Some media outlets in Canada have increased resources for environmental journalism, but continue to struggle with addressing across coverage

A version of this piece originally appeared on Projet J

Global mobilization for COP27 and summer 2022’s wave of natural disasters have been ideal conditions for media outlets around the world to rethink their climate coverage. Emerging policy responses from Canada’s federal climate plan and the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act to the European Union’s energy taxonomy compel a global state-of-the-union on climate journalism.

While there have been improvements over time, the media has continued to fall short of their duty to meaningfully contextualize climate events, impacts and research.  As recently as summer of 2021, digital news media in Canada frequently neglected to provide climate change analysis of devastating extreme weather events. 

A year later, media in Canada missed another high-profile opportunity to provide audiences with context about the state of the emergency —  Overshoot Day

“Overshoot” represents the level by which our global activity exceeds the sustainable amount of our planet’s regenerated resources. Each year, the Global Footprint Network calculates the day by which our planet’s annual regenerative budget is spent, and when humanity enters so-called environmental deficit spending. 

In 2022, the Global Footprint Network calculated this day to be July 28. It’s therefore an annual occasion for the media to put in practice explanatory journalism and its coverage is a convenient barometer.

Country Overshoot Days 2022: When would Earth Overshoot Day land if the world's population looked like... 

Visualization by country. Earth Overshoot Day and Global Footprint Network

As we examine how Canada’s major media covered Overshoot Day we start with French language public broadcaster Radio-Canada. Its Radio-Canada.ca did put the story on the site’s front page, but the level of involvement at Radio-Canada was minimal: the story was a repost of  an Agence France Presse wire story, which omits to state, for example, that for Canada, Overshoot Day is on March 13, as it is for the United States. This would have reminded Canadians their per capita CO2 emissions are in the top 10 in the world, at 4.8 tonnes.

Next, Radio-Canada Première’s 15-18 show mentioned Overshoot Day in a single sentence, without providing any additional context. Nevertheless, Le 15-18 does cover climate with special reports as well as opinion and perspective pieces from specialists. On balance, Radio-Canada.ca publishes a well-stocked environmental section, including a weekly newsletter.

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On the English language side of CBC/Radio-Canada, CBC News did not include Overshoot Day at all on its website. 

CBC Radio One’s The World This Hour did not mention it in its newscast either. CBC News.ca does, however, maintain a climate and environmental section featuring explanatory modules, and it publishes the What On Earth newsletter.

CBC and Radio Canada do offer climate coverage though at crucial times, they have neglected to bring meaningful context to related emergencies. Important events such as Overshoot Day have gone somewhat underreported. 

Montréal-based Le Devoir has stated a commitment to environmental coverage, establishing a unit of 12 reporters from across beats to tackle the issue. Quebecor’s media outlets also publish an environmental section. Both Le Devoir and Quebecor’s Journal de Montréal covered Overshoot Day with the same AFP wire story, without any added Québec/Canada context.

This is just one event that’s been overlooked.

Across the board, there is a relative lack of environmental reporting by and featuring members of Indigenous communities, which are at the forefront of biodiversity protection and disproportionately affected by climate change’s impacts. 

Traditional media’s challenge in dealing with the climate issue has led to the launch of specialized publications, such as Unpointcinq, which combines scientific coverage with accessible service journalism

In the rest of Canada, The Narwhal and Canada’s National Observer come closest to the Guardian, an international leader on climate coverage. 

Both these Canadian specialist outlets are digging deep, with in-depth investigations such as the Narwhal’s profile of Lisa Baiton, who moved from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board to become president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. 

The National Observer has featured Canada’s most “sustainable” cities as well as the complex relationship between Canada’s big banks and the oil industry

Outside of Canada, mainstream media are facing the same issues, but the major brands are doing their part to cover climate. The New York Times, for example, is stepping up its coverage, with a scientific explanation of what’s causing drought in the American Southwest, a long-term perspective on the climate impact on the food supply chain and a follow-up on the climate bill in the Congress. 

The Guardian screenshot: 

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Screenshot of The Guardian

The Guardian’s U.S. and international editions continue to stand out among their peers. As a leading independent media outlet, the British daily has established itself as a standard bearer.

Bloomberg has also invested heavily in climate coverage. Its Bloomberg Green section is an industry leader in financial news related to the environment and climate change.

Public broadcasters France Télévisions and WDR, a German public broadcaster, have partnered to launch NOWU – a website with environment news – this spring, backed by NGOs and institutions such as Météo France, the French weather service. The aim is to target a younger generation with content specifically designed to be viewed and shared on tablets and phones. 

Titles such as French online newspaper Mediapart have developed a real long-term expertise on the subject and the U.S. climate coverage vertical now includes hybrid outlets such as Amy Harder’s Cipher, a digital publication linked to a climate investment fund, as well as Canary Media, supported by the Rocky Mountain Institute, and veteran Grist, launched in 1999. 

Publications with a more scientific focus are also expanding their readership: Hakai, Anthropocene, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and Currently

Finally, prominent climate activists publish newsletters, such as The Crucial Years by Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature (1989), and these are attracting a growing readership.

Readers end up spoiled for choice with all these sources, which results in a fragmentation of audiences. For mainstream media, a major challenge is to integrate climate analysis across any relevant coverage, rather than isolating environmental reporting into separate sections or verticals. 

The first positive step, for example, is that Radio-Canada is now featuring its climate-related articles in both its Economy and Environment sections. 

As Canada falls behind, our “green” credentials as a nation should be challenged and examined with much more expertise. As COP27, this year’s UN Climate Implementation Summit and COP15, its Convention on Biological Diversity (to be held in Montréal), will once again force media outlets to cover all aspects of the issue during November and December, it would behoove them to do better, and hopefully offer another opportunity to reset to provide context and perspective year round.

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