you’re covering COP. If you are on site, don’t try to cover all the press conferences. Focus in on the issue that you want to cover and concentrate on that. Of course there will be celebrity speakers and all of that, but if they don’t match up to the story that you’re trying to cover, don’t waste your time. But make sure that you’re doing due justice to the stance of your countries, in that, follow what they’re doing. In the Pacific negotiators, my favorite thing to do is to check at plenary, opening plenary, if they’re sitting behind the flags. If they’re not, either they missed a flight, they slept in because they’re jet lagged or something else has happened. But that’s a very basic thing as a small island developing journalists can do. I know I veered off the question, Mark, I’m sorry.
Mark Hertsgaard: No, no. I think you answered it quite well if I may say so. Let’s drill down a little bit more on this and Nic, I want to turn to you, I see there’s already questions in the chat and we’ve gotten some on RSVP. All three of you have kind of said that we need to be able to connect what happens in Egypt to local stories in your community. Nic, that’s an interesting challenge for Al Jazeera because you report literally to a global audience. So how many other reporters like yourself will be feeding coverage into Al Jazeera’s general coverage from how many different countries? I mean you’re there in West Africa. Does Al Jazeera plan to have a whole lot of other reporters, say from Brazil where there’s a very important election coming now with huge climate implications? Will they be part of your coverage, et cetera?
Nic Haque: Well, I think as the palace has mentioned, I mean this is a global issue affecting local communities. And so there will be correspondence in Brazil or in Europe, in Holland, or elsewhere covering the event. I mean it is important I think for those that can to go to Egypt because there is such a high level of repression. So it’s interesting to have that opportunity. It’s almost an excuse for people to go and visit Egypt and maybe do other stories there at the same time. And it’s also important I think to cover if there are protests around COP27 that it’s really important to be on the ground and to cover those protests.
But like Lagipoiva said, so much of the story is not in Egypt. It’s the reaction to what’s happening in Egypt. What are the fallout reactions to people who are in Liberia, in Monrovia, a couple of weeks ago I was there and there was just water rising in these places that are historical sites. I don’t know. If some head of state or António Guterres says something I want to point my camera and my microphone to the person that’s living in Monrovia and to see what is his reaction to it? And often you get the most amazing sound bites when you do that. When you say, well this is what this person is saying, how do you feel about it?
And so much of my medium is, you can read about what’s happening. You can be on social media, but for me it’s about what it feels and what it’s like on the ground. What does it feel like to be in a village where you’re seeing the water coming in. And whilst you see that your home is being destroyed, how do you feel about these people who are jetting away in Egypt and drinking whatever drink they’re drinking and talking about their lives? I think that’s really important.
I just wanted to react to what one of my fellow panelists said about local contacts and trying to get to those that are defending or that will be at the conference, the delegations. Whilst my parents are from Bangladesh I’m actually from France, I was born in France. So I thought it was really difficult when I was in Bangladesh to actually reach out to those that were representing Bangladesh’s interest. I realized that sometimes in the local context, it’s often more difficult for the locals to get the reaction of their own heads of government. It’s easier for someone from the outside, from the United States or from Europe to get a hold of these people to get those relationships going.
So it is a really big challenge for local journalists to cover this event. And I think we need to honor that and to be aware of that, us who are in a privileged situation to speak to a global audience, to revert back to those local stories. I was speaking to a local reporter from Charleston in South Carolina yesterday and we realized that him and I, I’m in Dakar Senegal, we have so much in common in our stories. Those local stories that are happening in Charleston, South Carolina, are the same ones that are happening in Dakar. And if I go further, they’re the same ones that were happening on the coast of Bangladesh. So those local stories that are global are the ones that we need to be saying. And so local journalists in their local newsroom shouldn’t shy away from conflict and trying to find their ground to tell those stories that might be really, really small but maybe, have an impact to someone that’s across a globe that’s sharing the same kind of challenges or same stories.
Mark Hertsgaard: That is so much about what Covering Climate Now tries to facilitate, to build a community of journalists around the world who are covering climate change. And the more we talk with one another, as Nic just mentioned talking to a colleague in South Carolina who also was one of the winners of our awards this year, the more we realize that a lot of these stories are very similar around the world. It’s the rich who cause the problem, it’s the poor who endure it. It’s the white people, the white privileged people who generally make the decisions and the rest of the world who have to live with those decisions. And our role in the media is to bring that out and to try and always center equity in our reporting, equity and compassion.
