Tom Trewinnard, Syli: “The climate story needs to be a human story”

The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: Tom Trewinnard, Syli

I was based in Egypt as a journalist in 2011 during the Arab Spring. It was a time of great social upheaval. As an early adopter of social media platforms, it felt like a moment when new digital connections were facilitating a meaningful conversation and social movements to bring about change. It was a very optimistic view of what social media could be.

We started seeing platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as a new model for collaboration in journalism. This was not just collaboration within or between newsrooms, but a collaboration with audiences to tell stories that really mattered. That felt very, very valuable and precious.

Now, we’re applying this to the biggest story of our lifetimes – the climate crisis and biodiversity collapse. This story is so all-encompassing that we need to find new models for collaboration.

Challenges of climate journalism

In journalism there’s often a gap between seeing a challenge or opportunity and acting to deal with it. That’s been true of how we’ve covered the climate crisis. The focus has been a science story, which can seem dry and difficult for audiences to engage with. But there are many opportunities to tell human stories about climate change impacts, or people driving solutions and adaptations.

What we’re trying to do with Syli is accelerate journalism as a sector to be more experimental and creative with how it thinks about telling climate stories. We’re a very new organisation. So far, we’ve run workshops [ link to climatexc.org/insights
] with editors and journalists in Singapore and Johannesburg. We’re listening to the challenges they face and helping newsrooms think through creative ways they can address them.  

We’ve also been thinking through new ways of getting climate stories in front of people who might not usually follow a climate beat. Maybe they want to look through an entertainment lens or a business lens. If we can tell these stories more effectively, we can build a deeper relationship with our audiences. One of the things that we’ve been prototyping is translating climate stories into formats that can be delivered on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

Competing priorities

There have been many moments of real frustration. When the most recent IPCC report came out in February 2022, it was a stark reminder of the challenges we face and the urgency of the action we need to take. The report is an inaccessible, technical document that needed a lot of work to help people understand it. We did a lot of thinking about that. Then, two or three days after the report came out, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

From a news perspective, a horrific war, which merits coverage instantly, takes all the oxygen out of the room. This is a key challenge of how newsrooms cover climate. It’s a priority and many editors really care about it. But there are always competing priorities. As audiences, it’s difficult for us to have two things or three things that are top of our attention agenda at once.

But these are not hopeless moments. They’re important reminders that we need to find a way to give priority when we can and create that sense of urgency. And we need to find the links between events like the war in Ukraine and the climate crisis. Fundamentally, it’s about looking at the deeper issues at stake. These always have something to do with natural resources, the planet and the environment we all share and that we all need to thrive.

Sparking hope

If I could speak to the world leaders at COP, I would say, “We need cause for hope.” One reason people disengage from climate change is that it can feel so overwhelming and scary that we give up. We think nothing can be done.

The original pitch of Syli was to use the moment of global attention on COP26 in Glasgow to try and highlight some stories of local impact and adaptation. To try to focus, not on high-level political discussions, but to talk about what regular people are facing in different parts of the world. To have that be the thing that can spark some change, spark some hope in people.

What we need the world’s leaders to do is to show us there’s a viable path forward. If leaders can show they’re willing to take bold action, then the public can start to have conversations about what that means for our communities. For example, how we adapt and move from jobs in oil and gas and coal to jobs in renewable energy sources.

Regaining trust

My hope is that journalism can regain relevancy and rebuild trust based on helping the audiences we serve. When I look back at the pandemic, it was a rare moment when journalism managed to increase trust because we played this important public service role. There was a lot of unpacking complex science. There were a lot of solution stories about vaccines and global collaboration. It was a great story of the things that we can do as a global society.

I hope journalism can rediscover some of what we learned from that and build it into our DNA. Our role is to inform and engage societies and drive important conversations about change. It’s also to hold the world leaders and the business leaders accountable, to make sure they live up to their promises so we can all chart a path together.

I’d like to thank the IKEA Foundation, not just for supporting our work, but for supporting so many people working in climate. If we’re going come through this, it’s going to require a new level of global collaboration. It’s important to nurture that collaboration and make sure there’s creativity in addressing this monumental challenge.

About

Tom Trewinnard is one of Syli’s executive directors. Syli is dedicated to supporting mission-driven journalism that supports informed discussion about key topics around the world. In response to the editor’s question – the event was in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The partnership between Syli and the IKEA Foundation aims to increase the impact of climate journalism by supporting local news organisations to engage people by increasing fact-based, engaging and solutions-oriented stories on climate.

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At the World Circular Economic Forum our Programme Manager, Annelies Withofs, talked about the Circular Food Systems for Rwanda programme which supports farmers, entrepreneurs, and businesses to shift towards #RegenerativeAgriculture and circular systems. 

Learn more about the programme via the link in our bio πŸ”—

#ClimateCrisis #ClimateSolutions #SustainableFoodSystems #wcef2024
Our food systems are not working for people and the planet. We must transition to an approach that respects the environment and ensures the wellbeing of people now and in the future. πŸ₯•

At the World Circular Economic Forum our Programme Manager, Annelies Withofs, talked about the Circular Food Systems for Rwanda programme which supports farmers, entrepreneurs, and businesses to shift towards #RegenerativeAgriculture and circular systems. 

Learn more about the programme via the link in our bio πŸ”—

#ClimateCrisis #ClimateSolutions #SustainableFoodSystems #wcef2024
Our food systems are not working for people and the planet. We must transition to an approach that respects the environment and ensures the wellbeing of people now and in the future. πŸ₯• At the World Circular Economic Forum our Programme Manager, Annelies Withofs, talked about the Circular Food Systems for Rwanda programme which supports farmers, entrepreneurs, and businesses to shift towards #RegenerativeAgriculture and circular systems. Learn more about the programme via the link in our bio πŸ”— #ClimateCrisis #ClimateSolutions #SustainableFoodSystems #wcef2024
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