At this stage in the climate emergency, every year is a make-or-break year. Our role as journalists is to focus public attention on what needs doing and how it can be achieved, and to hold governments, corporations, and other powerful interests accountable for delivering that change. To that end, here are some of the most important climate stories of the coming year, along with news pegs and tips for telling them.
Can we defuse the climate emergency without also defusing the global crisis of democracy? In the United States, former President Donald Trump and his followers, still embracing the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, are threatening retaliation and violence against election officials and trying to change voting rules to rig upcoming elections. If they prevail, “there is zero chance the US government will take the strong climate action needed to avert global catastrophe,” CCNow Executive Director Mark Hertsgaard wrote in the Guardian. The many links between the climate and the democracy emergencies around the world demand high profile coverage from news outlets everywhere — an ideal opportunity for climate reporters to collaborate with their colleagues on the politics, foreign, and other newsroom desks.
Another cornerstone of democracy, the right to protest, is also under threat. Lawmakers pushing proposed laws in the UK to restrict protest have admitted they were motivated in part by recent Extinction Rebellion demonstrations. The same appears to be happening in the US, where lawyers defending Indigenous-led water protectors protesting the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota say many of the charges against their clients were overly aggressive and meant to send a clear message. Dozens of laws restricting the right to protest have been enacted in the US since 2017, with many more pending. Journalists should alert the public to such measures and press government officials on the rationale for them.
US climate policy
If the world is to “keep 1.5 C alive,” as the COP26 summit pledged last November, the world’s biggest emitters must dramatically accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. News outlets can help by highlighting what governments in Washington, Beijing, New Delhi, Brussels, and Brasilia are — or are not — doing. In the US, that means sustained focus on President Joe Biden’s push to pass the Build Back Better Act and whatever related initiatives emerge. Just because BBB’s political opponents would have the public believe that the bill is dead is no reason to abandon the larger story. Lawmakers in both parties — especially the Republicans whose lockstep opposition has blocked climate legislation so far — should be pressed on what they support doing instead to save young people from an unlivable planet.
Also worth watching is an upcoming US Supreme Court case that could gut the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The court’s 6-to-3 conservative majority has climate advocates concerned that the Clean Air Act, the bedrock of US environmental regulation for 50 years, is in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, officials in California and Florida want to make it costlier to install rooftop solar systems. Yes, you read that right. With record wildfires and rising seas already walloping two of the US’s most populated states, some bureaucrats seem to think too much solar power is a bad thing. Juicy stories investigating how utility companies persuaded regulators to embrace that hairbrained idea await any journalist ready to report them.
Another 2022 priority should be solutions journalism — which, to be clear, is not cheerleading or activism but simply telling the entire story: both explaining a given problem and scrutinizing potential solutions. A major opportunity here will be the US Interior Department’s auction on February 23 of 480,000 acres across six lease areas off the New Jersey shore — the most area ever offered in a single auction — for the development of wind energy. (For more climate solutions to chew on, check out this recent story in The New Scientist by Adam Vaughan.)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release the second installment of its Sixth Assessment Report on February 28 (media registration here and see this two-page overview from Climate Nexus). The focus will be on climate change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. This spring, the third installment, on responses and solutions to climate change, will be released. Journalists wanting to get up to speed in advance can attend a CCNow press briefing on February 17 on the latest climate science. We’ll have more details on that in next week’s newsletter.
The Road to COP27
Following countries’ pledges at COP26, reporters should be asking: Are governments improving their climate action plans enough between now and COP27 in November to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius alive?
Over 100 countries pledged in Glasgow to cut methane emissions, which science tells us would have the fastest, greatest effect on slowing global temperature rise. While major emitters China, Russia, and India did not sign, the US and China released a joint declaration to increase cooperation on climate change, including on methane. Governments should also be held to account for their COP26 commitments to end deforestation and quit coal. Be sure to check out Al Jazeera’s helpful overview of individual country pledges.
This year isn’t going to be easy but we’re glad to be working alongside you all to tell the climate story with the rigor, creativity, and accountability it demands.