The defining issue of our generation will be humanity's response to the challenge of climate change. That belief underpins the decision by Guardian News and Media (GNM) to place sustainability firmly at the top of our editorial agenda, and to invest accordingly.
Climate change, and the related issues of water, food, energy, poverty, social justice and health, presents the one truly existential issue of our age. This December , world leaders are convening in Copenhagen for what the economist Lord Nicholas Stern has called the "most important gathering since the second world war". The task will be to seal a global deal to reverse the increasing amounts of pollutants being pumped into the atmosphere, and to help all citizens to adapt to the already inevitable impact.
In this year of all years, GNM's greatest asset – our ability to report and influence – will be deployed to maximum effect. We now have in place what we believe to be the most powerful reporting team in the world. In addition to six dedicated editing and production staff, we have six full-time environment correspondents: three of the UK's most eminent green writers, John Vidal, Juliette Jowit and David Adam; the first green technology reporter, Alok Jha; and, crucially, world-class reporters in China, Jonathan Watts, and the US, Suzanne Goldenberg. The latter are key, as the US and China are the world's biggest polluters and, as the UN secretary general told the Guardian, without those two nations on board a global climate deal is impossible. Furthermore, our new integrated internal structure ensures other members of GNM's 800-strong editorial team can contribute, with particularly strong input from our business, economic, political, diplomatic, foreign and consumer affairs teams.
Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of GNM, says the benefit of our approach is already being felt: "The feedback I am receiving from scientists working in this area and politicians is that the Guardian has transformed the way it is regarded by the people who are doing the heavy-lifting in terms of thinking about policy around climate change." Exclusive stories illustrating our editorial approach (see below) include: the UK environment department's chief scientist telling us that the world must prepare for 4C of warming, while still hoping for 2C; a series of articles revealing how UK officials sought to weaken environmental targets being agreed by the EU; an investigation revealing the vast gap between the pledges of funds to help developing nations and the actual money delivered; and the revelation of a vast, undiscovered forest in Mozambique, filled with an astonishingly rich variety of new fauna and flora.
To improve our ability to inform, debate and promote action, we have been completely rebuilding our environment website. We intend to become the central place for the brightest thinking on environmental and sustainability issues. In the summer of 2009 we ran the Manchester Report, at the Manchester International festival, at which ideas for tackling global warming were examined by a panel led by Lord Bingham.
The new website will add to our traditional strengths of reportage and comment by nurturing a community of users to further broaden the debate. The Guardian Environment Network already highlights content from a number of the best environment sites on the web, including Grist, Nature, Inhabitat and the World Resources Institute. There will also be a renewed focus on multimedia – we have already created original video from the tar sands of Alberta to the disappearing Amazon rainforest. New web tools will enable users to understand their impact on the planet in original and significant ways, and to easily access and compare critical data on the state of the Earth.
At GNM, we believe that informing our readers and hosting debates on the issues should be followed by action by individuals. Our annual readers' survey shows that readers say our coverage of sustainability issues has influenced their behaviour (see here for reader survey details). One practical example is our Green Your Home project where Alok Jha and five different homeowners have been blogging and videoing their eco-home projects, supported by expert advice and information sharing. The project was also taken to the Hay festival. Green experts Leo Hickman and Lucy Siegle provide regular advice and reviews through blogs and videos. We have also supported action groups taking positive steps for change, such as Sandbag.org.uk.
Our editorial approach has four tracks:
• Report the latest scientific and social predictions and the impact of climate change from the Arctic to Australia.
• Hold those in positions of power to account for their as yet inadequate reaction to the crisis we face.
• Reflect the human face of environmental change and celebrate the beauty of the natural world for its own sake.
• Give readers the unbiased and authoritative information they need to navigate the complex choices involved in living a green and sustainable life.(Image: Tar sand mining at the Suncor Millenium plant in Fort McMurray, Canada. Photograph: Greg Smith/Corbis)