MeCCO Monthly Summary: The New Normal

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
October 2019 Summary

October media attention to climate change and global warming went down 8% from record levels of coverage in September 2019. However, it was still up 48% throughout the world from October 2018. While Middle East and North America coverage was up 10% and 7% respectively from the previous month, it was down in all other regions. At the country level, coverage also dropped from high levels in September in all countries we monitor, with the exception of increases in three countries: the United Kingdom (+8%), New Zealand (+5%) and Canada (+49%).

In particular, New Zealand’s record September 2019 coverage followed by continued 5% increase in October 2019 showed sustained media discussions of climate change and global warming.

Figure 1. Number of news stories per day per outlet in October 2019 across the New Zealand newspapers The New Zealand HeraldThe DominionPost, and The Press.

In October 2019, Canadian coverage of climate change indeed went up 49% from the previous month of September 2019. Canadian coverage also reached record levels, and this was largely attributed to the role that climate change played in the October 21 General Election for Prime Minister (see Figure 2). For example, journalist Chris Turner reporting for the Globe & Mail noted, “Climate change has never before played as central a role in a Canadian federal election as it did this year, and Mr. Trudeau ran hard on his record as the only leader offering both credible action on climate change and continued support for Canada’s oil and gas sector. The Liberals were, as Mr. Trudeau once put it, the only ones who saw both pipelines and wind turbines in Canada’s energy future. This was Mr. Trudeau’s grand climate bargain – better market access for oil and gas in a sort of trade for consensus on a workable path to a low-carbon economy – and Canadians have given him a shot at seeing that bargain through. I’d argue his legacy as a Prime Minister will ultimately rest on whether he can deliver on it. Mr. Trudeau’s reference to a referendum on the next 40 years was not self-aggrandizing on the climate front”. Meanwhile, over at The Toronto Star journalists Peter Lowen and Michael Bernstein reported after the election that “voters who turned away from the federal Conservatives were overwhelmingly concerned about climate change. Of the voters who did not vote for Scheer’s Conservatives, 20 per cent said they would have considered supporting the party. Among this Conservative-friendly pool of available voters, 77 per cent said climate change was among their top voting issues. Those same voters were unimpressed with the Conservative platform on climate change, giving it an average grade of D. What those results tell us is that the Conservatives left thousands of votes on the table, especially in battleground regions like Toronto and the 905 belt around Canada’s largest city. Had those people switched their vote to the Conservatives, we might be looking at a very different government today. If Conservatives are going to win elections in the future, they will need to advance a more credible plan on climate change — and that begins with not only accepting, but embracing, the reality of the carbon tax and rebate”.

Figure 2. Number of news stories per day per outlet in October 2019 across the Canadian newspapers Globe & MailThe Toronto Star and The National Post.

Figure 3 shows trends in newspaper media coverage at the global scale – organized into seven geographical regions around the world – from January 2004 through October 2019.

This month, we integrate 17 new sources across 14 countries: five new sources in Asia, 11 new sources in Africa and 1 new source in the Middle East. These are:

  • The Malaysian Reserve (Malaysia), Today (Singapore), The Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka), The Daily News (Sri Lanka) and The New Nation (Bangladesh) in Asia;
  • Daily Trust (Nigeria), Vanguard (Nigeria), The New Times (Rwanda), Daily Nation (Kenya), The Times of Zambia (Zambia), New Era Namibia (Namibia), The Citizen (Tanzania), Pa Potentiel (Congo), L’Observateur Paalga (Burkina Faso), La Nouvelle Tribune (Morocco) and Sud Quotidien (Senegal) in Africa;
  • Dawn (Pakistan) in the Middle East.

This work increases our explanatory power regarding print media coverage of climate change in these regions now with 23 sources in Asia, 15 sources in Africa and 6 sources in the Middle East along with 20 sources in North America, 13 sources in Latin America, 8 sources in Oceania and 28 sources in Europe. This brings the number of print sources that our Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO) monitor up to 100 sources across 54 countries. Including television and radio with newspaper sources, we at MeCCO now monitor 113 sources total across 55 countries. (For more details about each source, visit our ‘Source Fact Sheet’ page on the MeCCO website.

This month, further political and economic connections with climate issues dominated media coverage around the world. For example, October began with discussions emanating from an International Monetary Fund (IMF) about putting a price on carbon. The IMF proposed that funds gathered through the pricing scheme would be dedicated to offset increases in energy prices. The report also posited that implementation of a $75 per ton tax on carbon by 2030 could keep warming to 2 degrees C. The IMF prognosticated that it would also lead to approximately 30% greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions in the United States (US) and up to 45% GHG emissions reductions in China, India and other developing nations. This set of IMF pronouncements signaled further acceptance of carbon pricing in business and finance communities as a tool to effectively combat climate change.

Consequently, this report generated substantial media attention. For example, CNBC reporter Emma Newburger reported, “Increasing the price of carbon is the most efficient and powerful method of combating global warming and reducing air pollution, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund. While the idea of carbon taxes on fossil fuel corporations has been spreading across the globe in the past couple decades, increasing prices on carbon emissions has received widespread backlash from those who argue the tax would raise energy bills. But economists have long contended that raising the cost of burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas is the best way to mitigate climate change, and that revenue raised from the tax can be returned to consumers through rebates and dividends”.

Meanwhile, Washington Post journalists Chris Mooney and Andrew Freedman wrote, “A global agreement to make fossil fuel burning more expensive is urgent and the most efficient way of fighting climate change, an International Monetary Fund study found on Thursday. The group found that a global tax of $75 per ton by the year 2030 could limit the planet’s warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), or roughly double what it is now. That would greatly increase the price of fossil-fuel-based energy — especially from the burning of coal — but the economic disruption could be offset by routing the money raised straight back to citizens … The IMF report comes out as financial institutions increasingly grapple with the risks associated with climate change, including damage from sea-level rise, extreme weather events and billions in fossil fuel reserves that might be in excess of what can be burned while also limiting warming. The Federal Reserve, for example, is taking a closer look at how climate change may pose a risk to economic stability. In the United States, a $75 tax would cut emissions by nearly 30 percent but would cause on average a 53 percent increase in electricity costs and a 20 percent rise for gasoline at projected 2030 prices, the analysis in the IMF’s Fiscal Monitor found. But it would also generate revenue equivalent to 1 percent of gross domestic product, an enormous amount of money that could be redistributed and, if spread equally, would end up being a fiscally progressive policy, rather than one disproportionately targeting the poor. The impact of a $75-per-ton tax would also hit countries differently depending on burning or exporting coal, which produces the most carbon emissions per unit of energy generated when it is burned. In developing nations such as China, India and South Africa, a $75 carbon tax reduces emissions even more — by as much as 45 percent — and generates proportionately more revenue, as high as 3.5 percent of GDP in South Africa’s case, the IMF found”.

In later October, the political and economic met the legal as a set of court cases and congressional hearings involving ExxonMobil and climate change captured media attention. The events that captured media coverage took place in New York, Boston and in Washington D.C. In New York, ExxonMobil defended itself against claims that it misled investors about the risks of climate change for oil and gas explorations, drilling, distribution and sales. In Boston, ExxonMobil faced a suit that was broader in scope that included misleading investors and consumers through false advertising. In Washington D.C., two hearings – one through the House Oversight Committee and a second through the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis – also examined these movements of ExxonMobil. In addition, these hearings more broadly discussed the role of ‘Dark Money’ (covert contributions made from fossil fuel industry groups to organizations that sought to slow or stop climate policy action) and disinformation in contemporary US climate politics.

Media coverage of these hearings abounded, particularly in US and UK sources. For an example of coverage surrounding the New York State court case, Wall Street Journal journalist Corinne Ramey penned a story entitled ‘Exxon Misled Investors Over Climate Change, Court Told’. She reported, “To illustrate how Exxon Mobil Corp. allegedly deceived investors about its climate-change accounting, a lawyer from the New York attorney general’s office showed a packed Manhattan courtroom Tuesday a multicolored world map the company presented to shareholders. In red were countries including the U.S. and Canada where Exxon said it was planning for tougher climate-change regulation, showing the number the company used to calculate the higher cost”. For an example of coverage of US House hearings regarding ExxonMobil, disinformation and climate change, US-based Guardian journalist Emily Holden authored an article entitled, ‘Exxon sowed doubt about climate crisis, House Democrats hear in testimony’. She began the article by writing that the House Oversight “Subcommittee laid out four decades of evidence just a day after oil behemoth began a trial over misleading investors”. She continued, “House Democrats on Wednesday laid out four decades of evidence that oil behemoth Exxon knew since the 1970s that the burning of fossil fuels was heating the planet and intentionally sowed doubt about the climate crisis. The testimony came in a hearing in a House oversight subcommittee on civil rights just a day after ExxonMobil began a trial in New York City over misleading investors on the business risks from government rules meant to address the climate crisis. Exxon’s role in hiding the mounting emergency has been widely publicized for four years, since the publication of an investigation by InsideClimate News, the Los Angeles Times and the Columbia Journalism School. Court proceedings and additional reporting have found more proof of Exxon’s longtime knowledge of the problem”. Read more …

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