“The climate crisis is a slow crisis. You report the fires in California, six months later you write about the fires in Australia and six months later you write about California again, so you wonder how to keep the audience interested.” Although he has been narrating the changes the planet is undergoing for two decades, Matt McGrath (Tipperary, Ireland, 1964), the BBC's environmental correspondent, admits that it is not easy to report on the magnitude of the climate crisis without scaring people or make them lose hope.
Achieving both, he says, is his greatest challenge, although “sometimes the most difficult audience is the internal one, that of the editors. Fortunately, the BBC has recognized throughout the organization that climate change is a key issue and
we have achieved that any information on this matter occupies a prominent place on the front page , that it is the second or third most important news because it interests young people very much. They are stories that we have to tell in the best possible way, “says the journalist during an interview with EL MUNDO by videoconference, as a pandemic has prevented him from traveling to Spain to collect the Biophilia Award for Environmental Communication granted by the BBVA Foundation.
How is the pandemic affecting compliance with environmental goals? Will it speed up the green transition or delay it? During the first two months of lockdown, many people in the green movement saw it as an opportunity. But as time has passed, governments have become more concerned about the dimension of the impact on employment and perhaps there is less enthusiasm for green development, which has slowed down, although it is still there. I think that for 12 to 18 months we will not see if governments are really going to invest in these green infrastructures, or if they will continue to finance fossil fuel companies as they have done for many years. Are we in that great moment of change? We do not know yet, we will have to wait for that window. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has proposed expanding the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, from 40 to 55% in 2030. Do you consider it realistic? It is an ambitious goal but I believe that could be achieved if there is political intention to do so. We do not yet know the details of how it will be done. A few days ago we learned that of the global objectives established 10 years ago for 2020 by the United Nations to maintain biodiversity, none have been met. It is easy to set goals and difficult to meet them. Following that report from the UN Convention on Biological Diversity you mention, do you really believe that we are at a crucial moment to save biodiversity? Totally. Scientists and many organizations know this and that is why in the last two years we have seen this flow of reports emphasizing the impact on biodiversity. The idea that the pandemic comes from human interaction with the natural world, which exposes us to diseases transmitted by animals, has shown that if we continue to destroy nature as we do now, we will see more diseases, and potentially new pandemics. Researchers are convinced that we are heading in that direction and want steps to be taken to avoid it. There are numerous reports that from time to time warn of the serious consequences of rising temperatures. With that trickle, do we run the risk that citizens get tired, lose interest in these issues or think that there is nothing to do to avoid disaster? It is a great challenge for environmental journalists: how to tell people about the magnitude of this crisis without terrifying them or making them lose hope. Finding that balance is difficult. It is very interesting what we are seeing with the evolution of the news: when something happens there is a peak of interest, people want to know everything and after a week they lose interest. I think what you have to do is look for the most respected scientific groups, see what science says about it and try to keep the attention of the readers, who are very interested in these topics and sometimes scared. I think our obligation is to inform them of the facts as impartially as we can but without leaving them with the feeling that nothing can be done to fix it, because we know that there are things that can be done to combat climate change. And also get the trust of people so that when you tell them there is a crisis, they believe you. Have you noticed an increase in the interest of BBC viewers / listeners / readers in environmental news in recent years? One of the things that struck me the most was the great reception of a report on what the world would be like in a scenario of a 1.5 degree increase in temperatures or a 2 degree increase, as a result of a fairly technical IPCC report . We had a huge demand for information. People recognize that this is a global crisis and they want to know what they can do to combat it. Climate change is of great interest. Did you get a lot of pressure from fossil fuel industry lobbies and climate change deniers when you started reporting on the environment and were there fewer scientific reports proving the severity of the climate crisis? One of the changes the BBC has made is the definition of fairness. Before, he always made us offer both versions. For example, if someone said that climate change was real then you had another actor who said no. It was a complicated situation because the group that denied climate change was small but noisy. We change and now we report based on science, we focus on the problem and how to handle it, and generally do not pick up the voices of those who argue that climate change does not exist. Three environmental organizations have sued the Spanish government this month because they believe that it does not comply their commitments to combat climate change. We are seeing this type of legal initiative in many countries, was something like this to be expected? They are very interesting initiatives that in the last 4 or 5 years have achieved victories in the courts in matters such as pollution or the expansion of Heathrow airport. It reminds me of what happened with tobacco, people started taking legal action against tobacco companies. It is a very powerful tool and we will see more initiatives. Greta Thunberg has become a world leader with great influence. As a journalist, what do you think of the role you are playing and the criticism you receive, for example, from those who consider you a puppet? I admire you tremendously. He's extremely smart and he's running this circus around him incredibly well. As we saw in Madrid, she remains calm, conveys her message very well, has aroused the interest of young people, with whom she connects very well, and has passion. All the stories we write about Greta arouse great interest. I also believe that she is facing criticism brilliantly, it never gives a good image to see older men attacking a young girl. I think he's doing very well, but it's just my personal opinion. You who have covered so many climate summits to which thousands of people travel, would you suggest any changes to make them more efficient and avoid reaching the last day without agreement after two weeks of meetings, as has happened lately? We have all wondered if there are a more efficient way to celebrate COPS and avoid that problem but, on the other hand, small or developing countries really value personal connection, the opportunity to be able to express their point of view in a room where the actors are main. If you handle it well, as the French Government did at the Paris summit, you can respond to the requests of both in a successful way. When it is not achieved it can be a disaster. On the other hand, in recent years these summits have also become a way of reflecting the importance of these issues. In Madrid it was very evident, with the participation of young people and other sectors of society, such as companies. They are a multinational forum on climate change where people discuss its importance, what science says and what can be done to combat it. And this has great potential even though the results of the negotiations themselves are often disappointing. After the weak agreement reached in December in Madrid, there was high hope in Glasgow, whose summit has been postponed until the end of 2021 by the pandemic. How do you think it will affect the fight against climate change? It's hard to know yet. Obviously Madrid was not what many people expected and it was expected that the United Kingdom would push to move forward this year but now the world has to deal with the pandemic. I think that the UK can still make important progress, the EU has increased its emission cut targets and there are more commitments from other countries, such as China. Hopefully when the Glasgow summit comes around late next year, the focus will return to climate change. How damaging do you see the presidency of Donald Trump in the fight against climate change? Donald Trump's decision to distance himself from the Paris Agreement is critical because it will also affect what other countries do, and it will depend on what happens in the presidential elections. If Trump is not re-elected and Joe Biden wins, the US would stay in. But I think that all countries are taking some measures against climate change because they see the nature of the problem and I think that journalists should also focus their information on actions and on politics and not so much in the personalities of politicians. Was it really weird being the interviewee this time? I hate doing interviews although it is true that when I was little I found interviews with journalists very interesting. They still seem that way to me, but stories are much more important than the people who tell them.
THE IMPACT OF TELEWORKING
Until the pandemic began Matt McGrath commuted daily from his home near Oxford to the headquarters of the British chain in London. A 40-minute train ride that he now only travels rarely to attend some meetings because like so many citizens, including his wife, who is also a BBC journalist, he works most of his time remotely.
“Many industries have in the past been reluctant to allow their employees to work from home and now they have no choice . In the communications industry there are many bosses who like to see their journalists in the newsrooms but have seen how surprisingly during the pandemic has made remote television, radio and internet content. The question is whether this will continue in the future. Governments also want people to return to their offices because cities are having a hard time but most people do. opt for the car, again it will generate a great environmental impact. Working remotely, on the other hand, could benefit local economies because many people would spend their money there instead of commuting daily to the center of large cities such as Madrid and London, “he maintains.