Pedro is a Brazilian journalist currently working towards his master’s in journalism and globalisation at City University London. His Twitter handle is @pedrohcbarreto
In Brazil, the political turmoil is overshadowing the media coverage of the COP21. This weekend, Venezuela had general elections which received major attention from Brazilian outlets. Nevertheless, all the main newspapers had a special section on their websites dedicated to the conference – they are updated daily with articles written by correspondents, international news agencies and opinion pieces.
O Estado de S. Paulo says that financing is the biggest obstacle for an agreement in Paris. Around US$ 100 billion are to be transferred annually to underdeveloped countries for adaptation to global warming, but how to reach that number is still in dispute. A quote from the article [translated]: “In a scenario of mutual distrust, the developed nations fear eventual corruption cases, while the developing ones have suspicions from the rich governments’ real intentions to fulfill the agreed funding”.
In another piece, the correspondent in Paris is tougher. “According to negotiators listened to by O Estado, the topic of financing is poisoning the discussions in the COP21.” The newspaper says that there is still much to be done to match the efforts of the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe – and the nations from the so-called G77 + China.
Another Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo brings few updates this Sunday. One of them is about the American Congress, whose “Republican opposition does not consider climate change a real threat”. The outlet highlights Barack Obama’s endeavour on the matter, but remembers that the Republican majority in the House of Representatives approved two resolutions to block the rules approved by the Environmental Protection Agency which aimed at the reduction of carbon emission from coal. “It was a message to the world that the United States are divided,” the piece said.
“O Globo”, the newspaper part of the biggest media corporation in Brazil, says in an opinion article today that “if the negotiators in the climate summit are being serious in the mission to stop global warming, then they must consider the use atomic energy”. The piece underlines that France is an example to be followed, because it appears at number 20 in the list of GDP per capita in the world, but it is only at number 50 in the list of greenhouse gases emitters. “This is only possible because in France the energy matrix is mostly nuclear”.
Everybody’s eyes are on Paris at the moment. For one week the climate summit has already filled many headlines, columns and articles in the media world.
It is a typical pattern. In fact, media researchers know that the conferences are rare times for climate change to get public attention. Paris is probably a new dimension – the biggest and most ambitious event ever, covered all around the world. Thus, a good time to think about what climate journalists should keep an eye on.
Unlike homosexual marriage, the refugee crisis or gun ownership the climate change seems hardly suitable for controversial debate. Rather, it would need at least two distinct camps, arguing from different normative perspectives. The climate denial debate does not count. It is about whether scientists get their facts right. By now, this a mere placeholder for saying you just do not care at all about climate change. However, the majority of media voices are merely restating the claim that efforts to stop climate change must become more ambitious. There are no serious objections to that. On a moral basis the issue seems to be clear. It is only a problem of policy implementation. Policy-makers appear either ignorant or incapable of overcoming diplomatic deadlocks. There is nothing morally controversial about this.
This is partly understandable, considering that the current climate policy seems to lag behind public expectations a lot. In this situation media voices either focus on mobilization or policy analysis. However, there is a problem with this. It is something that has accompanied the climate debate ever since it started in the 1980s: The public becomes dulled by the permanent gap between claims and actions. It loses interest in the topic and is more likely to fall back into political disillusionment. Thereby, they can even become more inert on climate action because they are not challenged to check arguments on either side anymore. The problem seems to be with the policy-makers, not with the public.
Journalists could stimulate the debate by framing questions on climate action as questions of justice. Questions such as: What would you want us to do, if you did not know when and where you were born in the centuries to come? Would you be willing to sacrifice your living standard to, for example, prevent Bangladesh from shrinking by almost a quarter from sea-level rise? Certainly, you would not mind having ten euros more on the electricity bill. However, you would probably not accept stopping plane travel for the rest of your life. For many people, it must be something inbetween. These questions are hypothetical. They do not take into account what is politically realistic at the moment. But, they may provoke a debate that reveals step by step how far we are actually willing to go.
Now, what would journalists need to do to initiate a bigger debate of this kind? Here are some ideas: First, the public must know more about the differences between a 1.5C, 2C or 3C-world. The Guardian recently made a start. Despite the scientific uncertainties, more graspable images need to be created to see what is at stake.
