After a year long fellowship with One Earth and Climate Tracker, Kartik Chandramouli was given the chance to report on the UN climate talks last year in Madrid. These are some of his reflections after 2 weeks in the epicentre of global climate politics.
I haven’t really been a full-time environmental journalist that long, and last year the UN Climate talks was not only my first reporting experience from a big summit, but it was my first ever international climate conference.
After a yearlong fellowship, I had honed some of my reporting skills, but now I feel like no amount of training can prepare a first-timer for a tumultuous two weeks at the UN. Sure, the training sessions, discussions, quizzes, and regular update meetings held my head just above water, but many times throughout the summit, I felt almost like a buoy, floating amidst a typhoon.
Climate change is a complex global issue, and when you see the politics up close, it takes you to another level. Throughout the 2 weeks, I covered aspects of industry, economics, gender, lifestyle, and geopolitics in ways I’d never thought of before.
The Climate Tracker team provided support with decoding complex concepts and jargon, introductions with delegates and scientists, and a popular program tag added to the bargain. These came in handy as I developed my early stories on topics that challenged me professionally and personally.
In the end, I began to view the global gathering as an economic and trade event, which was insightful guidance I received from former BBC and Climate Home reporter Ed King, on our second Climate Tracker training day.
The various side events at this global gathering filled my reports like books in a library – each opening up multitudes of story ideas that enriched my knowledge. From geopolitics to coastal mangroves, there were side events on everything it seemed, filled with the experts you could never get to respond to interview requests on email.
One such event put me in front of the world’s leading experts on the lesser-known peatlands of India – a topic I’d never thought about until I got lost one day, and randomly found my way into the event.
During the two weeks, one of the most fulfilling experiences was to document the voices of young people and tell the story behind the global student strike movement. The process allowed me witness the high-energy climate march on the streets of Madrid, and to speak with young UN youth leaders and climate activists from all corners of the world. I worked with 4 others in the Climate Tracker team, and even a drone, to capture that story, and it was co-published around the world.
These collaborations meant that I could also shoot videos and photos for other journalist fellows that ended up being published on platforms in Argentina and the Czech Republic.
Back home in India, some of my reports for Mongabay-India were republished by other reputed national publications who had never looked into my work before. My story on youth action got a mention as one of The top 10 science stories of 2019 on PBS.
Looking back, the two weeks were an incredible opportunity to accumulate an array of ideas to be pursued in the future. One such story saved in this reporting bank was published recently on One Earth and Mongabay-India, and was based on an interview I recorded in Spain.
If the daytime was juggled between interviews, events, writing, overpriced and under-spiced food and 800m sprints across the vast UN venue, the evening was a time I remember for its delicious team dinners, good conversations with the 9 new Climate Tracker friends, and late night writing.
Before arriving in Madrid, some said that the conference would be overwhelming - they were right, I underestimated it. Others also said that it would be highly rewarding - I underestimated that too.
Now, with a treasured trove of learnings, ideas, and resources, I feel more inclined to tell stories about our environment and climate change than ever before.