Covering 2024’s Many Climate Elections

Can journalism focus on “not the odds, but the stakes”?

A woman takes a mail-in ballot from an envelope at a polling station in Pennsylvania. (Photo by Aimee Dilger via Getty Images)

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Some four billion people — roughly half the human population — will get the opportunity to vote in 2024, making this the biggest election year of all time. Bangladesh went first, last Sunday, in an election boycotted by the opposition party. It will be followed, this coming Monday, by Iowa’s Republican presidential caucus — the launch of the US presidential primary season — as well as elections in dozens of other countries throughout the rest of 2024. At a moment when both democracy and humanity’s climate future are in deep peril, newsrooms everywhere should ponder the advice of New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen that campaign coverage should focus on “not the odds, but the stakes.”

“That’s my [shorthand] for the organizing principle we most need from journalists covering the 2024 election,” Rosen tweeted last year. “Not who has what chances of winning, but the consequences for our democracy. Not the odds, but the stakes.” Too often, elections coverage focuses on the horserace — who’s up, who’s down in polls — perhaps in an effort to appear unbiased. But it isn’t biased for news coverage to help voters make informed choices, especially about such life-and-death issues as democracy and climate change.

Last year was the world’s hottest on record by a wide margin and the US experienced a historic number of billion-dollar climate disasters. Science says that we must act now if we want to avoid the worst climate impacts. The good news is, polling shows that audiences are overwhelmingly hungry for more climate coverage — and want to know what governments plan to do about climate change.

With so many climate-critical countries holding elections in 2024 — from India, Pakistan, and Indonesia to South Africa, Egypt, and Mexico, to the US, the EU, and the UK — the role of the press is twofold. Journalists must explain to voters what is at stake, what candidates’ climate records and policy proposals are, and how their climate plans compare to what science says is needed. This is an excellent opportunity for coverage and follow-up: Press candidates to explain what they plan to do about the climate crisis, and then hold them accountable for their words and actions.

Unfortunately, some outlets are still asking candidates whether they “believe” in climate change. Such “both-sides” framing implies that climate science is in doubt, which has not been true for many years. Instead, voters deserve plain-spoken reporting that helps them evaluate each candidate’s vision for the future. Climate change is inherently political, but our coverage can be political without being partisan. It’s not our job to tell people who to vote for, but it is our job to give voters the information they need to cast informed ballots.

The fix is simple. The best coverage will interrogate what candidates plan to do about climate change and push them to square those plans with what science calls for: a rapid phase out of oil, gas, and coal.

Focusing on the stakes — not just this month in Iowa and New Hampshire, but in elections around the world in the remainder of 2024 — is what this moment in history demands of journalism. Governments rarely lead on tough issues like climate change, or democracy, without pressure from the public. Voters have an opportunity to apply that pressure in 2024. They need journalists to equip them with the insight and power that knowledge gives.

Noteworthy Stories

Record heat. 2023 was the hottest year on record, driven by human-caused climate change and amplified by El Niño, according to Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. Average global temperatures were 1.48 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial temperatures, overtaking the previous record in 2016 by a wide margin. By Denise Chow at NBC News…

LNG exports. The Biden administration is reviewing the climate criteria for new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects amid increasing pressure by environmental groups to stop their expansion. The US began exporting LNG in 2016 and is now the world’s largest exporter of the fuel. By Ben Lefebvre at Politico…

War emissions. Emissions from the first two months of war in Gaza exceeded those of the world’s 20 most climate vulnerable nations, according to an analysis published by US and UK researchers. Military emissions, which are estimated to account for more than 5% of global emissions, are often undisclosed and kept outside of UN climate talks. By Nina Lakhani at the Guardian…

  • Governments must be required to report on conflict-related climate emissions, argues Doug Weir, director of the UK-based Conflict and Environment Observatory, in a Guardian op-ed.
  • Grist reports on the environmental impacts and associated health risks of the war in Gaza.

IRA impact. US carmakers say they fear a decline in electric vehicle sales if the Inflation Reduction Act is repealed under a Trump presidency after campaign advisors said the former US president intends to dismantle US climate policy if elected. The IRA’s tax credits to consumers and domestic automakers offer a “tremendous benefit” to the EV market, said Paul Jacobson, General Motors’ CFO. By Peter Campbell, Amanda Chu, and Christian Davies at the Financial Times…

Local media. In the face of local journalism cuts, a non-profit organization, Documenters Network, is training community members to attend and document under-reported local government meetings, where climate action is often debated and decided. [Note: Their work could be helpful to local climate and environmental reporters.] By ABC News Live…

Resources and Events

What you can do. Following the publication of Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility, readers asked the editors, Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua, what they could do about climate change. The pair has added a chapter with practical advice on how to get involved. 

  • The chapter could be helpful to journalists looking to address similar questions from their audiences.

MLK day. Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for climate justice, as Green Matters reported in 2023. This year’s day honoring Dr. King, January 15, is an opportunity to examine his climate legacy and US climate justice issues.

Fifth National Climate Assessment. The US Global Change Research Program, which recently published the US’s Fifth National Climate Assessment, is holding a series of explanatory webinars about its most recent findings. The next one, on January 12, focuses on ecosystems. Learn more. 

Stress & burnout. The National Press Club Journalism Institute is hosting a webinar on how journalists and newsrooms can avoid stress and burnout. January 12. RSVP.

COP28 targets. The International Energy Agency is holding a webinar on how the world can achieve the COP28 goal of “doubling of the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements” this decade. January 16. RSVP.

Climate justice. Experts from the Union of Concerned Scientists and the NAACP will discuss COP28 outcomes, with an emphasis on the agreement’s environmental and climate justice implications. January 17. RSVP.

Labor rights. The Pulitzer Center is holding a series of webinars on the connections between climate change and labor rights. The first one, “Energy Transition and Its Impact on the Job Landscape and Labor Rights” will be held on January 17. RSVP.

Industry News

How will the explosion of artificial intelligence, changes to social media platforms, and news fatigue affect journalism in 2024? A new Reuters Institute report, based on surveys with over 300 digital media leaders from over 50 countries, looks at these questions and more.

A climate change section predicts newsrooms will move away from “doomsday narratives” and increasingly provide “a sense of hope and personal agency” in their reporting on climate. They highlight ongoing efforts by:

  • Bloomberg Green, which has ramped up its green technology coverage
  • Earthtopia’s “Good News” on TikTok, which consistently draws the outlet’s highest level of audience engagement
  • Irish public broadcaster RTE’s “Climate Heroes” series, which spotlights individuals and businesses making positive climate contributions

Jobs, Etc.

Jobs. E&E News is recruiting a reporting intern. The Lever is looking for a climate reporter. The Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk is looking for 11 journalists via Report for America.

Fellowships. JournalismAI is inviting applications from journalists globally for its 2024 fellowship cohort. Apply by January 26.

Solutions Journalism Network is accepting applications for US-based journalists to join its second annual climate solutions cohort. Apply by February 5. 

The Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder is accepting applications for its Ted Scripps Fellowship program. Apply by March 1.

Grants. The Society of Environmental Journalists has extended its deadline for story grant proposals on the US clean energy transition. Apply by January 19.

Collaboration. The Human Journalism Network is looking for 24 Spanish and English newsrooms to participate in its 2024 program for exchanging journalism stories between media outlets.