COP 28 – the media challenge

Mark Galloway Executive Director of IBT 1st November 2023

Adam Vaughan (The Times), Victoria Seabrook (Sky News), Patrick Greenfield (The Guardian)

Earlier this week, IBT co-hosted a debate on media coverage of climate change and the forthcoming COP summit. IBT’s Director, Mark Galloway, was in the chair.

There was a consensus amongst the journalists present that reporting on COP was indeed challenging – but also necessary and important. The global conference provides a moment when the world’s attention is focused on one issue and a chance to hold governments to account for delivering on their promises.

This means that the annual COP summit provides an important opportunity for our members to pitch their stories to journalists and a chance to have the issues they care about highlighted by the media.

Media coverage makes a difference

There’s no doubt that mainstream media coverage plays a hugely important role in informing UK audiences about climate change and about how well their Government is doing in tackling the issue – and what they themselves can do.

But there’s a long way to go. There has been extensive polling of the UK public and although the majority of people say they are concerned about climate change, that concern does not necessarily translate into a willingness to take action. More often, people expect the Government to act rather doing something themselves.  

The challenges of covering COP

It was fascinating to hear from our panel of journalists about the logistics of covering COP. There are certain key moments. They all plan to report on events at the beginning of the summit when world leaders including the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, attend. And they will be busy in the concluding days, as an agreement is reached. But there’s a relatively quiet period in the middle when they will be actively looking for stories, interviewees and quotes to run on their live pages.

The journalists advised IBT members to get in touch in advance of COP and provide information about key contacts and any new research, insights or data that they have access to. This will prove an invaluable resource in the quiet moments of the summit. 

The stories journalists are interested in

Matt McGrath, environment correspondent with BBC News, will be running the BBC’s live pages, which reach a big audience. They are also actively trying to reach new audiences with their coverage. There is a strong audience appetite for explainers and for positive stories. Audiences respond when they feel a personal connection and this is a priority for BBC reporters. 

Victoria Seabrook, climate reporter with Sky News, told us that audiences wanted to see journalists holding world leaders to account for their action or inaction. They wanted Sky to provide thoughtful analysis so they could understand the implications of decisions being taken at COP. Victoria, like Matt, is keen to show how the climate crisis impacts on the UK public and is always looking to make connections with the cost of living crisis, the weather and the global food system. 

Patrick Greenfield, biodiversity and environment reporter at The Guardian, will be part of large team attending the summit, a sign of the paper’s longstanding commitment to reporting the climate crisis. He told us that there was massive audience interest and his job was to bring the summit alive. Loss and damage was a key issue for him, and he was also keen to write more about carbon markets.

Adam Vaughan, environment editor at The Times, told us that he would be doing a series of set piece interviews and explainers in the run up to the summit. He was keen to find young people who could offer a distinct perspective. Readers of The Times are well informed about climate change and want to understand how it is going to impact on them. This is a key focus of Adam’s reporting.  

How best to pitch to journalists

All the journalists told us that they were open to being pitched stories by NGOs and they are particularly keen to hear about any investigations that are underway. They singled out Global Witness for praise for its investigation into lobbyists from the oil and gas industries who were attending COP. This was reported by BBC News and The Guardian. 

They advised NGOs who were planning new reports or original research to make contact early and to work with the journalists to ensure that material is of a sufficiently high quality to report. 

This was a joint event with the think tank, ODI. We were fortunate to be joined on the panel by Emily Wilkinson, a senior fellow at ODI, who will be attending the talks as an adviser to the small island developing states. She gave us a fascinating insight into what it’s like being in the room as the talks take place. She said that she would like to see the media do more to explain to audiences why different countries are adopting different positions at the talks. Her hope – and that of the nations she’s working with – is that COP 28 will deliver a set of targets on adaptation. This all-important issue lacks the profile of mitigation but she is optimistic that the talks will deliver some tangible progress. 

Mark Galloway is Executive Director of IBT.


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