Second, there needs to be a better picture on the costs of an ambitious mitigation policy. For example, the IPCC economists estimated that the 2C-target would cost the global economy 4 to 6 percent compared to no climate mitigation at all. This is an amount equivalent to the expected world growth within a couple of years. However, there is always the problem of translating such figures. People like to know what this mean for their lifestyle.
Third, the public needs to have stories in mind of what could happen. Why not mobilise writers for drawing pictures of people living in the 22nd century? Neither as a utopia, nor dystopia, but as a more or less likely scenario. What about composing fictional encounters between different generations? What would they say to each other? There could be many ways for authors to provide powerful visions of a future world.
Although rather sketchy, I think that this could help to bring some motion into the climate debate. Certainly, it is quite a challenge for media producers. More controverisal debates could not only give people a better picture of the problem. It would also be more catchy. This could finally give climate change the public attention it deserves – even beyond COPs.
Monday morning the climate summit started with scores of state leaders arriving in their black cars, delegates and press mostly in hybrid shuttle buses.
But Espace Générations Climat – the forum for all the non-accredited NGOs and activists, remained closed. They were not allowed to open until Tuesday, evidently for security reasons. The amount one has to pay to be there is rather steep. A woman representing a small NGO said they had to pay 1700 Euro for just 9m2.
The only demonstrators the delegates would see as they entered the accredited grounds of COP21 on Monday morning were seven angels with posters promoting climate justice and scorning fossil energy. The angels are Australian, and have travelled widely with their message already. “Who would arrest angels?,” – an Australian professor from Melbourne commented. After noticing how they navigated through police blocks at Place de la République on Sunday, when the going got tough, we were convinced. As they days have passed, small groups of demonstrators have made their mark inside the official Cop (the blue zone.) also, applauded by passers-by.
Justice and island states
Climate justice? Yes, but where to draw the line? Before this conference, it was taken for granted that the conference was going to be about the two degree target, the aim that everyone spoke about, where the world, in a best case scenario, was heading. So far the pledges would keep global warming just below three degrees. Then again, pledges and practices are not identical entities. As the conference develops it has become increasingly clear that the Least Developed Countries (LDC’s) and G77 will not agree to a final document unless the rich nations increase their commitment to financing adaptation substantially.
A growing coalition of indigenous people, island state representatives and large parts of civil society are now insisting on one and a half degree increase, maximum. This call seems to have been heard by politicians at the opening ceremony. Both Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel emphasized the island state vulnerability. Utopian as it may seem, the lower one and a half degree target was mentioned by some western leaders. Hollande even said he wanted to lend his voice to the island states. President Obama met the island leaders Tuesday. However, as a seasoned COP-participant uttered: “The politicians sound generous, the negotiators will be less so.”
Case-ification of the poor …
Another rhetorical feature is the way in which some leaders promote special ‘cases’ of the vulnerable. French minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius, who chairs COP21, spoke of an elderly woman he had met in Bangladesh. Due to climate change, she had shifted home nine times and had asked him if the COP would do anything to change her circumstance. We do not think he had an answer ready at hand. President Obama emphasized his own experiences from drastic changes in Alaska, and also mentioned a young Indonesian lady in Malaysia who had challenged him to take action. The president of Honduras mentioned Maria, who, like 70 percent of his population, cooked over open fire, but was helped to cook more environment-friendly. But do these narratives bring the global leaders closer to the realities on the ground?
The state leaders, due to time constraints, held their introductory speeches in parallel sessions. President Obama and the Norwegian Prime minister Erna Solberg spoke simultaneously. So did Vladimir Putin and Brazilian Dilma Roussef. While these speeches entered our ears, press releases kept pouring into email boxes, while some printed versions still land on your desk. In the press room, reporters risked fragmented experiences, a permanent peril to anyone trying to report from this global event. Every journalist has to make hard choices.
Can we really believe that global leaders have grasped the situation now? Competing diagnoses still exist in this forum. The president of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes has warned against unlimited growth and repeated the claim for an international court mechanism dealing with crimes against the environment. Evo Morales from Bolivia reiterated that capitalism has steered Mother Earth towards the abyss. On the other hand, many western leaders, not least Obama (Monday) and Michael Bloomberg (Friday), are increasingly enthusiastic about ‘green growth’ and the ability businesses have to save the system as well as the planet.
