Interview with Jennifer Morgan, World Resources Institute

Jennifer Morgan is the Global Director of the Climate Program at the WRI.

19 October 2015

Nicolas Magand

Interview with Jennifer Morgan, World Resources Institute

We asked Jennifer Morgan, Global Director of the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute, a few questions about climate change coverage and what journalism can do next on the topic.

Ask Jennifer questions about climate change and WRI using the Twitter hashtag: #AskJenniferWRI

GEN – What are the main issues with climate change coverage today?

Jennifer – Climate change is the defining issue of our generation and the greatest challenge facing our leaders and our society today, yet climate news consistently gets bumped off of front pages by the scandal of the day. Meanwhile, the public has time and time again emphasized its concern about the climate, be it 400,000 people on the streets of New York last year for the People’s Climate March or polls which consistently show a growing majority of people of all walks of life who view climate action as vital.

A lot of climate and energy journalists are skilled reporters and talented writers but climate change is more than just an environmental issue, it’s an economic issue, it’s a humanitarian issue, is an immigration issue, it’s a security issue and until media outlets start covering climate change in all of its aspects, their reporting won’t reflect the reality.

What are the best articles you’ve read on the topic?

The recent Rolling Stone article with the interview of President Obama was particularly insightful. It spelled out what is happening on the ground in Alaska from climate change and how it is impacting the people living there and also spelled out what the President and his Administration are doing to address the problem. Bringing together the personal stories with what decision-makers need to do is particularly important.

Jennifer Morgan

Jennifer Morgan, speaking at a panel from the ACT 2015 Consortium

Climate change stories are rarely listed as the most read on news websites. Do you think people will become more interested in this matter?

Absolutely. But I also think that people are interested in climate issues, we just aren’t seeing that reflected in the media just yet. As climate change worsens, its direct and indirect impacts are becoming more and more pronounced. Massive deadly heatwaves in India, wildfires in the American West, widespread droughts, sea level rise and coastal flooding, El Nino effects, powerful hurricanes and cyclones all impact people’s lives in dramatic ways. There’s no doubt that climate change will play a role in every day decisions such as where to live and work, how and when to travel, and what to buy. In fact, it already is.

"Good data is vital
to understanding an issue
as important and complex
as climate change"

In addition, we’ve never known more about the potential for major economic opportunities available thanks to smart climate action. Businesses and investors are learning that any thorough economic evaluation must take climate impacts into account. Clean energy and renewables present huge investment opportunities and new policy proposals such as carbon pricing, which more accurately account for the social costs of carbon pollution, will open up new and lucrative business opportunities as well. There’s no doubt that as people learn more and more about the potential opportunities from climate action, as well as the possible costs of inaction, climate change will become even more of a mainstream topic.

Data journalism has a essential role to play: how can institutions, such as WRI, can help with data?

Good data is vital to understanding an issue as important and complex as climate change. WRI’s CAIT Climate Data Explorer has proven to be an invaluable resource for climate researchers, communicators, policy makers, and businesses. Our Global Forest Watch (GFW) platform does the same for those tracking tree cover loss around the world. By collecting and analyzing reliable data, then presenting it in a clear and coherent way, CAIT and GFW help to promote informed decisions regarding action. Additionally, in structuring data the way it does, CAIT helps to shine a spotlight on any information that’s missing or unclear. WRI and similar organizations are important in acting as a sort of climate watchdog, calling attention to places where climate data could be clearer or more thorough, and thereby promoting transparency in the entirety of the climate space. Such transparency is crucial for fostering the trust and cooperation necessary to tackle a global problem of this magnitude.

What is the main challenge for WRI regarding journalism? More data, more transparency, more stories?

As I mentioned before, there are a number of dedicated and talented journalists for whom climate is part of their normal beat. However, there is a much larger group of political journalists and those that write on economic and other issues that largely ignore climate change.

In the US, President Obama has said that combating climate change is among his top priorities in his time remaining as president and his actions have largely mirrored that commitment. The US Climate Action Plan is ambitious and achievable and the Clean Power Plan and other actions taken by the US EPA are strong steps towards meetings its goals, but the majority of news media still treat climate almost as a niche issue.

WRI is working to ensure that the connections between climate change and other priority issues such as security, the economy, immigration, agriculture, housing, etc. are clear and empirically based so that journalists and the general public will be able to fully understand the magnitude of this issue and the importance in tackling it head on.

"COP21 will be a big first step,
but it will not and cannot be
the only step"

What coverage do you expect on COP21? What will be the big story, the next trends?

The meeting in Paris will be a global news event. Heads of State and key country negotiators will be in attendance and the eyes of the world will be watching. As the profile of climate change increases in the media, thanks to action from leaders, the visibility of the UNFCCC process, and the increase in undeniable climate impacts, people will more and more look to the Paris Agreement to constitute the global response to climate change.

COP21 will be a big first step, but it will not and cannot be the only step. The global agreement that will be signed in Paris is vitally important and must constitute a large part of the world’s reaction to the changing climate but of equal importance is the foundation the agreement lays for future action. Countries need to ramp up their action over time and constantly revisit their progress to adjust and react as necessary, and the world must consciously aim for a clean, zero carbon future.

One of the biggest stories from the COP, and one of its most enduring legacies, won’t even involve the countries gathered there. Industry and civil society are realizing that we all feel climate impacts and we all have a role to play. Companies all over the world are taking more aggressive action on climate, from setting internal carbon prices and science based emissions reductions targets to investing in clean energy infrastructure, business has just as big a role to play as government. As companies innovate to exploit new market opportunities presented by climate action we will see corporate leadership step to the forefront of the fight against catastrophic climate change.

Want to react to this article, have anything to add? Ask Jennifer questions about climate change and WRI using the Twitter hashtag: #AskJenniferWRI

Photo credits: Thumbnail (modified): NASA/Jefferson Beck – Cover (modified): Kim Hansen