Elections Have (Climate) Consequences

Brazil’s election winner slashed deforestation — will Indonesia’s?

Aerial view of deforestation of the native Cerrado (savanna) in Sao Desiderio, west Bahia state, Brazil. (Photo by Florence Goisnard via Getty Images)

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Deforestation in the Amazon has fallen by almost 50% in one year under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian government said earlier this month. As much of the world heads to the polls this year, these figures are a stunning reminder of how crucial voting can be to curbing climate change.

“This is very good news,” Dr. William Ripple, a professor of ecology at Oregon State University, posted on X/Twitter. “The right president [can] make a real difference.”

As we’ve written, the dozens of elections taking place around the world in 2024 are opportunities to alert the public that their votes will shape the climate future. It’s our job as journalists to provide coverage that enables voters to make informed choices. It’s also our job to question candidates about what they plan to do about the climate emergency — and compare their answers to what science says is necessary: a rapid phase out of oil, gas, and coal.

In Brazil, deforestation reached a record high under Lula’s predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro. Lula promised to reverse that trend.

Carlos Nobre, a senior researcher at the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of São Paulo, confirmed that the Brazilian government’s claims about reducing deforestation are based on reliable satellite data. “The effective actions in 2023 to reduce deforestation have a lot to do with combating…environmental crime,” he said.

But deforestation has only slowed, not stopped, in the Amazon, one of the world’s most important carbon sinks. Meanwhile, the Amazon is also suffering an acute drought that scientists recently concluded was made 30 times more likely by climate change. As effective as Lula’s policies have been, the Amazon can only be saved if other countries also do their part.

Internationally, the next important climate elections take place in Pakistan, on February 8, and Indonesia, on February 15.

Pakistan is not a major greenhouse gas emitter, but it is profoundly threatened by climate change. Torrential floods in 2022 put one-third of the country underwater and left more than 8 million people homeless. Will news coverage illuminate what contending candidates plan to do to strengthen Pakistan’s resilience to climate impacts going forward?

Indonesia, like Brazil, is home to one of the planet’s most important rainforests. Since 2015, deforestation there has decreased by 65%, according to the World Resources Institute. Will that trend continue after the impending elections?

The current frontrunner, Prabowo Subianto, is the former son-in-law of Indonesia’s deceased former dictator, Suhuarto. Subianto has disparaged efforts to curb deforestation, and independent investigations have concluded that government programs he supervised spurred additional deforestation.

Two articles by The New York Times about Indonesia’s elections made clear how democracy is imperiled in that country, the world’s fourth most populous. But Indonesia’s tropical forests are also imperiled, and with them the fate of millions of the country’s rural people, not to mention the world’s chances of limiting global warming. Good reporting can center the climate consequences of every election this year: In Pakistan and Indonesia, soon in India and the EU, and — perhaps most consequentially — the US in November.

From Us

“The Climate Story in 2024.” CCNow will hold a press briefing for journalists to help unpack the biggest climate stories to watch this year, including the 2024 elections, roadblocks to phasing out fossil fuels and expanding clean energy, and rising climate disinformation. The panelists are Mustafa Santiago Ali of National Wildlife Federation; journalist and activist Bill McKibben; and Amy Westervelt, investigative climate journalism and founder of Critical Frequency. CCNow’s executive director, Mark Hertsgaard, will moderate. January 30. RSVP.

Social media poll. We want to get a better idea of where journalists — you! — are hanging out online. Can you take a one-question poll to help? Answer the question here.

2024 CCNow Awards COMING SOON: Keep an eye out next week for the launch of the fourth annual Covering Climate Now Journalism Awards, honoring exceptional work published in 2023. Submissions will open Thursday, February 1, and we’ll share the link via CCNow’s usual channels, including this newsletter, social media, and our community Slack. In the meantime, check out previous years’ winners and finalists.