Carolyn, I want to follow up on that point with you. And again, remember when we were in Glasgow last year and we arranged through Covering Climate Now an interview with Mohamed Nasheed, who is the former President of the Maldives, but was there as the Global South Ambassador to COP27. Nasheed is also the spokesperson for what I mentioned earlier, this basically threatened debt strike on the part of some of the highly climate vulnerable countries in the world, saying “we’re not going to pay the money that we owe to Western banks. You guys haven’t paid us the climate aid that you have owed literally since 2020 and before.” So could you talk a little bit about that, Carolyn? I mean, is that the kind of thing, this threatened debt strike, is that the kind of thing that you would see reporting on for The World, for example? And if so, how would you go about it and with an eye towards how others could also be covering that story in their own newsrooms?
Carolyn Beeler: Yeah. I mean, I think the topic of debt and a lot of the proposals that, for example, Mia Mottley from Barbados is forwarding and also Prime Minister Brown in Antigua and Bermuda, they’re all talking about this issue of debt and that there’s a bunch of financial products that are being raised about how to deal with this. Yeah. So I spoke with Prime Minister Brown at the UN General Assembly a couple of years ago about basically his argument that there needs to be more fiscal space and there needs to be easier borrowing terms for countries that are on the receiving end of the most climate damages and don’t necessarily have what they called the fiscal space to deal with it.
So I think this is an interesting emerging story that is kind of a little bit different from some of the stories that take us on the ground and show us impacts and show us specific adaptations. But this, I think what’s interesting about this is, this idea that the whole global financial system is not working for developing countries for climate vulnerable countries, and the idea that there’s an argument that all needs to be overturned. So it’s a challenging story to tell for radio or I would imagine TV because it’s an idea. So, I’ve kind of reported a bit on this and used specific examples of specific infrastructure that has been, for example, in Antigua that’s been destroyed and then there was not the ability to borrow to build it back better, stronger, more resilient in the timeframe that it was needed. So they end up getting into more debt because they had to borrow privately to rebuild this road, I think, to build it higher to withstand future flooding rather than being able to borrow at a concessional rate because there’s more availability of adaptation finance.
So it’s kind of a little bit different than the question you asked, Mark. But for radio and I imagine TV, you have to be able to find the specific examples of, this is the problem and this is how you would fix it with on the ground example that you can see or hear. So yeah, I think those are all really interesting topics to consider. They’re kind of a new area that world leaders are highlighting in terms of the financial system.
Mark Hertsgaard: I think that also ties in, Carolyn, with the whole question of how much protest is going to be allowed in Egypt? Because I remember at Glasgow, and I was there at Paris and Copenhagen before that too. Oftentimes it’s the protestors in the streets who are raising these issues, who are saying, wait, there’s a bigger context to climate change. And it’s a context of unfair debt and an unfair global economic system that all of these conversations about climate change take place within that larger context. And when you as a reporter can go to those protests and find the person who’s carrying that sign that says debt is oppressing the people of the Global South, that’s a way for you to get a soundbite and to bring that in and to have a little, let’s face it, some sort of color and drama in your story. So we’ve got a number of questions about this. I’m going to segue to this.
Lagipoiva, I’m going to start with you. One of the big, big questions that of course is going to be center stage at COP27 is so-called loss and damage. And let’s be really clear about what that is and why it’s emerging now. Loss and damage is not adaptation. Everybody knows, I think, on this call, climate mitigation, that’s about lowering the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, especially by stopping emitting so many. Adaptation is adapting to the impacts that are already happening, building stronger sea walls, creating early warning systems, which the United Nations just pointed out last week most of the world’s population are still not protected by the early warning systems that we in the rich world take for granted. The reason that we knew that Hurricane Ian was going to strike southwestern Florida and we knew it pretty long in advance is because of those systems. Most of the world doesn’t have that. That’s an example of adaptation.
Loss and damage is different. Loss and damage is essentially, it’s not quite exactly the same as reparations, but it is compensation. It is saying on the part of the Global South, “look, you guys in the rich world, you cause these problems. They are affecting us and we are losing and being damaged. We are losing things permanently.” Somebody who dies in a flood because of climate change, they’re not coming back. The kinds of damage that can happen to a community, you need compensation for that.
So that’s the argument that will be raised at COP27. The United States administration has already made it clear they are not interested in having that conversation. So Lagipoiva, I’d like you to talk a little bit again from the perspective of someone who you know is from the Pacific Islands now reporting for the Associated Press. How do you guys plan to ventilate that crucial issue of loss and damage at COP27?
Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson: Thank you, Mark. Well, I’m not going to speak to how my colleagues will cover this because they will be doing due justice to how the story unfolds in Egypt. But of course with the AP’s climate coverage, it is about reflecting the voices that are there and really giving voice as well to developing countries in the Global South. Again, I’m just seeing a lot of chatter from colleagues in Africa region and developing countries. So I really want to speak to how we as journalists cover this issue when you’re on the ground or offsite on loss and damage.
Loss and damage continues to be one of these issues that is championed by developing countries. Small island developing states have taken a very strong stance on it that is not equivalent to their contribution to emissions. And Mark, you have accurately defined these terms as it relates to loss and damage. And no, it’s not reparations, but it is very close to it. It is compensation. And with each region, so Africa, Pacific, Caribbean, there is that one high emitting country that is responsible to them or rather that claims responsibility for that specific region. So for the Pacific Islands, it’s Australia, it’s New Zealand. So my advice to journalists work covering COP27 would be to focus in on those countries that are relevant to your region because that way you can make the story a lot more relatable and it’s easier for you to cover in terms of data and information that you have on the ground. So this issue continues to be one that needs more coverage from COP27, both onsite and offsite. And really what we need to see more of is not necessarily the voices of Global South that continue to be marginalized when we get to the discussion of the worst of the whim.
But we need to see which countries are blocking it and highlight the reasons for blocking it and the tactics that they’re using and how those positions, and I speak here for Australia, how those positions translate to their intentions in countries. So for instance, with Australia, it’s all about big brother supporting small island developing states. But when it comes to the negotiations, it’s a different story. So just looking at the dichotomy between expressions of support at the community level and then the true support at the global level and how they’re blocking negotiations at the demise, the future demise of island nations and developing countries. Yeah. That’s all I can offer for now, Mark, on that one, unless we have an hour, in which case we can continue.
Mark Hertsgaard: Excellent point. It’s not enough to just explain why loss and damage is an issue. Look at who is blocking it. In that regard, a very specific soundbite that you might all want to look at. I’m not sure if we can call it up quickly enough here in the chat because I didn’t give my colleagues a heads up about this. But John Kerry, of course the US Special Climate Envoy, said in New York last month, in fact I was there in the room as he said this, at a New York Times event. He was pressed by a representative from, I forget, but one Global South country who was pushing for loss and damage. And he reacted quite strongly, almost angrily. And just so you know what his position is, he said, “Look, the most important thing we can spend money on is mitigation.” In other words, bringing down the temperature. He says, “If we don’t do that right, we are croaked, absolutely croaked.” That was the word he used, croaked, which for those of you who maybe not-
Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson: A very aggressive word.
Mark Hertsgaard: With American English, croak is slang for dying. Croaked, right? “We are croaked,” he said. “And then we have money that we have to spend for adaptation. We cannot also spend on compensation. You’re talking about trillions of dollars. Look at how the Biden Administration just had to pass climate legislation on Capitol Hill without a single Republican vote. You think you can get a trillion dollars for this?” Kerry continued, “Good luck.” So that’s the US position. I’m not defending it or advancing it. That’s the biggest government in the world is pushing against loss and damage. That is a position to interrogate as we go forward, all of us as reporters on that crucial issue of loss and damage. Nic Haque, do you have any further thoughts on this about how all of us as reporters can be pursuing these themes?
Nic Haque: Well, I think for me it’s really important to go beyond the easy narrative that we already have about climate change and look in more specific terms what, like the panelists have said, what each countries are actually doing or defending. So I’ll give you a very concrete example.
In Senegal, President Macky Sall, who’s the head of the African Union, talks about climate justice. And he’s been using this word for the last year extensively. But what does that mean to him? Well, for him, climate justice means the ability to extract fossil fuel, liquid natural gas out of the oceans of the coast of Senegal in order to bring power and electricity to homes where there is no power and electricity. So 70% of the population there don’t have access to power. And for him, that is climate justice. Now, climate justice for someone, I guess, in the island nations or maybe in the United States, in South Carolina, means something completely different. So it’s already a very complex event, COP27. So I think we really need to look at specifics and what each country wants and what they’re saying and what are the fallout effect on that.
The other thing that I want to point out too is unfortunately what I’ve seen is there are countries that use climate change as a veneer and it’s a way for them to get the attention or get funds from rich countries and not deal with what’s happening at home. So I’m thinking of countries where there’s bad human rights records or even where there was very little democracy that have been using climate change as a front. I’m thinking specifically of Gabon, for instance, where the Bongo family have been in power for half a century. This oil rich nation where rich countries, my country, France has taken a lot of gas from these countries. So you have companies like Total, like Shell, like BP extracting oil and gas. Meanwhile the president of Gabon is presenting itself as the forbearer of protecting the forests and being the lungs of Africa that needs to be protected.
