What we do: Global open reporting on energy and climate change

When we started two years ago, generating debate around energy and climate had rarely been more important. Looking back at what we wrote then much has stayed the same, but some things have changed and in response, so have we. With a new site and everything.

Globally energy journalism remains complex – defying any one beat or narrative.

China’s committed to cutting smog from coal, but there remains a chance it will do so partially by increasing coal use to create artificial gas. The UK is a world leader in advocating action on climate change – and the hunt for new reserves of fossil fuels.

Long term efforts to prevent extreme climate change appear stalled or in reverse, but again there are hopes a big European summit at the end of 2015 will solve everything.

But since we launched – with a mission to engage in the debate on UK energy – one thing has changed. Where once it was simply a bit limited to report energy and climate change issues from a national viewpoint, it’s now a little silly.

Global energy prices from solar to oil have undergone one of the most unexpected falls in recent history. At the same time climate change is starting to make its presence felt across borders – not just in the weather, but in the markets.

The UK arguably matters less than it did two years ago. Its oil giants aren’t quite as giant, its energy legislation didn’t really set the bar for others to follow, and it is merely the third country to try for a fracking revolution.

But one thing is as important as it ever was. The media – be it in the UK, the US or China – filters the data and evidence on energy and climate and helps to define the reality on which the key decisions at the Paris climate summit will be made.

That media is no longer struggling quite as much as it was two years ago.

New models have emerged and the new incumbents of the media establishment – from Buzzfeed to Vice – are getting serious; investing in investigations and research on scale not seen for years.

The consumption of news on social media has led to an explosion in demand for credible, evidence based content – and so the number of filters has grown. There are now so many fact-checking sites they fact-check each other.

But as the media has developed the story has become more complex, more inter-disciplinary and above all more global than it ever was.

Misconceptions about coal use in China drive decisions about clean energy in the UK, yet English language media reports themselves can influence the domestic media agenda in numerous other countries – and not always accurately.

This year’s climate summit may be defined by new issues which barely existed two years ago – the political impact of smog in Beijing as reported in California; the perceived potential of shale in Poland as reported in the UK.

Where reporting on energy and climate as a national beat (energy bills are driven up by evil energy companies) was once simply a bit limited, it’s now absurd.

And that’s why we’ve changed how we work. There is still a gap for original, evidence led, factual content on energy and climate issues – and we still work hard to fill it.

But we think the gap is greatest when it comes to bringing together the global story with evidence and data from Greenpeace and Unearthed researchers on the ground around the world.

Unearthed’s objective is still not to replace the mainstream media (whoever that now is), but to complement it; to support the global coverage of energy and climate change issues through open reporting and open data on energy issues.

As we said when we launched: “We want our data to be dissected and added to, our stories scooped, our analysis challenged.”

Clearly we are still not disinterested, or independent. Indeed we rely more now on research and fieldwork carried out by people who are not journalists, some working in countries where investigative journalism is illegal.

Unearthed exists because Greenpeace believes that to tackle climate change we need a global media debate on energy that’s transparent and informed.

Our aim is still “to build the discussion, and bring together journalists, policy makers, academics and experts across industry to widen the debate and challenge misinformation.”

But the debate on energy and climate change has gone well beyond the “elite” bubble. We now write not just for a specialist audience but for an audience of people engaged in the energy debate struggling to get to the evidence behind the global stories.

We have underlying values. We start from the premise that catastrophic climate change is manmade, avoidable, and should be acted on. We tell the facts as we see them but some would call what we do campaigning journalism.

That’s probably true but Unearthed is still not where you will find Greenpeace campaign messages.

Some Unearthed guest bloggers may not share our outlook on energy and climate change. Others may share our outlook, but not our positions on how to fix the problem. Others will write on topics Greenpeace has no position on. We’ll often draw attention to facts which may not immediately fit with the positions Greenpeace has taken.

It’s about making the facts available, and starting a discussion. It’s also – still – an experiment, and we welcome your feedback, your ideas and your contribution.