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UK press stepped up editorials opposing climate action in 2023

Carbon Brief analysis shows apparent link between Rishi Sunak's net zero policy and newspaper columns.

By Bron Maher

The UK’s national press published more editorials in 2023 arguing against action to mitigate climate change than in any other year, new analysis has found.

The findings, published by climate science website Carbon Brief, indicate there were almost three times as many leader columns opposing climate action in 2023 than in 2022, the next closest year.

Despite the increase, there were still more than twice as many editorials that supported taking greater action on climate change than those arguing for less. Almost all the editorials pushing against climate action were published in right-leaning titles.

[Read more: UK press embraced nuclear power and fracking over renewables in 2022]

Right-leaning titles more opposed to action to mitigate climate change than in previous years

Carbon Brief has been tracking national newspaper editorials about climate and energy since 2011.

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In 2023 the non-profit tracked 354 climate or energy-related editorials published by 17 daily and Sunday UK national newspapers – down from 413 editorials in 2022.

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Of these 354 leader columns published in 2023, 174 (49%) argued for either more or less action on climate change.

In total there were about 110 editorials that supported climate action – the second most in a year after 2021, which saw more than 160 such editorials published and less than ten editorials opposing climate action.

Carbon Brief said “nearly every” editorial published in left-leaning or centrist titles lobbied for more climate action, comprising three-quarters of all the year’s pro-action articles.

In contrast 42 of the climate-related editorials at right-leaning publications, or half the total published on the subject, opposed climate action. A third supported taking more action and the rest “expressed a mix of views”, Carbon Brief said.

Net zero backlash disappeared after Sunak U-turn

Much of the criticism of climate action among right-leaning publications centred on the argument that such measures would be too costly to be worthwhile.

The Carbon Brief authors said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to walk back several net zero policies in September “followed a flurry of editorials warning of the high costs of net zero” and that following his announcement “these editorials almost stopped entirely” for the rest of the year.

Carbon Brief also found that the national press published more than twice as many editorials attacking climate activists in 2023 – 56 – as it did in any other year. The overwhelming majority of those articles criticised decarbonisation advocacy group Just Stop Oil.

Carbon Brief said: “Just Stop Oil was described as a ‘criminal cult’, ‘eco-loons’ and ‘deranged’ by The Sun and the Daily Mail. The Sun devoted entire editorials to targeting individual activists for taking flights and driving a car to Waitrose to buy fruit.”

It is the second year in a row that Just Stop Oil has attracted heavy criticism from editorials in right-leaning papers – but whereas in 2022 the group received 22 critical articles, last year it garnered 43.

Carbon Brief wrote last year: “If one of the group’s goals was to attract media attention they have been successful.”

[Read more: Climate journalism ‘aspirational’ for new reporters, says Carbon Brief editor Leo Hickman]

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