On the road to Copenhagen

Subhra Priyadarshini

doi:10.1038/nindia.2009.222 Published online 4 July 2009

Sir David King (right) and Rajendra Kumar Pachauri at the meet.

The economic recession could actually provide an opportunity to climate change policy makers in pinning down what went wrong as a result of faulty national policies. And the media has an equally good opportunity of picking up these 'fault' stories to force governments to prioritise their 'must-dos' before the United Nations' climate change conference in Copenhagen end of this year.

Experts at a hugely attended plenary on 'Climate Change: Gearing up for Copenhagen' at the just concluded World Conference of Science Journalists (June 30 to July 3) in London felt that the world has been on an unsustainable path for long and it is now time to re-evaluate the fundamentals — fossil fuel use and mechanism to reduce greenhouse gases.

Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, Chairperson of the Inter-governmental Panel for Climate Change, said climate change reporting should highlight the worst impacts on underprivileged societies more now than ever. It is important that alongside scientific data and evidence-based stories, environment journalists bring out the problems of those affected by climate change, he said. Also, it is imperative that journalists go back to revisit these stories and make governments take note of the 'real' offshoots of the big climate change scare.

The Kyoto Protocol to prevent climate changes and global warming will run out in 2012. At the Copenhagen conference, the parties of the UNFCCC will meet for the last time on government level before the climate agreement needs to be renewed.

Sir David King, Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University urged the media to focus on the approaches being taken by leading nations in the run up to and at the Copenhagen meet. There needs to be a critical examination of country policies, for instance those of Japan and Canada. "Copenhagen is faltering at the moment, the Americans are fully engaged in discussion; Japan and Canada are stepping in to bridge the breach. If we avoid a real decision in Copenhagen, we will have blundered," he warned.

The media must put forth compelling arguments on what the world must achieve post-Copenhagen, said Damian Carrington, Head of Environment at the Guardian and Observer newspapers. Climate change stories have certainly become more important for newspapers now as compared to a decade back but even then it is difficult to sell 'emission' stories to editors when the newsroom is agog with Michael Jackson and collapsing banks, he said.

David Shukman, science correspondent of BBC TV news said while the impact of climate change needs to be chronicled and policy decisions influenced, the media must not forget to do another important thing – highlight the importance of our natural resources and make people realise what the world would be like if we were to lose them.

Answering audience queries, Pachauri said scientific data alone does not make good stories. He said emerging indicators such as poverty linked to areas facing climate change impact also need to be carefully picked up by journalists. Asked how journalists should deal with climate change skepticism, Pachauri, himself at the receiving end of much of such naysaying, said the media could challenge such scientists using scientific evidence.

"The debate has now moved on — it is not whether there's climate change but how bad it is and what to do about it'" Sir David said.