A row of initiatives were launched to convince the conference that we are heading in the right direction, pledging funding for positive development as well as a quota system and new market mechanisms. But few of these initiators bothered to visit the Climate Vulnerability Forum, assembled Monday. More than thirty leaders from the most vulnerable nations were there to defend the one and a half degree target. The strongest appeal came from young José Sixto Gonzales from the Philippines who told that his archipelago experiences around 22 typhoons a year. While he admitted he would rather be at home, he said he represented his new-born daughter – and all other children. He said the one and a half degree target is at the core of these negotiations. Further, he said that his countrymen, who had survived typhoon Haiyan, are in a sense experts on climate change and deserve being listened to.
José is active on social media and had gathered mountains of responses. “Please listen to all these voices. Tell us that it is about now!” The forum applauded. The UN climate leader Christina Figueres offered her advice to the forum and asked them to let their voices be even louder, and to exploit the positive rhetoric of western leaders to the full.
With one week nearly done, next week we’ll see if rhetoric translates into action.
In the ancient mythical saga Ulysses, sirens were beautiful creatures with enchanting voices who would lure sailors to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island with their sweet intoxicating music.
Ulyses, curious to hear the the siren’s song, ordered his men to bind him to the mast. He implored the crew, who had their ears plugged with wax, to leave him tied tightly to the mast, no matter how much he would beg. Upon hearing the sirens’ beautiful melody, Ulysses urged the sailors to untie him but they instead bound him tighter. The ship then navigated the narrow channel to safety: Ulysses actions had saved the lives of himself and the crew.
This ancient tale gives us a very appropriate notion of “self-binding” agreements. If we compare this myth to the Paris Summit: Who is Ulysses? What is the sirens’ song, and who should ignore their singing? Plenty of interpretations seem possible but here is my take on it. Ulysses and the crew can be seen as nations and leaders. The ropes that bind Ulysses and the wax in the sailors’ ears can be seen as a new course of action (or agreement) on climate change. The ship is the future of planet Earth and the song of the siren’s is the status quo (existing climate deals and ineffective action). The status quo is something that initially sounds sweet but were we to follow it, our ship would end up dashed against the rocks and sinking beneath the sea (uncontrollable climate change).
So in what ways should, or could, a climate treaty be self-binding? How will nations and the planet avoid the siren’s song and the dangerous rocks on the horizon?
‘The scientists have spoken, now it is time for the politicians to act.’
The above statement was heard often after the publication of the last IPCC report and during the preparation for the Paris summit, but what does it mean? Does it imply that the IPCC set targets for the international negotiations, thus assuming the role of Ulysses? Surely not. The IPCC is supposed to be policy relevant, yet policy neutral.
There are currently a legitimate and wide variety of policy proposals available to the planet. These are packaged into narratives that we can easily remember. There is, for example, the admonition that Earth’s climate future is currently “five minutes to midnight” and the summit is our last opportunity to save the planet. Even Pope Francis recently added his voice to this narrative.
Then there is the hope that if only the political will could be mustered, we could achieve really ambitious targets, such as staying below the 2° C warming limit, or even limiting warming to 1.5C. Linked to that is the belief that we do have the technologies to decarbonize our societies, and that all that is needed is for them to be scaled up.
These narratives have proven ineffective. They are either apocalyptic and therefore paralyzing, or based on wishful thinking and therefore delusional. Curiously, both tend to combine, inspiring desperate activism and deep frustration over current government policies. The message is that we are already in shallow water and should expect havoc soon.
Other narratives have surfaced and some look quite promising. There is, first of all, the acknowledgement that a top down, globally binding treaty based on emission targets and timetables will not work. This is mainly due to a fact of international politics that can be expressed as: ‘Negotiators can only sign on abroad to what they can sell at home’. The USA may be the most visible nation which exemplifies this fact, but others are no exception.
Hence the bottom up approach to collect pledges from single countries, via intended nationally defined contributions (INDCs). However, there is the problem of putting these pledges into practice: a fact of political life summed up by this expression: ‘The test of each policy lies in its implementation’. The record, even of leading countries on climate policy, does not look promising. Little real progress has been made to date, and based on existing technologies, it is impossible that this will change in the near future.