And so when we talk about carbon emission and carbon sinks and all these things that are still very complex to, I think, my viewers, we still need to break it down really simply into what’s going on a global effect and what is my country doing and what are they not saying at the press conferences? What is not being said? What is not being asked? And I think that’s where local reporting is really important.
Mark Hertsgaard: Thanks, Nic. I’m going to ask one question here that’s come in over the RSVP and we sort of touched on this earlier. But a reporter asked, “if I’ve only got a few days at COP27 there on the ground in Egypt, how do I make sure to spend that time wisely?” Lagipoiva, you mentioned earlier, just stick with your own delegation, don’t get distracted. And it is certainly true. It is a carnival, these things, and I don’t mean that in a sort of a jolly way. But there is so much going on, you simply cannot cover everything. But Carolyn, could you speak to that a little bit? If you only have a few days, how do you keep from going mad, keep your focus as a reporter on the ground there?
Carolyn Beeler: Yeah. I think you have to think ahead of time about the storylines you want to follow and how you’ll cover those over the course of the summit and what stories you’re going to do on what day and try to stick to that. It is, it’s very tempting to like, last year I got a ticket to watch Obama speak and so I went to watch Obama speak because that was cool. So it’s hard to not go, try to follow everything and do lots of little hits on a bunch of stuff. But I think having a plan, sticking to it, being willing to deviate from that, if there’s a moment of serendipity that’s just this great little story you can do or a big news event. Obviously you want to have flexibility written into your plan to cover the unexpected news, but I think trying to have a plan and stick to it with the stories that will be impactful, maybe a bit original. Serve your audience so that you don’t just see where all the other reports are going and go there, and pace yourself.
Mark Hertsgaard: What do you mean by that? I know what you mean, but tell us.
Carolyn Beeler: Well, I think at the last COP, I did a seven minute story each day. With radio, that’s, it’s too much. And so I didn’t have any time to go walk around and meet people, to find sources who I’d interviewed over the phone for years and introduce myself. I didn’t have any time to walk through whatever displays they have. I didn’t even go in that hall. So, you leave a little bit of time for you to do what is also really useful at these, which is just make contacts, make connections, meet people face-to-face. So carve out a little bit of time for yourself and try to protect that to just chat with people, develop those relationships, maybe see something that gives you a new story idea that you hadn’t thought about before and be realistic about how much you can produce in a given period of time.
Mark Hertsgaard: I would also add, make sure that you’re well rested before you get there because you will not get much rest while you’re there. And you can do that because it’s a very adrenalized situation, but be rested, make sure you’re eating well, and all that stuff that your mama told you, because it’s going to be an intense session. But I would totally underscore what Carolyn just said too. Leave some time because sometimes it’s walking through the corridors and these just serendipitous meetings where you run into somebody who, my God, it’s the finance Minister of France or whoever, and you literally can button-hole them for 30 seconds and get a quote for your story. That would never happen if you weren’t there. So although much of our conversation today has been about how do you cover it remotely and you can do a lot remotely, if you are lucky enough to be there, that does bring certain advantages.
So I want to ask all three of you the same question here, and it’s a fairly straightforward one and let me start with you Lagipoiva and go back up the chain here. How many stories does your news organization plan to cover? And will you be writing and broadcasting about COP27 all the way through from the very start to the end? Or do you anticipate being more active at one part or another of the conference? And again, as you answer this with the thought in mind that some newsrooms are not going to be able to do as much coverage and how they would be approaching this. So Lagi, why don’t you start? I know, of course, the AP is a massive news organization, so it’s going to be a different answer.
Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson: Sure, Mark. So the AP is covering climate from various ways. So our bureaus are covering it from regional desks from their perspectives. And the climate team will be covering throughout COP. But leading up to COP27, our teams are also covering stories in preparation. We’re also doing collaborations with local newsrooms, so to highlight the stories that they’re covering from the ground. So it’s going to be quite extensive coverage from the AP with some of our senior writers and new writers on the ground.
But before I pass the mic to the next panelist, I just want to give some advice in case this doesn’t come back to me, as one of the greatest challenges when you’re at the COP is finding food at the venue and finding time to find the food. So someone asked me recently was, “What’s your greatest advice if you’re going to go and survive a COP?” Pack the snacks. Yes, not just the snacks, but take food because you can actually waste a lot of time trying to find food. And being from Samoa, I did not appreciate nor like any of the food or know what they were in a lot of the venues. So I think I survived on chips for a while. So I really advise that you sort that bit out so that you can survive the rest of the COP.