Noteworthy Stories

US gas exports. The Biden administration is temporarily halting a decision on whether to approve the Calcasieu Pass 2 project, a proposed liquefied natural gas export facility in Louisiana that would be the US’s largest, according to The New York Times. Following pressure from environmental groups, the administration is having the Department of Energy consider climate impacts when reviewing the project. Read more at Reuters…

Amazon’s climate crisis. Climate change, not El Niño, was the main cause of the Amazon basin’s severe 2023 drought, according to a new World Weather Attribution study. The drought was made 30 times more likely due to climate change, which is threatening the Amazon’s role in regulating the Earth’s atmosphere. By Georgina Gustin at Inside Climate News…

Greenwashing gas. The propane industry plotted to falsely promote the fossil fuel propane as a clean energy source (and spent millions of ad dollars doing so), according to recordings reviewed by HEATED and the Guardian. “Twenty-five percent [of people consider] natural gas to be renewable, in this millennial and gen Z bucket,” an unidentified board member of the US-based Propane Education & Research Council said. “There’s a perception out there — not reality, but that’s perception. We can attach to that for propane.” By Arielle Samuelson at HEATED…

Classroom disinformation. In Illinois, a state actively moving away from fossil fuels, the Illinois Petroleum Resource Board, a fossil fuel industry-funded organization, is promoting fossil fuel jobs in Illinois classrooms through teacher workshops, classroom presentations, and curriculum materials. Experts say the jobs are unlikely to exist as Illinois moves away from fossil fuel production. By Keerti Gopal at The Lever…

Hopeful cli-fi. Grist just published its latest “Imagine 2200” story collection, stemming from a short story contest that “celebrates stories that offer vivid, hope-filled, diverse visions of climate progress.” See the stories at Grist… 

Resources and Events

Carbon capture and storage. Matthew Green, global investigations editor at DeSmog, prepared a tip sheet for the Global Investigative Journalism Network for reporting on the oil and gas industry’s use of carbon capture and storage.

Climate justice. Environmental journalist Yessenia Funes looks at environmental and climate justice storylines that reporters are watching this year in an article for the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Engagement journalism. America Amplified, an initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, has produced a “community journalism engagement playbook” to help journalists and newsrooms improve their engagement practices.

Climate connection. World Weather Attribution will present the results of an embargoed new study on the link between climate change and the heavy rain and snowfall from Storm Bettina in 2023 that struck Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, and Turkey. Reporters can contact wwamedia@imperial.ac.uk for the embargoed materials. January 29. RSVP.

Stats 101 for journalists. SciLine is offering a free, hour-long crash course on “stats essentials for math-averse reporters.” January 29. RSVP.

Clean hydrogen. Canary Media is holding a webinar on “The future of clean hydrogen: Separating hope from hype.” January 29. RSVP.

Investigative journalism. The Global Investigative Journalism Network will discuss key priorities for investigative climate journalism, including the fossil fuel industry, government policies, and more. The event will include Arabic, French, and Spanish interpretation. February 6. RSVP.

Philanthropy. Mongabay is holding a webinar on how to evaluate and cover conservation philanthropy efforts. February 8. RSVP.

Local Story Ideas

Stories on our radar that local journalists can consider for their own audiences:

  • Do a Q&A with a local official in charge of helping communities cope with extreme weather. See this interview by Yale Climate Connections as an example.
  • Report on one of the dozen US communities pushing for public electricity ownership. Grist writes about the trend here.
  • Talk to someone who has installed a heat pump and see how it’s going, as Sky News recently did.

Industry news

En Español. Yale Climate Connections is launching a new website, YCC En Español, that will offer Spanish-language news on climate change and extreme weather.

Zero coverage. A new Media Matters study finds that corporate broadcasters and national cable TV news networks in the US “dedicated almost zero coverage” to a new report by the EU’s climate agency that concluded 2023 was Earth’s hottest year on record.

Jobs, Etc. 

Jobs. Carbon Pulse is recruiting a feature writer/sub-editor. The Centre for Climate Reporting is hiring a remote junior investigations reporter. Earth Journalism Network is hiring a project officer in Nepal. Inside Climate News is looking for a Midwest reporter. Planet Detroit is seeking an audience growth specialist.

Taking pitches. Noema Magazine is accepting pitches for solutions-oriented climate stories. Vox is looking for climate stories that “help readers better understand and navigate our world.”

Grants. The Doc Society Climate Story Fund is offering up to $150,000 in grants to support stories from around the world that “can help audiences envision the just transition, and activate them to make these visions a reality.” The Alexia is offering a $15,000 environmental change grant to a still photographer “whose innovative image-making and ideas deepen human understanding of environmental change in the Anthropocene.”

Awards. The 2024 Poynter Journalism Prizes are now open for entries.