Tales from the (climate) edge

From sailing on an icebreaker looking for retreating ice or swimming with orcas as they wander further north in search of food; from telling the stories of people living on islands slowly disappearing into the sea, to telling the story of climate change at large; from mingling with scientists at a climate conference to hanging out with Nordic free spirits taking recycling to a new level by chisling a surfboard out of ice so that it melts back into the sea -- AFP journalists have covered all aspects of climate change.

The issue has come to the fore over the past several years and months -- from sick oceans, to glaciers near collapse, to teenagers leading worldwide movements to save the planet. As it gains urgency, get a glimpse of the journeys our reporters have taken...

Bangladeshi fishermen walk along the coastline of Kutubdia Island, November, 2015. (AFP / Munir Uz Zaman)


Living on borrowed time

Chris Otton

Kutubdia, Bangladesh -- Since the sea waters first began to rise around the Kutubdia island in Bangladesh three decades ago, washing away entire villages, some 40,000 people have left the area. The remaining 100,000 know that they are living on borrowed time -- with some experts saying that the whole island could be swallowed by the sea in as little as 50 years. And the climate accords reached are unlikely to change much.

December, 2015

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Four-year-old Parker Shores walks down the middle of the street with his action figure toys in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. (AFP / Jim Watson)

A losing battle

Jim Watson

Tangier, Virginia, USA -- Although the island of Tangier has been steadily sinking into the Chesapeake Bay on the eastern coast of the US for years, you’ll find very few climate change believers among its nearly 500-strong population.

Lying about 100 miles (150 kilometers) southeast of Washington DC, the island is estimated to have lost two thirds of its land mass since 1850 -- it’s one of the few places where you can actually see climate change in action. It’s also a place where gender roles are so strictly defined that you feel like you’re stepping back into the 1950. And then there is the language.

July 2017

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The Canadian ice-breaker Amundsen in the Canadian Arctic, near the Inuit hamlet of Kugluktuk, Nunavut, Canada on September 20, 2015. (AFP / Clement Sabourin)

Aboard an icebreaker, looking for ice

Clement Sabourin

Aboard the CCGS Amundsen --  Just how is the environment changing above the Arctic Circle? To find out, I boarded the Amundsen, the flagship of the Canadian Coast Guard that acts as a floating laboratory at the forefront of research on global warming. As the icebreaker sailed through the Northwest Passage, the effects of global warming become abundantly clear -- the Amundsen shouldn’t even have made it this far. At this time of the year, this area should have been covered by ice.

September-October 2015

Click to read part one, part two and part three of the series.

(AFP / Olivier Morin)

Mesmerized by orcas in the north

Oliver Morin Francois-Xavier Marit

Tromso, northern Norway -- What better way to tell a climate change story than in extreme conditions? With one of the most graceful mammals on the planet and a chance to get great pictures to boot.

Orcas have been moving more and more up north in the fjords of northern Norway, as their main food source in the area -- herring -- migrates further north in search of the cool water that they prefer. We decided to follow them.

March 2019

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Swedish surfer Pontus Hallin walks into the water with his ice surfboard partly melted at the Delp surfing spot, near Straumnes, in the Lofoten Islands, over the Arctic Circle on February 18, 2019. (AFP / Olivier Morin)

Crazy in the North

Olivier Morin

Staumnes, Norway -- There is a certain Nordic spirit that affects people living in Scandinavia, especially in its northernmost reaches. The crazier the idea, the less likely you’ll give up pursuing it.

Take the ice surfboard as a case in point. The guys who have been regularly surfing in Unstad and Lofoten in northern Norway decided that since they’re in a place where there is ice 10 months out of the year, why not try to make a board out of it?

It sounded like a great way to have some fun.  And there was a certain poetic spirit to it all -- as the surfboard melts, the surf returns to the water. Like “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” but in this case it’s “water to water.” Without the morbid, sad connotations of a funeral service.

April 2019

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The sea off the coast of Antofagasta, Chile, July 4, 2013. (AFP / Jorge Jara)

Climate Change: The ‘Oh Shit!’ moment

Marlowe Hood

PARIS -- It has taken me more than two years to tag & bag the take-away message from my half-decade covering flu pandemics, furtive sub-atomic particles and shrinking ice sheet, and I have Godzilla (along with a movie critic) to thank for the light-bulb moment that brought it all into focus.  

For me, a skeptic by nature and training, that thunderclap came while talking to top scientists who had been asked, for a 2009 conference at Oxford, to imagine a world warmed by four degrees centigrade (seven degrees Fahrenheit).  What emerged was a tableau of misery bleak beyond words: water wars, climate refugees in the hundreds of millions, galloping disease vectors, wholesale famine. (The 4 C scenario is today considered an ‘intermediate’ projection by century’s end.)

But the real piss-your-pants shocker was realizing that it may be too late to put the hounds of hell back on a leash.

September 2014

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This combination of photos shows the Eiffel tower (R) in central Paris through a haze of pollution taken on March 14, 2014 and during clear weather (L) on August 17, 2012. (AFP / Bertrand Guay, Kenzo Tribouillard)

Climate Change: glass half-full or half-empty

Marlowe Hood

Paris -- As a reporter covering climate change, one of the big questions – arguably THE big question – I grapple with is this: are we on the right track to prevent catastrophic global warming? Confronted recently with diametrically opposed answers, I took a deep dive to find out which one was right.

December 2015

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A rainbow over Godewaersvelde, northern France, August 16, 2013. (AFP / Philippe Huguen)

COP21: Less than meets the eye

Marlowe Hood

Paris -- In a feverish dream last week, I found myself pouring over the final draft of the Paris Agreement moments after the UN presented it for approval to ministers from 195 nations. I frantically looked through the jargon-laden, 32-page climate pact for the silver bullet that would ensure victory in the fight against global warming. Just when I thought I might have found it, I woke up with a jolt.

And so it is, I suspect, for many journalists, analysts, activists and even negotiators embedded in the climate change saga. Six years – more than 20 if one starts the clock with the Rio Earth Summit – of maddeningly Byzantine negotiations, moving sideways or in circles as often as forward, have finally yielded a universal climate accord. But what, many of us are left wondering, has truly been achieved?

A lot.

December 2015

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A man walks by a banner announcing the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference, the Cop 21 summit in Paris, on January 14, 2015. (AFP / Jacques Demarthon)

The climate logo Rorschach test

Richard Ingham

Paris - Each year, the country that hosts the UN's conference on climate change dishes out a wad of cash on a logo. The usual request to graphic designers is to provide something cosy. Something planetary. You know, we-are-the-worldish.

Whether all the hugginess works is another matter.

January, 2015

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This compilation was put together by Yana Dlugy in Paris.