Delegates applaud a deal reached at COP28 to transition away from fossil fuels. Photo: Fadel Dawod/Getty Images

The best environmental journalism of 2023

From offsetting in Guinea to a profile of one the UK’s most interesting politicians: the stories we wish we had written in 2023

Delegates applaud a deal reached at COP28 to transition away from fossil fuels. Photo: Fadel Dawod/Getty Images

The best environmental journalism of 2023

From offsetting in Guinea to a profile of one the UK’s most interesting politicians: the stories we wish we had written in 2023

Delegates applaud a deal reached at COP28 to transition away from fossil fuels. Photo: Fadel Dawod/Getty Images

Living and breathing on the front line of a toxic chemical zone, New York Times, Eric Lipton

As the Biden administration looked to limit the exposure to cancer-causing pollutants from chemical plants across the US, Eric Lipton visited communities in Deer Park, Texas, to learn about what life is like in the shadow of the industry. A recent study by the US Environmental Protection Agency found that people living within six miles of chemical plants mainly in Texas and Louisiana faced an elevated risk of cancer. For Juan López, who works at a chemical facility near his home, he’s forced to trade-off between financial security and the health risk to his family. “I always felt like it was only me that was getting exposed, because I am working in the tanks with the chemicals. When the smell comes, all we can really do is try to keep everyone inside. Is that enough? I just don’t know.”

Big Oil is selling off its polluting assets — with unintended consequences, The Washington Post, Rachel Chason

A sophisticated story from the Washington Post about how flaring and environmental damage has increased at sites in Nigeria since majors like Shell abandoned mature assets in the country. As big oil companies look to reduce emissions and refocus on new ventures, what does the future hold for oil producing regions like the Niger Delta?

‘Hard to breathe’: Myanmar communities forced to live among world’s trash, Frontier Myanmar and Lighthouse Reports

What happens to the world’s rubbish has been a preoccupation at Unearthed for years. This piece from the NGO Frontier Myanmar and Lighthouse Reports shows evidence that the latest dumping ground is in Yangon, Myanmar, with companies taking advantage of loopholes and a lack of transparency to send waste to the city.

Revealed: Colonial rule nearly doubles UK’s historical contribution to climate change, Carbon Brief

Carbon Brief is an important and authoritative source for anyone covering climate change and the environment. There are a few pieces from them we could have chosen for this list, but we wanted to highlight this article for making the idea of climate justice and the question of who bears responsibility for the current crisis more tangible.

Media blitz against heat pumps funded by gas lobby group, DeSmog, Phoebe Cooke

There has been a clear push in recent years to put the way we heat our homes and cook our meals at the centre of a tedious culture war. Ron Desantis, Florida Governor and increasingly forlorn Presidential candidate, has pledged to go to war for gas stoves. Closer to home, recent years have seen a plethora of stories about the apparent failings of new heating systems. This piece by Phoebe Cooke suggested that the furore over heat pumps was partly generated by a PR campaign funded by the gas lobby.

‘They treat you like an animal’: How British farms run on exploitation, TBIJ and Vice World News, Emiliano Mellino, Rudra Pangeni, and Charles Boutaud

Workers at farms supplying some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets were forced to endure intense heat, gail force winds, and left in debt and destitution after being underpaid by exploitative bosses. This piece by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Vice World News highlights concerns about the UK’s food system after Brexit and led the UK’s former independent anti-slavery commissioner to conclude that conditions of forced labour are present on UK farms. 

How the World Bank Group is enabling the deaths of endangered chimps, ProPublica, Lisa Song

A biodiversity offsetting project in Guinea has left “a trail of hunger, displaced and broken families, decimated ecosystems and conditions ripe for the spread of deadly contagions”, according to this investigation by Lisa Song for ProPublica. A well told story about the unintended consequences of a big company’s efforts to compensate for its environmental impacts. 

