The Biophilia Award, with annual prize money of 100,000 euros, was launched by the BBVA Foundation in 2019 to recognize the work of professionals and organizations in any country that have contributed exceptionally to improving public understanding and awareness of ecological issues. In its second edition, the evaluation committee has recognized the Guardian’s unstinting commitment to this area of reporting, anchored on “a holistic approach” which “moves beyond past approaches based on segmentation of problems, to consider the links between environment, biodiversity, energy, economy and human health and well-being in an integrated manner.”
“This approach,” the citation continues, “has set new directions in the language and image supporting environmental communication,” underpinned by the newspaper’s “institutional commitment.”
“We are thrilled to receive this prestigious award,” said Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner on being given the news. “The global climate crisis is the emergency of our times and we are committed to informing and educating our readers about the impact of global heating. Our team of environment journalists around the world bring expertise and real care to the subjects they deal with, highlighting and explaining vital scientific and societal issues to Guardian readers in a thorough, accessible way. We are extremely grateful to the BBVA Foundation for this recognition.”
The newspaper’s candidature was supported by Georgina Mace, the recently deceased British ecologist and 2019 winner of the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Ecology and Conservation Biology. “By elevating climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation to items that are worthy of headline news coverage, and then by supporting this with authoritative, well-written and accessible online material, I think it is fair to say that the Guardian has prompted a step change in awareness of the significance of these issues,” wrote Prof. Mace in her letter of endorsement.
“I think it is no exaggeration,” added the eminent scientist, “that the recent uplift in the attention given to these topics by government and industry has been prompted by a mass movement in civil society that was, at least, enabled by the Guardian’s environmental coverage. It is certainly true that its reporting, past and present, provides up-to-date and well-researched material that underpins current debates and drives changes to policy and practice.”
A newspaper attuned to humanity’s greatest challenges
“If climate change and biodiversity losses were the greatest challenges facing humankind, we needed to mount an appropriate response.” This was the thinking that led the Guardian to redouble its commitment to environmental reporting in 2008, as the organization relates in its submission for the Biophilia Award. That same year, it took the step of appointing a dedicated Environment editor, Damian Carrington, to lead its coverage, and increased the reporter headcount from two to five.
The Guardian’s engagement with the environment has since gone from strength to strength. It now has 12 journalists working exclusively on environment-related stories. And this content is not confined to a single specialized area, but permeates every section of the paper, in the conviction that environmental challenges have enormous political, economic, social and cultural implications. As its candidature states, the Guardian “made a firm decision not to put its environment coverage in a silo, with a special section in the paper, but to ensure it is an important strand in all our reporting, including politics, business and culture.” Hence, as Damian Carrington puts it, “all Guardian reporters are, in part, environment reporters.”
This policy is also reflected in the prominence given to environment news, which frequently occupies the front pages of both its print and digital editions. The climate crisis, biodiversity losses and other ecological challenges are given the urgency and priority usually reserved for agenda-grabbing issues from the worlds of politics or the economy.
A global readership in more than 90 countries
In the last year alone, the Guardian has published nearly 3,000 articles, an average of one every three hours, on rising greenhouse gas emissions, heatwaves, wild fires, the polar melt, flooding and droughts, pollution and other environmental issues. The approach to these issues is global, with reports coming in from correspondents and special envoys all around the world, including war-torn countries and remote regions such as Antarctica or the Amazon. Unsurprisingly, its readership is also global. Although headquartered in London, the Guardian is followed by almost 100 million people in over 90 countries.
The Guardian has also strengthened its environmental reporting focus via an update to its style guide. So the term “climate change,” for instance, has been dropped in favor of “climate emergency” or “climate crisis,” which it believes more accurately reflect the seriousness of the situation, while “climate sceptics” have become “climate deniers,” on the grounds that “sceptic” has positive connotations at odds with the behavior of those who hold out in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence. The fact that these guidelines have been so widely commented in the media and social networks, in the UK and beyond, is one more measure of the newspaper’s global impact.
Leading by example
Since 12 months ago, the Guardian’s environmental commitment has been framed by a very public pledge: not only would it continue to raise the alarm on environmental issues, it would also lead by example, scaling back its greenhouse gas emissions to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. In pursuit of this goal, the paper has subjected its production chain to a comprehensive audit, up to and including journalists’ travel plans, which should exclude flying wherever possible. Not only that, new measures in 2020 include the decision to reject advertising from fossil fuel extraction companies.
The British newspaper also recently declared in an editorial that “as an independent news organization, our reporting on the climate emergency will never be influenced by commercial or political interests. Instead we counter misinformation and sensationalism with journalism that’s always rooted in scientific fact.” The Biophilia Award committee makes a similar point. The Guardian’s institutional commitment, it says, has led it to explore “new organizational models to align its core values with its operations. These values reflect the combined efforts of the institution and the individual journalists who contribute the journal’s content.”
The biggest threat to our planet
In recent months, with the world’s media inevitably focusing its attention on the Covid-19 health crisis, the Guardian has renewed its promise to keep environment reporting firmly to the fore. “The global climate crisis is the emergency of our times,” writes Katharine Viner in a recent article. “Amid all the fear and sadness of 2020, it remains the overwhelming long-term threat to our planet and to everyone’s health and security.”
Also, in numerous stories published since the outbreak of the pandemic, the newspaper’s journalists has foregrounded the link between Covid-19 and the destruction of the natural world, which has enabled viruses to leap from animal species to the human population. “The risk we face is nothing less than the downfall of the civilized world, perhaps in the lifetime of today’s schoolchildren,” writes Viner. However, the Guardian’s editor-in-chief still believes that “we can see a path forward that avoids the worst outcomes. The worldwide response to Covid-19 has demonstrated that there can be collective global action if the threat is big enough, and that humans are capable of changing our lives and lifestyles quickly, when the moment demands. The threat presented by the climate crisis is big enough.”