The pledges made before Paris may not be enough to reach the goals of avoiding 2 degrees of warming. So the temptation arises to make the pledges more ambitious in order to pacify climate activists or the 44 countries demanding a new lower limit of 1.5 degrees. While one can imagine pledges that would on paper meet the demands of such a goal, this approach is in severe danger of losing credibility. It would be regarded as ‘cheap talk’–promises without corresponding action. Ulysses (nations and leaders) would not be bound by such ties.
There is now an emerging narrative which addresses the need for dramatic efforts in terms of RD&D in order to obtain cheap, zero carbon energy. The Global Apollo programme is an example, even if the video clip on its website leaves the impression that it is mainly about extending solar and wind energy.
Existing innovations in energy technology are conservative. They will not be enough to achieve what is needed. Radical innovations are called for, but it is unclear where they will come from. Innovation is an unpredictable process. What is clear though, is that it needs resources and long-term commitment through public funding. Private companies have proven woefully inadequate in this respect. Ulysses does not have a ship that will get him out of trouble.
As co-author of the Hartwell Paper which was published in 2010, I see both the pragmatic bottom up, and the research development and demonstration (RD&D) narratives in a positive light. Countries making pledges based on credible actions at home would be a good start. And recognizing the need to mount a global RD&D effort would be a sign of realism for the conference of the parties.
Too much has been invested in old technologies and old narratives, and they have acquired a momentum of their own. It will be difficult to push them back. The song of the sirens is everywhere, also on board the ship.
Perhaps the Paris summit will produce a document that contains pledges, commitments and is more pragmatic. It will be a symbolic statement that could become self-binding on nations, provided it contains practical ways forward, and does not restrict itself to ‘cheap talk’. As no one assumes that COP 21 will solve the problem of climate change once and for all, it is moot to speculate if it could be seen a success. Officials will see the mere continuation of the process as success, no matter what it will deliver in reality. I will see COP21 as success if it spells out the challenges in a realistic way and manages to create a self-binding dynamic that leads to real solutions.
The day after the Paris attacks, a state of emergency was declared in France.
As a result, civil liberties were restrained and exceptional police powers were dedicated to regulating the movement and residence of the public. The state of emergency was promulgated by the French Assembly for a period of three months beginning on November 26, 2015. Demonstrations planned in Paris for COP21, such as the November 29 climate march, were banned. In this constrained context, what demonstrations by civil society related to COP21 were covered by media?
Our brief case study analysed media coverage from six online players which are Vice, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Le Monde, Le Figaro and Reporterre, so respectively three ‘new players’ of online news, two mainstream legacy media and one specialized in environmental questions. Our period of analysis ran from Wednesday 25 November until Wednesday 2 December and we gathered articles relating to climate change and COP21. 272 articles were collected in total. Among those, a corpus of 65 pieces of news (24%) were captured because their content was either referring to security measures around the COP21 (34 articles) or civil society actions (31).
Chart 1. Articles selected compared to COP21 media coverage
If we take a look at the distribution of the articles produced, we clearly see that Le Monde, Le Figaro and the Huffington Post produced most of the coverage. Altogether, they represent 80% of the media coverage of our sample. Part of this is related to their size since the two legacy mainstream media rely on large teams of journalists. Meanwhile, Huffington Post content is written by personalities and composed of a large number of blog/opinions pieces (a third of its content). To get a glimpse at types of journalistic production, we can label the content by the signature or absence of it in the article (see chart 2). This way, we divided our corpus in four categories: journalist, personality, press-agency and unsigned content.
Chart 2. Type of production
Going back to the re-partition of content produced in our corpus, we distinguished two main categories: civil society actions and security measures (see chart 3). The idea is to highlight the proportion of media coverage per media. As we can see, two of the ‘new players’ of the news online industry, Vice and Buzzfeed, have a coverage strictly focus on the security measures. They do not seem really interested in civil society actions. Also, this type of content dominate the coverage of Le Figaro, since more than two third of their content is interested in this matter. It could be an effect related to the quantity of press-agency articles (re-hash) contained in our sample for this title. As we can observe in chart 2, 15 of the 23 articles selected are either press-agency re-hash or unsigned.
