Cool COP Morning: Climate Communication Gets Attention at Durban Conference

Written by Lisa Hayden on . Posted in COP17, Learn, The Wonk Room

The challenge of communicating about climate change was the subject of official break-out meetings for the first time this year at COP17 in Durban.

Hosted by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN), the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), and other groups, the 1st annual Climate Communications Day on Dec. 1, brought together journalists, bloggers, public relations professionals, scientists and other communications experts, to share lessons and new approaches on effectively communicating about and covering the news of climate change.

One theme from the session is a golden rule of journalism, and one of our goals in sharing information here at Planet Change: the most compelling stories are those that have a real impact on people’s lives.

However, as the communicators in Durban agreed, the myriad impacts and ranges of uncertainty over exactly how global climate patterns will change in the coming decades make the story of climate change, and how it will affect human society, difficult to explain. Unless an extreme drought or intense rainstorm can be tied to warming trends by scientific studies (which usually can’t happen for months or even years after the event – the timeline of scientific research, not daily news), journalists have a tough time telling local climate stories.

The communication issue is particularly relevant in the U.S., where a small but vocal and growing segment of the population continues to question climate science, and influence the debate in Congress over whether the U.S. should adopt measures to control carbon pollution. The Yale Project on Climate Communication has shared intriguing analysis about how the U.S. population breaks down into “Global Warming’s Six Americas.”

However, the emerging links between climate change and extreme weather may be becoming more obvious, even to Americans. The Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media posted research that a majority of Americans believe global warming made the following extreme weather events worse: the Mississippi flooding, drought in Texas and Oklahoma, record summer high temperatures and even heavy snowfall in 2010 and 2011.

Meanwhile, media coverage of the climate negotiations was shifting to the crucial role of the U.S., and its current position favoring voluntary pledges to cut emissions rather than a legally binding agreement, which scientists say will not be enough to limit the planet’s warming to so-called “safe” levels. (The U.S. has pledged to cut its emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020).

Though many at the talks would like to see stronger leadership from the U.S., they also acknowledge the challenging political situation in Congress, where climate legislation has not been able to pass.

Rounding out the communications theme, BBC environmental correspondent Richard Black shared a journalism study by Oxford University about the coverage of climate change skepticism in non-English language countries. The study found that a sample of newspapers surveyed from the U.S. and the U.K. aired skeptical voices much more often than those in Brazil, China, France and India, and that a greater proportion of skeptical statements in the U.S. and U.K. papers came from politicians (as opposed to scientists) than in the other countries’ papers.

Here at Planet Change, one of our goals is to tell real stories of climate change. If you’ve been affected by a climate-related extreme weather event, or if you’ve noticed changes where you live or in places you know well, click on “Share Your Story.” We’d love to hear about it.

Lisa Hayden is a blogger and writer for The Nature Conservancy

Photo by: Flickr user Oxfam International (A media briefing by international NGOs on the first day of COP 17) Used under a Creative Commons license.

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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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