Media Matters / Andrea Austria

Research/Study Research/Study

Dire U.N. climate report garners only 16 minutes of coverage across all cable and broadcast TV news

Scientific warning to phase out fossil fuels is not linked to calls to increase drilling

  • The latest April 4 report released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded, in no uncertain terms, that the time is “now or never” for humanity to phase out the use of fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic climate change. The report, the third of the IPCC’s sixth assessment on the climate crisis, received scant coverage from corporate broadcast and cable news, despite the gravity of its conclusion and the glaring relationship between these latest warnings on our dependence on fossil fuels and current debates around energy and the war in Ukraine

    According to The Washington Post, the report “represents the IPCC’s first analysis of humanity’s remaining paths for climate action since the landmark Paris agreement, in which world leaders committed to prevent dangerous warming.” The report also notes, “The barriers to achieving ambitious emissions cuts are more social and political than technological, with scientists citing ‘opposition from status quo interests’ as a key blocker of progress.”

    Despite the startling nature of the new report, corporate broadcast morning and nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC and original programming on CNN covered it for almost 8½  minutes within the first 24 hours of its release. PBS Newshour covered the report for nearly as long — 7½ minutes in just 1 segment — as the other programs combined, bringing the total coverage to 16 minutes. Neither Fox nor MSNBC has covered it yet.

  • Broadcast and cable news spent 16 minutes covering the UN report on climate mitigation

  • In the first 24 hours after the climate report was released, beginning at 11 a.m. EDT on April 4, broadcast morning and nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS and original programming on CNN devoted just 16 minutes of combined coverage to the report. Fox News and MSNBC have not covered it as of this writing.

    Corporate broadcast TV news coverage from ABC, CBS, NBC aired just over 4 minutes of combined coverage on the IPCC report. Of the corporate networks, NBC accounted for half the time and covered the report on both its morning and evening programming. PBS NewsHour aired a nearly 8-minute long segment on the report’s findings — accounting for nearly half of all coverage by TV news and nearly twice as much as all its corporate broadcast counterparts combined.

    CNN was the only network to cover the IPCC report across all three cable news channels — CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. The vast majority of the 4 minutes of coverage on CNN aired on The Lead with Jake Tapper

  • As the climate threat increases, TV news coverage of it appears to be declining

  • The latest IPCC report received scant coverage from corporate broadcast and cable news, reflecting the measly coverage of the second IPCC report that was released earlier in the year. Coverage of both these reports represent a dramatic drop compared to how much the initial IPCC report was covered in August last year.

    Broadcast and cable TV news covered the initial IPCC report for over two hours the day it was released, during a year when broadcast coverage of the crisis reached an all-time high. So far in 2022, the war in Ukraine is dominating the news cycle, as expected, and is seemingly pushing the climate crisis out of the headlines. But the connection between climate and the violence playing out in Eastern Europe is impossible to sever — because at its core, it is a fossil fuel war. But in general, TV news has not linked the climate crisis and national security in its reporting on the war in Ukraine in any meaningful way.

  • IPCC reports should be informing coverage of the current debate on energy and coverage of gas prices

  • The IPCC report does not need to displace the media's coverage of the war in Ukraine but rather should be informing it. Cable and broadcast news has provided wall-to-wall coverage of gas prices and efforts to reduce the global share of Russian oil and gas. But it has seemingly been done without outlets providing consideration of what it would mean for the drawdown of global carbon emissions that the scientific community — in part through these climate reports — warns is needed to avoid a climate emergency.

    In fact, the IPCC’s second report was released just days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and it echoed that warning. The report got light attention from broadcast TV news — and in the cases where it was reported on, it was not contextualized within the broader discussion around oil production in the wake of the war.

    Similarly, TV news has also failed, with some exception, to make the clear connection between this latest report on the need to drastically reduce fossil fuels and the ongoing coverage around gas prices and reducing global dependence on Russian oil and gas. Even PBS Newshour, which provided a substantive look at the report and clean energy technology, never alluded to the energy debate that has been escalated by the war.

    However, The Lead with Jake Tapper’s segment on the IPCC report did just that. It centered around how “the Russian invasion, high gas prices, advancement in the renewable sector, and a climate crisis” has created the impetus for Europe to move away from fossil fuels while citing the political forces that have stalled efforts to do so in the U.S.

  • Video file

    Citation From the April 4, 2022 edition of CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper

  • The Lead seamlessly wove the climate report into coverage of the war illustrating how the two are clearly interconnected. It’s past time for other networks to follow its lead.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on cable news networks CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel as well as all original episodes of ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, CBS’ Mornings and Evening News, and NBC’s Today and Nightly News for either of the terms “climate” or “warming” within close proximity to any of the terms “report,” “study,” “IPCC,” “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” “United Nations,” or “U.N.” or any variations of the term “science” from 11 a.m. EDT April 4, 2022, when the report was released, through 11 a.m. EDT April 5, 2022.

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances when the IPCC report was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the IPCC report. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the IPCC report with one another. We also included headline reports, which we defined as instances when an anchor, host, or correspondent read a short news report about the IPCC report in rapid succession with several unrelated stories.

    We did not include passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker discussed the IPCC report without another speaker engaging with the comment, or teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the IPCC report scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

    We rounded all times to the nearest minute.

    Correction (3/21/23): A previous version of this piece stated that the IPCC report was released on August 4, 2022. In fact, it was released in April 2022.