Chart 3. Proportion of media coverage between civil society actions and security measures around the COP21
Each of the two main categories “Civil society actions” and “Security measures” can be split in two to have a clearer picture of their precise topic. For security measures, we aggregate articles about the security measures around the COP (controls at the borders, restriction of traffic, policeman effective deployed, etc) and articles about violence either anticipated regarding the November 29 march or debriefing what happened during and after the march. The category “Civil society actions” refers to articles on counter-actions organized by civil society around the COP or advocacy for the actions of civil society.
As we can see on the chart 4, the coverage is really unbalanced between the different news players. Globally, security measures and counter-actions appear to be the main sub-categories, since approximately a third of our corpus is represented by each one of them. “Violence” is just behind totalizing 15 articles and “advocacy for the actions of civil society” is the last sub-category with 11 articles.
What is interesting here is to take into consideration each media. Vice focuses exclusively on violence, even if there is only 2 of their articles in our corpus. Buzzfeed is a mixture between security measures and violence, with 2 articles as well. The four other players have different weighting between the sub-categories: the Huffington Post seems mainly interested in advocacy for the actions of civil society and counter-actions organized and less than the others by violence and security measures (only 25% of their coverage). The least interested in violence seems to be Le Monde (only 1 article), followed by Reporterre which gives a large place to counter-actions of civil society (44% of its coverage). Le Monde appears to devote the majority of its coverage to civil society actions as well, with not less than 6 articles dedicated to the counter-actions organized by civil society. Le Figaro has a coverage more oriented towards security measures, since it represents approximately 40% of its coverage in our corpus. We can draw the hypothesis that it might be linked with its political orientation and readers, who does not really seem particularly fond of environmental activists.
Chart 4. Proportion of coverage per media and per category
If we look now at the temporal dynamic of the media coverage, we can see how it evolved from a topic to another. The main thematic was security measures before the forbidden march of November 29th then it focuses on violence. Counter-actions seems less appealing to the media although they make good photos and videos to illustrate what is happening around the COP21. Another aspect not taken into account here is the format which could have maybe demonstrate this point. In this short period of a week, we can observe different media moments in a very condensed way (see chart 5).
Chart 5. Temporal dynamic of media coverage
Of course, the approach developed here is very limited but it leads to many questions which can be dealt with in-depth. If we open what is a black-box for this (quick) quantitative analysis and do a more qualitative one, political stances might appear more clearly. For instance, Reporterre covers the violence and security measures but gives a voice to activists and relates police brutality with a critical lens, whereas it is less apparent – to say the least – in the other media. This example shows us what we miss with this kind of quantitative-only analysis. To go further, a carefully reading of each news piece is needed in order to find context elements about the history of the title and its position in the news field.
At first glance, Le Monde and Le Figaro seem to favour a stance of passing on government instructions on the ban of the march on November 29 and the necessity of respecting the state of emergency rather than detailing the motivations of civil society against the COP21. Vice and Buzzfeed which are considered as ‘new players’ and digital natives’ actors do not differ that much from the other news players. However, naturally their tone of coverage is different. The component of original media material in the coverage, especially for Buzzfeed, is also very light. They are focusing on violence, which can be linked to their business model which only relies on advertising. This could be a first explanation: they are chasing clicks and trying to maximize their page views with more visual content. In that regard Huffington Post might be the most surprising in its coverage: it offers a lot of opinions pieces and also a more nuanced coverage than elsewhere.
This quick analysis raises more questions than it brings answers, nevertheless, if we refuse shortcuts in the interpretation, it might be useful to draw a first (raw) picture of media coverage about civil society actions and security measures.
Do you need a ticket to COP21 in order to get the full story of what goes on? A week ago in Bilbao Spain, this provocative question was posed by Dr. Unai Pascualto a discussion group at the Basque Center for Climate Change. Unai’s question is an open one I’ve pondered in the lead up to the Paris round of negotiations and something I ask you to consider now.
Attending talks, observing negotiations, meeting with co-workers, researching and learning about new topics are all important dimensions of COP21 participation. However for those who aren’t attending COP21, media outlets are usually the way to go. From Europe alone, media actors from BBC to France24 to The Guardian and El Mundo – seemingly populate every part of the sprawling venue in Le Bourget. See Chris Russell’s good commentary of media resources ‘on the ground’ at Paris COP21
This is only a start: you can add toppings of Facebook posts from Associated Press, New York Times,Democracy Now, Deutsche Welle, EuroNews, Reuters until you’re overstuffed.
