We read the 4000-page IPCC climate report so you don’t have to

Country/area: United States

Organisation: Quartz

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 10/08/2021

Credit: Amanda Shendruk, Tim McDonnell, David Yanofsky, Michael J. Coren


Amanda Shendruk is a visual journalist on Quartz’s Things team. She reports at the intersections of code, data and design.

Tim is a reporter covering global climate change and energy issues, based in Cairo, Egypt. He was a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow and a National Geographic Explorer.

David is the editor of Quartz’s Things team, the publication’s cohort of journalists who use code-based methods to originate and execute their stories.

Michael is the editor of Quartz’s science and technology team.

Project description:

The final IPCC climate report is nearly 4,000 pages long—much of it written in inscrutable scientific jargon. We reviewed the data, summarized the main points, and created an interactive way to read the report all while showing scientists’ confidence in their conclusions. It made the daunting and technical report accessible to everyday readers around the world who want to understand the scientific evidence of man-made global warming.

Impact reached:

In a crowded field of coverage our report stood out. Our readers raved about the work, calling it “one of the best summaries” of the report, and “a thorough but easily digestible breakdown.” Data visualization expert Jon Schwabish said that he “loves this” and world renowned data designer Jan Willem Tulp said that our display “should be the default in the report itself”

Even months after publication this work is averaging thousands of visitors a month. Reflecting the gloabl importance of the climate change readers have come to this story from almost every country on earth, from Peru to Rwanda, Tajikistan to Laos. In total, people in 179 countries have read it according to our analytics.

Techniques/technologies used:

We structured the data as ArchieML to mark up the text from the report, then used a templating language called pug to create the HTML and styled it with CSS. The interactive features were custom written in javascript.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of this project was converting the text of the report and inline plain-text confidence levels into structured data. Because the report was released in a PDF format, and the peculiarities of the document couldn’t be known ahead of time, we determined that extracting the information using software would have been more error prone and possibly time consuming. That meant that our only option was to create our dataset by hand—a time-consuming effort but an essential part of this piece.

What can others learn from this project?

Journalists can learn that text is data and that descriptions are data. They can also learn that journalism doesn’t need to be wordy to be successful at deeply informing people. This piece is more comprehensive than most of the news coverage published around the report.

They can also learn that different work isn’t always needed to serve different types of readers. The format and structure of this piece serves readers of all interest levels:

  • For readers who want a quick summary it is skimmable.
  • Readers who are only interested in certain aspects of climate change can choose to only read deeply in those sections.
  • And folks who want to go deep on the entire report can read the thousands of words we wrote to explain it.

Project links: