Movement Declaration: Rising temperatures, drought and heat waves, rising sea levels with immense implications for humans around the world, and more than one million species at risk of extinction, many within decades. The United Nations has described the climate and biodiversity crisis as a climate emergency and stresses the urgency for increasing action on curbing emissions. Based on comprehensive science the UN Secretary-General António Guterres has described human-induced climate change as the greatest challenge of our time. We believe journalists and media play an important role in addressing this challenge.
How the media should cover the climate emergency
The media needs to become better at acting on the fact that humanity is in a climate emergency. Journalists, reporters, editors and mangament all have a role to play. Here are a set of recommendations for journalists and the news media on how we get better at covering the climate emergency.
By journalist Morten Steiniche and Mik Aidt
Acknowledge that we are in a climate emergency
To enable citizens and politicians to act on the climate emergency, based on reliable information, the news media must acknowledge that this is an emergency and we must report on it accordingly.
Yes, the climate emergency is headline news
Give the coverage of climate change and biodiversity loss a prominent placement in the news, guided by basic journalistic principles of timeliness and relevance.
Introduce climate as another news value
Update the traditional journalistic news values with another value, which includes all important news relating to the climate emergency.
Listen to the science
Use the scientific consensus on the climate emergency as a basis for the climate coverage. The scientific consensus about the climate emergency means that the classic journalistic value about reporting from both sides of the story can become misleading and unbalanced.
Focus on constructive solutions and inspire to action
The media should strive to balance fear-inducing coverage of the climate catastrophes with coverage that focuses on constructive solutions and inspire action. Focus rather on climate solutions that can help here and now instead of hypothetical future solutions.
Create a foundation for a constructive debate on the future
The challenges of the climate emergency raise fundamental questions about how we live and consume in a world of limited resources. The journalistic approach to sustainable solutions and proposals for the future can help pave the way for the kind of deep societal changes that are required and the pace by which they are implemented.
Be consistent and persistent
Climate change is a constant ongoing process, even when there are no ominous reports or abnormally heavy rainfalls, bushfires or hurricanes. Therefore, the media should have a consistent focus on the climate emergency as special priority content.
Think climate into the entire news coverage
Make the climate crisis an integral aspect of news coverage and always consider whether a news story has a relevant climate emergency perspective.
Frame the climate emergency in a larger perspective
The climate emergency concerns all people and all life forms, which should be reflected in the coverage of the climate crisis. Make it clear what global changes means for local areas.
Explain the reasons behind the climate emergency
Investigate and explain the relationship between climate emergency, loss of biodiversity and human behaviour.
Don’t shy away from talking about what is unpopular
Address issues that are unpleasant or unpopular to talk about, such as waste and materialistic overuse in the richest countries.
Cover the sensational climate stories
The classic role of media as society’s watchdog implies that the media must also investigate sensational stories on greenwashing, fraud with carbon drawdown projects, and similar stories.
Make the climate crisis relevant and personal by talking to our emotions
Climate stories with many statistics, numbers and dry facts can create distance. Instead, make the climate crisis unifying and relevant by telling stories that resonate with emotions that people can identify with.
Always fact check allegations
Beware not to pass on fake news and misinformation, distorted truths and undocumented positions about the climate crisis.
Be critical of and expose special interests
Investigate whether statements, reports, and studies that downplay the climate emergency or its causes may have lobbying or financial interests that seek to influence news in a particular direction.
Hold decisionmakers accountable for their climate actions
Hold decisionmakers, companies, organisations and institutions accountable for their actions or lack of actions on the climate emergency.
Use a suitable language about the climate emergency
Talk about a climate emergency instead of climate change. When the catastrophic impact and frequency of an extreme weather phenomenon is caused by the climate disruption, talk about “floods and heat waves due to the climate emergency”.
Create consistency between text and images
Make sure there is no contradiction between the messages. For example, news about heat waves due to climate change should not be illustrated with pictures of people bathing and enjoying themselves at the beach.
Introduce a climate media ombudsman on larger media
Larger media should include a climate ombudsman who assesses whether media news is adequately prioritised in relation to the significance and impact of the climate emergency.
As individual journalists we strive to:
• report on the consensual scientific fact that the world is now facing a climate and biodiversity emergency
• use scientific and consensus based research as basis for our climate emergency reporting
• investigate and report on connections between extreme weather phenomenons and human-induced climate breakdowns
• be critical towards people, corporations and organisations diminishing or blurring the reasons behind the climate emergency
• hold public and private institutions to account for their actions and inactions on carbon emissions and climate
Morten Steiniche and Mik Aidt, 13 February 2020