Why the media must see the wood for the trees in its climate coverage

Darren Mckenzie Communications Lead, Global Canopy 31st August 2022

Illegal logging site on Pirititi Indigenous Amazon lands, May 2018. Image: Felipe Werneck/Ibama via flickr via AP

There’s no path to net zero without ending deforestation. Too often the importance of forests and nature is overlooked in media coverage about the climate crisis, writes Darren Mckenzie from IBT member, Global Canopy

Tropical forests are under attack. Month after month, records are broken for the number of trees chopped down to free up land for agriculture and mining in the Brazilian Amazon. Over the last 20 years, the world has lost an area of tropical forest equivalent to the size of Egypt. That’s pretty apt considering Egypt will host the next UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), in November. If we’re truly committed to finding solutions to a warming planet, our destruction of nature must become front and centre of climate coverage.

Much climate journalism understandably focuses on reducing emissions and carbon – on fossil fuels and the industries pumping them into the atmosphere. But that’s far from the whole story. If deforestation were a country it would be the third largest emitter in the world. The emissions from deforestation are equivalent to the emissions from all the cars, trucks, buses and motorbikes on the world’s roads. Halting this destruction would cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 11%.

When deforestation makes it into the news, it is rarely looked at through a climate lens.

So, in media reports, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is rightly criticised for allowing rampant deforestation in his country; but this is often only portrayed as a tragic loss of biodiversity, when in truth it’s also an attack on our efforts to mitigate the climate crisis.

The real story of deforestation is one in which we all play a part. Two thirds of deforestation is driven by agricultural expansion for beef, soy, palm oil and timber. These commodities end up in over 50 per cent of the products in our supermarkets. Furthermore, the money behind this trade comes from our investments and our pensions. Too often this reality remains untold.

Deforestation is just one part of the nature story. Scientists estimate that nature can offer a third of the solution to climate change. That means it can provide more positive news angles, providing avenues for hope and action around the climate crisis. Earlier this year Inger Anderson, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, said “nature can be the saviour, but we’ll have to save it first.”

Consumers don’t have enough information to make informed choices

According to recent ONS data, three quarters of adults in Britain are worried about the climate crisis. 81% reported having made lifestyle changes because of it. But a lack of information can limit these changes. Research we carried out with Make My Money Matter and Systemiq found that £2 of every £10 saved into a UK pension is invested in businesses with high deforestation risk. And yet polling found 77% of pension holders in the UK would be unhappy to discover that their savings were contributing to deforestation. There is a clear disconnect between what consumers want to do, and what they know.

At the beginning of the year Kai Tabacek, from Oxfam, wrote in an IBT blog that COP26 marked ‘a sea change in media reporting of climate change’. That is true. There has never been more global media coverage on this issue. But, ahead of COP27 in Egypt, that coverage needs to tell the full story.

We can help the media tell the full story

This is where organisations like Global Canopy can help. We make sense of the data – connecting our global system of trade and finance with the destruction that it causes. For example, it was good news that $1.7 billion in funding was pledged at COP26 to Indigenous peoples for their role in protecting lands and forests. But that has to be seen in the context of the $6.1 trillion in private finance that our Forest 500 ranking shows is currently invested in companies most exposed to deforestation.

Our Trase mapping tool allows journalists to find out the deforestation footprint of different nations. Egypt, host of COP27, is the third largest importer of Brazilian beef behind China and Russia. UK financiers provided over £40 billion to companies at risk of causing deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia through their trade in beef, soy and palm oil, according to analysis by Trase Finance. Strong verifiable data that journalists can use. In their last report the Independent Panel on Climate Change said “we have a brief and rapidly closing window for action.” We need change and we need it urgently. Halting and reversing our destruction of nature is central to any climate change conversation and it’s a conversation the media and journalists can help drive. Please help us tell the full story before it’s too late.


Darren Mckenzie is Communications Lead at Global Canopy

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