Starting this week, Sky News will get deadly serious in its coverage of climate change by highlighting every night the time we have left until the planet overheats.
The figure is already less than 12 years, and the on-screen ticker will be counting down, second by second, as we head towards the ominous limit of 1.5°C hotter than when the Earth’s temperature was first comprehensively measured in 1880. That ceiling was set in Paris at COP21, the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, and Sky News has made its bold statement as we approach COP26 in Glasgow in November.
The ticking clock, built by Concordia University in Canada, will feature on a giant dashboard that will be a permanent studio fixture on The Daily Climate Show, which begins on 7 April as the UK’s first prime-time news show dedicated to the environment crisis.
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John Ryley, head of Sky News, had the idea for the show while mulling the role that hard data has had in our understanding of the Covid pandemic.
He said: “In today’s world, the public and consumers understand data. It dawned on me during the pandemic that we can use data very effectively in tackling the climate story.”
The data wall on the new show, hosted by Anna Jones, will include “dynamic” numbers from the University of Oxford’s Global Warming Index, revealing how the Earth’s temperature is steadily rising in fractions of a degree (it’s already above 1.1°C hotter than in 1880), and a running total of global CO2 emissions in millions of tonnes. Another stat, from the National Grid, will show the evolving split in UK energy use between fossil fuels, nuclear and renewables.
It seems like a scoreboard of doom. But Ryley says The Daily Show is designed to highlight the immediacy of the global warming problem. “In my nearly 40 years in journalism the environment story has always been covered episodically – in fits and starts,” he says. “I really wanted to make clear to people by launching this show that climate change is happening right now, all the time.”
The 15-minute programme will be broadcast twice every weekday evening and featured on Sky News’s digital platforms. It will be “not reassuring, but positive”, says Ryley, promising messages of inspiration rather than despair from international correspondents. He refers to a Kenyan woman who used her knowledge of engineering to build roads from waste plastic, and the Chernobyl survivor who grew up to become a pioneer in wave power.
Sky News, along with other established TV news outlets, has recently been criticised by upstart brands for a supposedly “woke” output. Similar media sneering at “tree-huggers” has too often seen environmental news dismissed as a topic of minority interest.
“I don’t think it’s a woke subject at all,” says Ryley. “It’s a serious subject that affects every age group.” News media now has “almost a duty” to devote resources to the issue.
COP26 should help with that. Sky News is planning a dedicated pop-up channel to cover all the discussions over the full 12 days. The BBC has identified the summit as a priority and will send its political and business journalists to cover it, alongside its environmental specialists and the BBC Scotland team.
The New York Times will use space at the Glasgow studios SWG3 to create The New York Times Climate Hub, staging panel discussions, lectures and interactive media for online and physical audiences. It will host The Forum, where audiences will vote, Oxford Union style, before and after expert debates. The Think Tank will showcase New York Times journalism in explaining the environmental threat.
The hub will “examine how climate solutions can be scaled across energy, transport, materials, food and agriculture, the oceans and water systems”, says Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, president, international for the New York Times. More than 50 Scottish representatives from business, charities and cultural institutions have been invited to take part and discuss “creative solutions under way in Scotland” to address the climate threat, he says.
This is a moment that will “clearly put Glasgow at centre stage in world current affairs”, says David Dick, editor of the Daily Record, based in the city. He promises “rigorous” coverage.
Environmentalists will be watching. “The media has struggled to convey the urgency and seriousness of the climate crisis,” says Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland.
“Tackling climate change is often framed as a lifestyle issue or a technical problem that the free market will solve, when the reality is that it is fundamentally an issue of justice and fairness.
“There is a key role for the media in exposing the big polluters, corporate sponsors and those who would promote their greenwash in a bid to influence these vital talks.”
The clock is ticking.
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