A clear advantage as we attend to our daily demands and responsibilities in these December days – is that media actors are working hard to help us all make sense of the complexities of the climate. Journalists can unpack concepts such as “mitigation”, “adaptation”, “Green Climate Funds”, “loss and damage,” “REDD+” and more. They investigate so you don’t have to. However, while these media representations link us to these critical issues being negotiated in Paris, we can still recognize the mainstream media’s limits.
The media, by their nature, inevitably privilege certain story lines over others. Through decisions made at various levels of the media hierarchy, media actors –journalists, publishers, editors, bloggers etc – shape narratives on climate change. This occurs through the application of journalistic norms and values within a larger landscape of political, economic, environmental, and cultural pressures.
With so much occurring at any one time at the Paris Summit: a large and potentially world-changing event, media consumers can generally only access ‘climate stories’ media actors select from the steady stream of events. As such, television and radio broadcasts, print stories and online posts do not simply inform, they help the public make sense about what are today’s (and tomorrow’s) climate challenges.
Which stories are selected and which are excluded has consequences. Local Parisian philosopher Jacques Derrida once talked of how one must critically examine how portrayals not only gain traction in discourses, but also how those who are absent become effectively marginalized and silenced. There are an estimated 40,000-45,000 participants here in Paris. That is approximately the capacity of Hamburger SV’s Imtech Arena. Yet, instead of this being a venue of spectators watching a few dozen athletes perform (and make the news on the pitch), this is a place filled with content producers, story-makers and tellers.
Talking this morning with colleague Phaedra Pezzullo, she noted how the
pace of events here easily can outpace the speed of reporting, even in this hyper-fast new and social-media dominated age. You can read Phaedra’s blog posts on COP21 here. There are many more stories at COP21 than capacities to report them. Media at COP21 seek to provide first drafts of history in these privileged spaces of Paris. In that context, we need to all be critically engaged as we learn from as well as question these media accounts; our collective future depends on such critical engagement.
Climate conferences serve multiple purposes. Besides being important political events, they are also global media spectacles which push the topic of climate change to the top of political, scientific and public agendas.
Scientific data is always at the heart of the way climate change is discussed. Whether it be weather records, measurement of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere or the PH-value of the oceans.
Aside from data derived from the natural sciences, there are many other sources. One such example is the database our Online Media Monitor. Itis creating data about media coverage on climate change around the world. Climate data is not only interesting for scientists – it can also be a tool for journalists. Data journalists find stories hidden behind the numbers to help readers understand something which otherwise might be impenetrable and complex.
My research shows that data journalists increasingly use personalized coverage to counter the abstractness of the data. Personalized visualizations or news apps allow readers “to find their own narratives amongst the data points” (Yale Climate Connections 2014). The first projects allowing personalized coverage related to climate change were personalised carbon footprint calculators, as shown in this early example from 2009.
In the meantime, these calculators include more detail and are available in many languages. An example is the German “CO2-Rechner” by the WWF Germany. Below I’ve posted other examples that I’ve collected over the past years.
This infographic from 2014 shows how high the sea levels will rise, if the meltdown of the polar ice continues: “When Sea Levels Attack”. Another Guardian interactive, accompanying the last climate conference in Lima (Peru), showed how the global carbon emissions have evolved since the beginning of the industrial revolution: “Carbon emissions: past, present and future.”
A more recent example of an interactive feature dealing with climate data is the “Climate Change Calculator” by the Financial Times. It shows how the global temperature will evolve in different scenarios, depending on how much the world’s nations reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. The intention behind the project is “to show the effectiveness of nations’ pledges in advance of the COP21 climate summit to prevent dangerous climate change” (Hay 2015). The calculator is easy to use and helps to visualize the pledges different nations have made.
These are just a few examples of how climate change is covered by data journalism but more projects are regularly released. As climate change is a very complicated and multi-layered topic, data journalism tries to make a contribution towards helping people understand this important issue and its relevance to everyday folk.
