2022 Notebook: Climate catastrophe, and a bit of hope too

THE BACKGROUND: For those worried about climate change — and, by extension, the planet’s future — 2022 was a mixed bag. Hurricanes and floods plagues many places, and the COP27 meeting in Egypt didn’t end with as much progress as many activists hoped.

Yet discussions about climate reparations began, which represented a step forward for many, and the voice of the Global South increased in many corners of the debate.

The Associated Press assembled its expanded global climate team in 2022 and stepped up its coverage of climate change across the world. Here, AP’s new global news director of climate and environment, Peter Prengaman, and the team’s video output producer, Teresa DeMiguel, look back on the year, how they frame coverage and what might lie ahead.

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TERESA DE MIGUEL, video producer, climate and environment:

We’ve seen these massive floods in Pakistan. We’ve seen massive droughts in Europe. We’ve seen this hurricane hitting Florida and Cuba and so on. So I think it’s been a year where people have been realizing how destructive and how catastrophic climate change can be. There were a lot of expectations for COP27. We didn’t get the best or the most ambitious kind of agreement that many climate experts said the world needed.

We really wanted to focus on the human side, on the human stories. To show how these very theoretical, very abstract ideas of climate change translate into the impact on human beings. So we did this climate migration series in Somalia, Indonesia, Philippines, India and many other countries, and we’ve been seeing this pattern of destruction and an impact to local communities and in particular families. I think that’s very important, from the visual point of view, that you can really translate the bigger issue to a particular family and kind of show it in a very human way, so people really understand the real consequences of climate change.

From the visual point of view, beyond the specific story of the human impact, I also think we really need to zoom out. So you really need those drone shots, or even satellite images to show the larger image of what’s going on — like drone shots of these rivers absolutely dry. People really pay attention to those very powerful images. It’s very important to kind of zoom out at some point to show the broad perspective of the impact, and sometimes you have to zoom in and show the particular stories of specific people.

It’s a challenge, because climate change is an issue that also relates to whatever you do in your daily life, right? It affects whatever you do, and the decisions you make from driving your car, or the kind of food you eat — they make a difference to climate change. And it’s difficult to tell people that their daily activities might be contributing to climate change.

I also think we want to be giving a lot of voice to climate activists, young people who are really engaged in the fight against climate change. That was really encouraging at COP27, because it was very difficult for activists to actually travel to Egypt, because the summit was happening in a very expensive tourist seaside resort town. So when you saw large crowds of activists from across the world, protesting there, it was chilling, because you could see how all these young people have assumed it as their own generational fight.

PETER PRENGAMAN, global news director, climate and environment

I ask myself three things pretty much every day: Who’s not paying attention to climate news? Why are they not paying attention to climate news? And how do we get them to engage in climate news? These are really hard questions. I think climate news is hard for a lot of people. It can feel abstract and, at least historically, it has been very scientific. So it’s wonky. How do we how do we get around that? There’s no one way. But I think one really important way is to make sure stories are focused on people. As humans, we’re innately curious about what other humans are doing. And so the more that you can focus on people, the more it draws in general readers.

Not every story about climate change even needs to say “climate change.” Those two words turn people off. And so let’s say you’re writing a story about a green energy or some kind of solution, something innovative that a school district is doing — I don’t know, switching their fleet of buses to electric or encouraging people to carpool. You can talk about drops of emission, and bettering pollution, without even saying climate change. You can try and tell stories that don’t hide the climate piece of it but don’t necessarily make it front and center.

The world’s gotten better at dealing with climate disasters. So you have fewer people dying, and that’s a good thing. But I no longer think that climate change is just something that people in remote places have to think about or deal with. It’s changing how we live. You can be the richest person in the world and your life is impacted. This really matters, and we need everybody to engage and think about solutions. It’s not our job as journalists to say, “This is the solution” or “Do this” or “Do that.” Our job is to share as much as we can let you know, and then readers have to engage.

Out of COP27, a very significant decision was made to create a fund for reparations. Now, the term reparations can kind of be hot-button. But the general idea is that developed nations that have contributed the most to climate change will help developing nations hardest hit by climate change in ways that they haven’t before. This isn’t just loans or disaster relief, but some kind of compensation. It’s an issue called “ loss and damage ” that’s been talked about on the margins of climate talks for the last 30 years. It was finally put on the official agenda for the first time this year. And I don’t think really any of us going in thought that there would be some kind of an agreement. It’s just too controversial. But they did agree to create the fund, so I think it’s something that’s going to be watched in the next couple of years, because now they have to figure out the details.

And then, of course, there’s the Inflation Reduction Act. Terrible name for a climate bill, but there it is. There’s just so much money in so many tax break incentives, that that I think you’re going to see a significant shift in electrification and several other things in the next couple of years.

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2022 Notebooks: https://apnews.com/hub/reporters-notebook

Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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