6 November, 2020
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.”
About the BBVA Foundation and the Biophilia Award
For more than twenty years, the health of our planet has numbered among the BBVA Foundation’s key focus areas, translating as support for scientific research, the funding of projects to conserve species, habitats and ecosystems, the promotion of social awareness around environmental issues, and the recognition of communication professionals who have contributed decisively to inform individual and collective engagement with the ecological challenges of our time.
In 2004, it created the BBVA Foundation Awards for Biodiversity Conservation, encompassing research endeavors, projects in Spain and Latin America, and environmental communication and awareness. The research modality was integrated in 2008 into the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, with the creation of the two categories of Climate Change and Ecology and Conservation Biology, which have since taken their place alongside the other six categories of basic sciences, biomedicine, information technologies, economics, humanities and social sciences. In their first twelve editions, around thirty of the world’s most prestigious ecologists, conservation biologists, economists and climate scientists and researchers in other areas have received the Frontiers of Knowledge Award (fifteen of whom have subsequently gone on to win the Nobel Prize).
The ecological challenges of our time are of such scale and magnitude that a global approach is imperative. In light of this fact, the BBVA Foundation Awards for Biodiversity Conservation added a worldwide category in 2017, distinguishing projects to preserve species, habitats, and ecosystems.
From this same global perspective, the new Biophilia Award for Environmental Communication, with annual prize money of 100,000 euros, recognizes the work of professionals and/or organizations in any country that have contributed exceptionally to improving public understanding and awareness of ecological issues, particularly the biodiversity crisis and the multidimensional phenomenon of climate change, bringing to bear the best available evidence and knowledge. As well as the breadth and quality of the impact achieved, the Biophilia Award recognizes conceptual innovation in environmental communication formats, channels and narratives.
The name of the award, which alludes to the “Biophilia hypothesis” proposed by naturalist Edward O. Wilson (2010 Frontiers of Knowledge Laureate in Ecology and Conservation Biology), denotes the deep connection that we as humans instinctively feel with nature and all forms of life.
In its first edition, the Biophilia Award went to the BBC’s environment correspondent, journalist Matt McGrath, for his ““extraordinary capacity to communicate complex environmental issues and science to global audiences,” in the words of the award committee.
The committee in this edition was chaired by Carlos M. Duarte, Tarek Ahmed Juffali Research Chair in Red Sea Ecology at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Thuwal, Saudi Arabia), with members Araceli Acosta, Chief Press Officer at the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge; Laia Alegret, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Zaragoza; Clemente Álvarez, coordinator of the online Climate and Environment section of El País; Caty Arévalo, Head of Communications at the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge; Miguel B. Araújo, Research Professor at the Spanish Museum of Natural Sciences (CSIC); Antonio Cerrillo, Environment editor of La Vanguardia; Teresa Guerrero, Science and Environment editor of El Mundo; Arturo Larena, Director of EFEverde; Isabel Miranda, Environment editor of ABC; Rafael Pardo, Director of the BBVA Foundation; Belén Tobalina, Science, Environment and Health editor of La Razón; Cristina Ribas, Lecturer in Journalism at Pompeu Fabra University.