Hay, Nick: “Will data journalism unravel the climate spiral of silence?” Climate-KIC Blog, 27 October 2015. http://www.climate-kic.org/blog/will-data-journalism-unravel-the-climate-spiral-of-silence/
Loosen, Wiebke/Reimer, Julius/Schmidt, Fenja: “When Data Become News. A Content Analysis of Data Journalism Pieces.” Future of Journalism Conference, Cardiff, 11 September 2015. http://www.researchgate.net/publication/281581852_When_Data_Become_News_-_A_content_analysis_of_data_journalism_pieces
Yale Climate Connections: “Data Journalism: Do the Numbers Add Up to Climate Action?” On Journalism, 23 April 2014. http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2014/04/data-journalism-do-the-numbers-add-up-to-climate-action/
Professor Hans von Storch is a highly distinguished ocean and climate scientist. He has written 20 books and sits on numerous climate advisory boards. He usually writes for the climate blog: Die Klimazwiebel
Recently, a journalist asked me in passing – which was the best COP so far, which the worst?
Honestly, I have not been a good observer of these meetings. All I know there were many and the next is #21. There was Copenhagen, sometimes labelled Hopenhagen by enthusiasts. It was COP15 and the year was 2009. Copenhagen, the last exit, it was called, the last chance for instituting a binding policy which would make “us” limit global anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change to a stable 2 deg in 2100.
The 2 degree goal is an old one. It was discussed by the now mostly forgotten German climate researcher Wilfrid Bach in an interview with Spiegel in 1988. The idea was that the agreement must take the form of a legally binding treaty; that the sum of these promised reductions of emissions must lead to the 2 degree reduction in the long term, and that in the short term definite plans needed to be set up for the change of trend before 2020.
None of this came to pass in Copenhagen. What the partners could agree on was that the 2 degree goal should continue as a reference for the rest of the century. Apart from that, the international community could not agree on anything definite and left home empty handed. That was it; the famous meeting of the leaders of the western nations, including Obama, came to an end. Somewhat surprisingly, after this Obama was seen in the room negotiating with other leaders, the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries. They had arrived at the conclusion of Copenhagen and a meeting with the then new US President was seen as a recognition in the important part these countries could play in climate change deals.
Activists were devastated; the last exit has not been used, and six years after Copenhagen we continue on our high-speed train into the abyss. Gradually, the process of tackling climate change resumed. After COP20 in Lima we could read again the first optimistic assessment about possible future developments. The rhetoric seemed to have changed; it was no longer the drama of the last exit, but more the coalition of the willing, a concept which George W Bush had also applied to the climate issue, arguing that there needed to be cooperation among the big players (emitters). Now, in Paris, COP21, we are still on this track, and I sense an optimism based on the voluntary list of all-too-small “Intended National Determined Contributions.”
Something has changed between Copenhagen, Lima and now Paris. I suggest that the first important change happened in Copenhagen, namely the destroying of the overly naïve and “world-leader” attitude of the western countries, which seemingly had hoped that the old colonial division of labor would do it. We (the west) had sinned, indeed, and we have to rectify that. But any such a rectification has to consider our superiority in technology, importance of issues and even diplomacy. We lead, you follow. But Obama had moved into the other room. The spell of western superiority was broken, and that is why I answered the original question of the “best” COP eventually with: Copenhagen.
Now, we seem to be on a reasonable path; not a really good one; certainly not a path of perfect justice. We still have a very high chance of not meeting the goal. But we are underway in reducing emissions. It’s very likely not enough for what the econometric calculation indicates are needed to stay below the 2 degrees warming. However, we are improving. While the previous COPs were confronted with the choices “all or nothing” – and chose mostly “nothing” – we can now say – what? About 47.2%? What a wonderful progress. Let “us” achieve what is achievable, while not forgetting that maybe other issues of significance may emerge. I expect that the numbers will improve over time.
Today we briefly survey media coverage of the Paris summit from the two largest online news sites from this author’s homeland, New Zealand.
