This election year, let’s talk climate

A voter casts his ballot for the midterm primary election in Grove City, Ohio, U.S. May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Gaelen Morse

A voter casts his ballot for the midterm primary election in Grove City, Ohio, U.S. May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Gaelen Morse

With over 2 billion people set to vote, 2024 will be a critical year for climate action - and reliable information on it

Mitali Mukherjee is director of journalist programmes at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

Last year’s COP28 climate change summit was a stark reminder that in an age of information overload and misinformation, independent media is critical.

As information flew fast and thick around COP28, contextual and clear communication was coming from one key space - credible news organisations and journalists, constantly working at de-jargonising vital information and providing perspective on complex issues, from the controversy surrounding the presidency to the final agreement.

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In the midst of all the ambiguity, the role of the news – to report on the facts in a balanced manner - was critical in the fight against misinformation.

In 2024 – billed as ‘election year’, with 2 billion people in over 50 countries set to cast their votes - the role of the media will continue to be more important than ever.

These countries – which include the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico, Pakistan, India and Indonesia - represent a broad range of the climate spectrum, from global policy leaders to some of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world.

The results of these elections will be particularly significant in the context of climate action and the media’s reporting of them will be critical in informing voters and policy signals.

That’s because, like politics, climate change affects everyone. It may look different in different parts of the world – extreme weather, droughts, flooding, biodiversity loss – but its impact on our day-to-day lives is unavoidable.

It’s no doubt a sobering topic for journalists which begs the question: how exactly do audiences want to engage with climate change? A recent study by the Reuters Institute for Journalism at Oxford University explored this and showed that this varies in different regions.

It's important to caveat that our findings show concern for climate misinformation is at an all-time high, so much so that our perceived exposure to it is on par with misinformation about politics.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the findings showed an appetite for objective, independent spokespeople commenting on the climate crisis across the board.

Specifically, scientists were found to be the most trusted sources of climate information, while politicians and governments were the least trusted. For journalists covering climate against an election backdrop, this insight speaks volumes.

Claims about climate policies and their impact must be fact-checked and analysed by independent spokespeople. Policies need to be measured against science-based targets. And, more than ever, climate experts and journalists need to work closely and more frequently with each other in the ultimate goal of informing public discourse and creating space for meaningful change.

Another interesting insight was the stark North-South divide on how climate changes links to public health. Those from the Global South countries were more likely to believe that climate change has significant health effects on them, their friends and families, while the opposite holds true for the Global North.

It’s no surprise when we consider that cities such as New Delhi in India and Lahore in Pakistan are consistently ranked among the most polluted cities on the planet and have seen extreme flooding and heatwaves in recent years, all of which have had a visible impact on public health.

For journalists reporting about climate change, considering the regional divide is key. Reporting on climate will not work with a one-size-fits-all approach.

Every region will need to build climate acumen among its journalist community so that they can report on local specifics effectively. And for global media outlets, many of which are based in the Global North, having regional correspondents and experts will be key in ensuring that reporting is considered, balanced and nuanced.

A final insight from our research is an important one. Climate change can no doubt be an overwhelming topic for many people. While the media needs to play a role in reporting the facts, they also need to provide us with hope.

Our research showed that all countries showed an interest in reporting that incorporates climate solutions into its coverage; specifically, focusing on individuals, organisations and communities that are actively striving to find solutions to the climate crisis.

For reporters, this is an important takeaway. It’s easy to get swept away in the raft of negative breaking news, but editorial space must be held for positive stories – though solutions too must be supported by science-based targets and independent experts, to ensure they are genuine.

The year ahead is going to be a significant time for climate policy and the media’s role in influencing decisions, public opinion and challenging governments is more important than ever. The bigger question is, are news organisations up for the challenge?

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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