As world leaders convene for COP26 to tackle climate change, 12 British and Irish broadcasters have signed a commitment to put climate at the heart of their programming.

The Climate Content Pledge, launched by environmental organisation Albert, commits major broadcasters like BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, RTE, SKY and STV to six principles in their future programming. That includes considering climate themes when commissioning, developing and producing content, and making sure that these efforts are informed by science.

This is not the first collaborative commitment made through Albert. Over the last 10 years, these broadcasters have worked on initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint and create content that supports a vision for a sustainable future. For example, since 2011, BBC Studios has been working to reduce energy output for its film and TV production.

Now, the emphasis of this new set of commitments is to influence viewers to make greener choices. At Albert’s event today, Telling Climate Stories Together: In Conversation with Broadcaster CEOs, six of the CEOs joined to discuss their role in shaping a more sustainable future.

This is pulled into focus by fresh research by Sky. Its Behavioural Insights Team found that across six European countries and 3,500 respondents, 70 per cent of people said they are worried about the environment and are willing to change lifestyle choices. The problem is that 20 per cent of people do not know how to recycle or save energy at home.

So 80 per cent of people supported the idea that broadcasters should use their influence to 'nudge' people in the right direction, whether through documentaries, advertising or environmental issues covered in the news.

This is less about climate-specific efforts, like Sky News' Daily Climate Show. It is more about how major broadcasters can reach the largest possible groups of audiences together, through a mixture of genres of programmes, and normalise environmental themes.

ITV's popular soaps, like Emmerdale, have been introducing vegan characters and electric cars into the show. Its popular quiz show, The Chase, will look to include more questions on climate as well.

Channel 4's chief executive Alex Mahon said: "There's a collective responsibility on us as CEOs because we're in a position of power and to put things in the media that influence consumer behaviour," she says.

"We are running particular businesses and now we've cleaned up our own organisations, the question next is: what can we do to influence the behaviour of society? You have to do that in a way that isn't lecturing or hectoring."

The answer seems to be in content that audiences are exposed to on television screens. Tim Davie, the BBC's director general echoed this point saying the broadcaster is a purpose-led organisation. In alignment with its guidelines on impartiality, it also must communicate what individuals can do to limit the effects of global warming.

"I don't think any leader or organisation shouldn't be using their power to contribute to that change. The question is what levers to pull," says Davie.

"What is exciting about this is that we're a group of people who have these amazing resources in terms of public communication and debate.

"We can entertain, inspire and facilitate debate, and show how things work in the real world as opposed to the theoretical world. We do that through factual entertainment, soaps, podcasts. This is reflective of the real world."

This is also not an act of altruism, according to Simon Pitts, chief executive of STV, who added that shareholders are increasingly demanding that their broadcasters are delivering on their social purpose. They want to see that their companies are in the short- and long-term relevant.

"In a couple of generations' time when we look back not just on covid-19 but also [on climate], we aren't going to be judged on whether we managed to hit our quarterly targets and profit numbers. It's actually whether we stepped up and did the right thing for our people and also our businesses.

"This is also a commercial imperative for us, because if we don't do this, we will not be relevant to our audience, and crucially, our people who will not work for us if we are not talking about this.

"I get a lot of questions from shareholders who ask me about what we're doing around the environment and social purpose. That never used to be a question that came up in shareholder meetings, now it is in the top three questions that come up. It is permeating everywhere."

Impact on weather reporting

This ties with the other panel on the day about how climate crisis is changing the role of weather presenters and journalists.

The priority in these quickfire segments is, as usual, the basics; do I need to take an umbrella with me? What is the weather like on the weekend? But increasingly climate change is coming into the picture to explain when extreme rainfall or snowfall is not normal.

"It's about picking the right time and the extremes to say: 'this is not right'," says Sean Batty, weather presenter, STV.

"I've gone down the route of an American presenter of talking about bonkers temperatures and crazy numbers for this time of year."

Numbers can have a numbing quality though and he does not shy away from using Olympic swimming pools and bathtubs as comparisons for rainfall, just so audiences can truly appreciate the scale.

Batty is also doing a three-part series called Don't Waste Scotland which looks at the practical steps people at home can take to make Scotland a greener place.

He added that audiences feel overwhelmed by climate change, and weather reporters have an important role in making sure that coverage is not all doom and gloom.

Laura Tobin, weather presenter for ITV's Good Morning Britain says that her audience increasingly wants to hear about coasts being protected, trees being replanted and the mitigation happening. She also shows what steps her own team is taking to become more eco-friendly.

That is not to shy away from the devastation when it is apparent. Tobin, also a qualified meteorologist, recently trekked out to Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, halfway between Norway and the North Pole.

She revealed that nowhere on Earth is warming as fast as Svalbard and laid bare the reality of global warming that can sometimes feel too abstract. Tobin's story shows how, if left unchecked, parts of the UK could find themselves under water as sea levels rise.

Want to receive journalism news and job updates straight to your phone? Subscribe to on our Telegram jobs channel for the latest job opportunities, and our news channel for a weekly digest every Monday morning.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).