And I do agree with Carolyn’s points on making time for yourself in that some of my greatest sources to date was from the first COP that I covered, and that’s because I walked the halls. I looked at the various interesting booths and made contacts with them and they’re IPCC authors and negotiators now. So make those early contacts. And then also, again, advice to fellow colleagues from the Global South is that this is the one place you will find the most experts at any given time in the history of climate change. So take that recorder and do as many interviews as you can on the issues that you want to cover because you can archive that and use those quotes at a later stage, but it’s the only chance you will have to speak to some of these international experts. Thanks, Mark.
Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you. Nic, Al Jazeera, how often and how much in volume do you guys plan covering?
Nic Haque: I’ll give you the… I mean, I don’t honestly know how many stories there’ll be on it, but I can certainly tell you in total honesty I can sense from the newsroom this sense of climate fatigue and it’s unfortunate and it’s maybe because we’re not doing our jobs properly. But yeah, I think it’s really important. I mean, it’s a story that’s… it’s not recurrent, it’s just ongoing. And we revisit themes over and over again of migration, the financial impact, et cetera. So I think it’s our job to make it, to confront this climate fatigue that I’m talking about amongst certain newsroom. And I don’t think it’s just Al Jazeera, it might be other organizations too.
But I just wanted to add to what the panelists were saying. I think it’s really important to take stock, even as a journalist, the emotional impact of what’s going on when there are certain decisions that are being taken to just honor how you feel about it and what’s going on and the potential impact that has on a decision that is not going to be made for instance, and how that will impact your life, but also the people that you’re talking to. And often as journalists, we forget about our own emotions in the process. So busy trying to talk to others and to tell their stories. But it’s really important I think to honor how we feel and what’s going on and the trauma that there is in what’s going on with our planet. And I think maybe, perhaps that’s the way to tell the story is to come back to recenter. To be utterly present with emotions at hand when it comes to covering climate change.
Mark Hertsgaard: That’s such a wise intervention, Nic. Thank you so much. All of us need to be… We are on the front lines of this and we need to take care of ourselves in order to do justice to the trauma that the people who are really experiencing it are dealing with every day. So take care of yourselves so that you can take care of others. Carolyn, quick last word from you and then I’ll close up. Again, how much does World plan to be doing on this?
Carolyn Beeler: I think we’ll probably do an average of about a story a day with one or a couple leading up to it and then a couple wrapping up, but I think it’s a balance of not…We intentionally cover climate change every day, and this is part of that coverage, but I have to rein myself in and remind myself that this is one important climate event every year, but there’s a lot of big climate news. So this doesn’t need to plaster our airwaves, rather, it should be part of our holistic covering of climate change in a variety of ways. Diplomacy is one thing we cover, but then there’s also the business side, there’s agriculture, there’s a whole bunch of different things and the COP has an impact on all of those things, but it’s not the only story.
And one more just practical tip. In addition to food, which is a great thing to bring up, if you can get into the closing plenary, I recommend trying to be in there at least once when you cover COPs. All the negotiations are closed to press, but that is the one place where you see all the big players, you see all the big negotiators in these little huddles, and you really see the negotiations happen and the power plays that are happening on the ground. So you might need to go in there and not leave for eight hours. So that’s another reason why you want to have food on you. But I think it’s worth even just for your own edification to go to the closing plenary. I see a question here. It’s on the schedule, it’ll be in all the lists of events, but it’s the place where they vote to say yes via consensus to the document that they’re signing. And there’s always a little bit of horse trading that happens there. So, it can be cool to see that unfold.
Mark Hertsgaard: And that was the big dramatic moment at the end of COP26. Where at literally at the last minute. Suddenly, the language was watered down from we’re going to phase out coal to phase it down through an intervention, joint intervention by China and India that left Alok Sharma, the COP26 President, literally in tears to see that shifted. And of course, remember that’s the big overarching story here. We came out of COP26, Sharma told us in the press conference that night, 1.5 degrees target is still alive, but it is on life support. And if you look at what’s happened over the last 12 months, it’s sure as heck hasn’t gotten any better. That’s the big overarching question at COP27. Can we keep 1.5° at least within striking distance?
So we’re going to leave it at that. I urge all of you to join the Slack channel here at Covering Climate Now. Look at our resources; sign up for our newsletter; I think it will help all of us to become better reporters; and share back with us. We’re all on a learning process here of how to do justice to the biggest story of our time. I want to close by thanking once again our stellar group of panelists: Nic Haque from Al Jazeera, Carolyn Beeler from The World, and Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson from now The Associated Press.
And on behalf of everyone at Covering Climate Now, I’m Mark Hertsgaard, wishing you a very pleasant day.