By Feilidh O’Dwyer
New Zealand’s most popular online news site is owned by Australasian media giant Fairfax Media. It curates stories from regional newspapers as well as covering original breaking news stories. On the 30 November, Stuff posted at least 10 stories relating to the summit, although several were sourced from The Guardian, AP or other foreign sources. Several of the stories reflected on regional climate protests in New Zealand in towns such Nelson and Palmerston North. These protests occurred as part of global climate protests on 29 November. Stuff included an editorial from the Wellington daily paper The Dominion Post. The editorial referred to New Zealand’s offering at Paris as “mediocre” and pointed out New Zealand’s large agricultural sector was basically excluded from having to make carbon reductions by the present government. Another article also mentions the emissions from agriculture, stating that the sector accounts for 48 percent of all of New Zealand’s carbon emissions. The story also shows statistics about the enormous amounts of palm kernel that New Zealand imports which is said to contribute to deforestation in Indonesia.
New Zealand Herald
This is the online edition for New Zealand’s largest circulating daily newspaper published in New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland. The Herald also provided around 10 articles relating to the summit, half of which were sourced from abroad. One was a timeline of key events in the UN history of climate summits. Several stories referred to Obama’s actions in Paris, including him visiting the sites of the Paris terror attacks and his push for a strong change in policy on climate matters when facing a combative domestic environment in the United States. Another article in the business section discussed the amounts governments and prominent tech billionaires such as Bill Gates are willing to invest in clean energy technologies.
Check back tomorrow for another climate summit media summary from another part of the globe!
The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference opens in Paris today. This is the 21st ‘Conference of the Parties’ or COP since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
Since then each year, without fail, governments have discussed when, where and how much to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to engage in the mitigation of and, increasingly, adaptation to the impacts of climate change.
Gradually, but indeed rather slowly, discussions have moved forward. But there has also been a set-back: in COP15 the 2009 Copenhagen summit – things “turned sour”. Between 2006 and 2009 climate science had become increasingly confident in diagnosing that there is a problem called climate change (or rather a complex bundle of such problems) and this diagnosis had increasingly begun to influence political and public thinking. It had almost become a matter of common sense to think that climate change poses problems to the global and local governance of the planet we live on.
However, at the end of November 2009, six years ago, private emails between climate scientists were made public without their authors’ consent, and they were mined for quotes that could cast doubt on the credibility of climate scientists and climate science. The emerging climate change common sense was shaken and indeed fractured for a while after what became known as the ‘climategate’ affair.
This means that despite world carbon emissions falling for a variety for reasons, a low-carbon world is not yet around the corner. Although it seems that politicians worldwide have begun to accept that scientists have done their job and that it’s now their turn to do theirs, their thinking and planning is still governed by political rather than scientific pressures, by short-term rather than long-term visions. Why else would the UK government, for example, axe a £1bn grant for developing new carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology and why would the Department for Energy and Climate Change downgrade “its expectations for each of the main low-carbon sources of electricity”. Such political decisions are just what they are: political.
However, there are other factors, which contribute to public support declining for a tough climate deal. In some countries around the world, worries about the economy and terrorism are stronger than worries about climate change. There is nothing scientists, whether natural or social, can ‘do’ in this context, unless they are invited into the process of decision making on realistic terms. Once invited in, scientists should no longer be expected to (endlessly) demonstrate that climate change is a problem; rather they should be allowed to use their energy and expertise to explore ranges of context-sensitive solutions. There are signs that such collaborations are happening or at least being called for.
In the 2015 context of a world faced with multiple crises, political actions intent on undermining the credibility and integrity of climate scientists, based on allegations that their work is politically or financially motivated, might almost seem frivolous. However, there is a larger problem, namely that thinking, yet again, about climate change might also seem almost frivolous. To talk about climate change in this new world of political and economic tensions is fraught with difficulties. As Hugo Rifkind expressed so well: “the overall vibe is one of weary angels dancing on a pinhead.” It would probably not take much to topple those angles.
While there are still advocates for non-action and while politicians might still decide that for whatever reasons of political exigency non-action is the best way forward in the short-term, such thinking and acting is being increasingly challenged. There is some chance then that common sense might return to these political negotiations in Paris and the weary angels might be able to continue dancing on a pinhead.
One can only hope that freed up from having to prove that climate change is a problem, climate scientists, together with social, cultural and communication scientists, can be involved with politicians and citizens in talking about and, in particular, sketching out possible solutions or solution scenarios. How wide or narrow the scope for such solutions is, depends entirely on politics and publics, not on science.