Cambre’s #BrusselsCalling media debate series is back, kicking off the year with the European Commission’s climate chief Mauro Petriccione asking leading journalists how they cover climate – Europe’s highest-profile topic this year. From dwindling public interest to high profile policy action, here are the key takeaways from our heated debate with the FT’s Mehreen Khan, Euractiv’s Frédéric Simon, the New York Times’s Matina Stevis and POLITICO’s Paola Tamma.

Climate is no longer niche…

The Green Deal cemented a trend which journalists have picked up for several years already: climate is big, and everyone wants to talk about it. The New York Times has had a dedicated climate desk since 2017. Top journalists are being promoted to covering climate. “Climate is no longer a pet topic given to a junior minister,” confirmed Paola Tamma. Being among the top five concerns which citizens have, climate is a dynamic topic driven by (often dramatic) events. And just like the Green Deal, climate journalism is overarching. “Climate is a great narrative – it’s an umbrella under which we can put so many things,” said Frederic Simon.

… But it’s still localised

Not all countries feel the same, though – both within the EU and on a global level. “There is a perception that climate has become a big topic that concerns everybody, but this is mostly the case in the western world,” said Frederic Simon. “To avoid throwing climate change further into culture wars, it’s important to heed that not all Europeans are 100% convinced,” confirmed Matina Stevis.

The higher they climb, the harder they fall

It’s no wonder that European Commission President Von der Leyen also jumped on the bandwagon by making the Green Deal the hallmark of her Commission, with strong rhetoric to match – i.e. stating that “Europe’s survival is at stake.” But ambitious objectives mean a bigger risk of failure, and journalists are watching the European Commission proposals closely to check alignment with 2050 objectives, confirmed Paola Tamma. On the other side of the negotiating table, the European Parliament (EP) is also keen to position itself as green champion following the climate elections in May. “As a new beast, environment is one area where the EP will cut their teeth,“ confirmed Mehreen Khan.

Mission impossible?

“There are high expectations within the European public, with a fair amount of impending catastrophe,” said Mauro Petriccione – yet, policy may take up to ten years to come to fruition. This “impossible disconnect” puts policymakers in a difficult position and demands creative thinking from journalists to keep the narrative going. So how do journalists continue to feed their audience’s interest? By digging into specific geographies such as the Netherlands, suggested Mehreen Khan, saying that climate will be the biggest cleavage in next year’s elections. Matina Stevis also suggested that climate diplomacy will be of increasing interest. “We will be watching closely EU relations with rest of world to see if trade is made contingent on climate credentials,” she said.