‘They cleaned up BP’s massive oil spill. Now they’re sick – and want justice’, The Guardian, Sara Sneath and Oliver Laughland 

Thirteen years ago an explosion at an offshore oil platform run by BP caused the largest oil spill in US history. Journalists Sara Sneath and Oliver Laughland reviewed court submissions and spoke with people who cleaned up the spill in the immediate aftermath. They’re now sick and suing BP for failing to adequately protect them. The disaster has largely left the public imagination, but these first responders still live with the consequences of it. Floyd Ruffin, from Louisiana, who developed prostrate cancer after being involved in the clean up, said: “Now that the beaches are pretty much back to normal as far as the eye can see; those that are sick are being forgotten.”

In the fight over gas stoves, meet the industry’s go-to scientist, New York Times, Hiroko Tabuchi

More on the aforementioned gas stove culture war, this time from the New York Times. There has been increased scrutiny on the health impacts of cooking with gas in recent years, and journalist Hiroko Tabuchi looked at how utilities have worked with a scientist to try to counter this message. 

What London’s Mayor learned when he took on cars, Politico, Karl Mathiesen

A few months ago, Sadiq Khan’s air quality initiative to stop heavily polluting cars driving through London threatened to upend the UK’s entire climate strategy. The Conservative party saw their byelection win in Uxbridge as confirmation that there was a silent majority in the UK against green ideas. Local opposition to Khan’s ULEZ policy was thought to exist more broadly across the country and this idea sparked a series of announcements rolling back legislation designed to stop climate change. What did it feel like to be at the centre of this political storm? Karl Mathiesen, who wrote a number of interesting interviews this year, put together a good profile of Khan, one of the more consequential politicians in the UK.

The great cash-for-carbon hustle, New Yorker, Heidi Blake

South Pole, one of the biggest players in carbon offsetting, sidelined a whistleblower who warned that the money from its flagship project had gone astray. A terrific investigation into one of the offsetting industry’s most significant players.

Breathless: How the hidden toxic air pollution of the oil giants is putting the health of millions of people at risk in the Gulf, BBC News Arabic

Gas flaring is a wasteful practice that the oil industry has long committed to ending. Until recently, the public health impact of gas flaring was little discussed. This is particularly true in the Middle East, which is home to some of the highest flaring sites in the world. ‘Breathless’ is a great piece of science journalism that puts ordinary people living with the consequences of fossil fuels at the heart of its reporting. 

India’s ghost plantations in which millions of rupees have been sunk, Scroll, Ishan Kukreti

The Indian government has spent millions planting trees as a way to address air quality and climate change. The trouble is that most of the new plantations don’t seem to exist, as Ishan Kukreti reported.

Smoke, mirrors, wood pellets: Vietnam clears native forest to supply ‘clean’ energy to Asia, Mekong Eye, Pulitzer Center Rainforest Investigations Network, Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, Bao-Uyen Vo-Kieu

Can chopping and burning down trees really be a source of green energy? It seems counterintuitive and this investigation, published with support from the Pulitzer Centre, casts doubt on the sustainability of Vietnam’s wood pellet industry. 

Into the Dirt – podcast series about a private spy who infiltrated the anti-asbestos movement, Tortoise Media

Hear how a comedy producer turned corporate spy infiltrated a group of activists. Another hit podcast from Tortoise Media.

COP28 president secretly used climate summit role to push oil trade with foreign government officials, Centre for Climate Reporting, Ben Stockton

The COP28 organisers put in a tremendous amount of effort to convince the world that making an oil executive the president of a climate conference was a perfectly normal and sane thing to do. They may have gotten away with it too, were it not for the relentless reporting of Ben Stockton at CCR, who showed that Sultan Al Jaber had used meetings with world leaders to push fossil fuel deals for his own company. 

Cheap cars, supersonic jets and floating power plants: Undercover in Saudi Arabia’s secretive program to keep the world burning oil, Centre for Climate Reporting, Lawrence Carter and Tom Costello

I’m in the minority, but I think UN climate conferences can be fascinating. It’s a chance to see all of geopolitics in a single venue. Beyond all the jargon and targets, these events are a room full of people deciding the future of the world. This undercover reporting showed the future Saudi Arabia wants. 

Revealed: 1,000 super-emitting methane leaks risk triggering climate tipping points, The Guardian, Damian Carrington

New technology means the detection of methane leaks is now more possible than ever before.  This article by Damian Carrington shed light on this burgeoning area of research and looked to name and shame the oil and gas sites spewing pollution.