2019 climate graphs

2019: The year that changed the climate of climate change

2019: The year that changed the climate of climate change 1024 683 Mantle

With a month to go in 2019, many of us working and thinking about climate change at Mantle have understood 2019 has been different. Our clients, families, friends, politicians, and the media are all talking about climate change more frequently and seriously.

We keep tabs on climate change news and it seems like every day we saw an article about investors, regulators or businesses warning or acting on climate risk. We also saw a string of stories about climate impacts that are happening faster than expected, while global climate protests swept across the globe and public concern was the highest it has been in years.

To see if our perception aligns with reality, we conducted a somewhat unscientific Factiva database analysis of English language media from around the world from 1990 to the present. We wanted to understand if what we perceive to be happening is true. Is 2019 different than other years when it comes to media coverage and public awareness?

A quick note on our results, since this is an unscientific process, our search attempted to limit to relevant articles, perhaps missing some in the process, but aiming to capture trends rather than a specific volume of records.

Financial community reacting to climate change

As part of Mantle’s storytelling about climate change, we’ve been keeping a timeline of important financial milestones on a slide deck. Thanks to a stream of climate-related financial news in 2019, the slide is now bursting at the seams.

To name just a few milestones:

With the June 2017 release of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) recommendations for climate reporting, there has been a steady stream of movement in the financial community to tackle climate risk. Looking at the number of media articles on climate disclosure and material risk, we see a big jump in 2017 and steady climb through 2019, where the number of articles more than doubles from 2016.

News stories related to climate risk

  • Climate risk news stories

From a Factiva database search of English media articles from around the world from 1990-2019: A graph showing the number of stories related to climate risk.

Climate impacts happening faster than expected

This year, we saw a string of reports revealing climate change impacts are accelerating and arriving faster than scientists previously expected. Some recent examples of include: glaciers melting, oceans warming, underwater glaciers melting, Greenland’s ice melting, permafrost melting, heatwaves killing coral, and the risk of domino effect of tipping points all happening faster than expected. Adding to these reports was the September release of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, finding that the oceans are warming and rising faster than thought.

Through our database analysis, we see that the number of articles about climate change impacts happening faster than expected is the highest it’s been in a decade, only dwarfed by stories from 2009.

News stories related to climate change happening faster than thought

  • Climate change happening faster than thought news articles

From a Factiva database search of English media articles from around the world from 1990-2019: A graph showing the number of stories related to climate impacts happening faster than thought.

The spike in 2009 appears to have resulted from the alarming news that oceans were warming, glaciers were melting, and polar regions were heating faster than expected,. There was also more news generated around a new hopeful American president participating in climate talks in Copenhagen – where efforts ultimately failed to secure a new global climate agreement.

Climate protests sweep the globe

This year’s growing student climate strike led by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, culminated in a massive global protest in September. It was the biggest social movement for climate action we’ve seen in Canada. With 2,500 events in 163 countries, bringing out an estimated 4 million people, it is being labeled the largest climate protest in world history. While at the same time, Extinction Rebellion in the U.K. and the Sunrise Movement in the U.S., through direct action, such as closing down streets or occupying offices, also garnered media attention. As a result, the number of media articles related to climate protests massively jumped in 2019 by over 600 per cent. You can call it the Greta Bump!

News stories related to climate protests

  • Stories about climate protests

From a Factiva database search of English media articles from around the world from 1990-2019: A graph showing the number of stories related to climate protests.

Public awareness reaching new heights

With the public protesting, climate impacts happening more intensely, and a broader more sustained discussion by the financial community, politicians and the media, it is not surprising to see public opinion rise along with it (and/or cause it). This year we had reports that climate was a number one concern in Canada and a top issue in the recent federal election, while in the United States, citizens who identify as Democrats ranked climate as a top concern. Not surprisingly, 2019 ranks as a bumper year for articles about climate change being a top issue for the public.

News stories related to public opinion and climate change

  • Stories about climate public opinion

From a Factiva database search of English media articles from around the world from 1990-2019: A graph showing the number of stories related to climate change and being a leading concern.

Back when climate was last reported as a number one issue in the U.S. and Canada was 2007, and the second highest year in our database search. In 2007, Al Gore’s an Inconvenient Truth won the Academy Award for best documentary, there was a string of wild weather events around the world, and the IPCC released their Fourth Assessment Report. At the height of this climate awareness, the province of British Columbia passed their landmark revenue-neutral carbon tax and the United Kingdom government passed first-of-its-kind climate legislation to legally bind Britain to ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Then the U.S. recession turned into the global recession that ended in 2009. In the media reports, you can see a steep rise in articles about the recession that correlate with a drop in stories about climate change. (2009 was the outlier likely from the climate impact news reports and Obama going to Copenhagen.)

News stories related to climate change & recession

  • Stories about climate change
  • Stories related to recession

From a Factiva database search of English media articles from around the world from 1990-2019: A graph showing the number of stories comparing climate change and recession.

As the pendulum has swung in 2019, what will 2020 bring?

With the latest IPPC scientific reports consistently reiterating the need for rapid decarbonization of the economy and the growing consensus that we are in a climate emergency, we believe the momentum will continue and climate change concerns will continue to be seen as core to sound business strategic planning and risk management approaches.