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Scale and urgency of climate change must be better communicated - Lord Stern

by Hannah Marsh

The sense of scale and urgency of climate change has not yet been embedded in the global consciousness, was the message from Lord Nicholas Stern as he spoke at the launch of a new Reuters Institute book.

Giving an address at the launch of Something Old, Something New: Digital Media and the Coverage of Climate Change, by James Painter et al, at CCLA in London, Lord Stern said that action is needed now, and that responsibility lay with the world’s media to get better at clearly and engagingly communicating the key facts to the public.

“Over the next 20 to 40 years, the world needs to raise incomes of those who are very poor,” he said.

“We must break the link between growth and damage to the environment; the sense of urgency and scale has not yet really been embedded. The next two decades will probably see a doubling of the world’s economy, with a growth rate of just over 3%.”

Referring to the global climate policy target of limiting global warming to two degrees, he added: “The major question is what that doubling in economy and its infrastructure will look like – will we simply build it to look like the one we have now? In which case, forget about two degrees. You can see the urgency. The next 20 years will determine whether there’s any chance of two degrees.”

Lord Stern said that he didn’t think the election of Donald Trump as US president was as much a cause for concern as many environmentalists fear.

While describing the new US president elect as ‘unpredictable’, Lord Stern said that he didn’t think it was unrealistic to focus on the positive opportunities in Trump’s words, rather than dwelling on the negative.

He referenced Trump’s statement in an interview with the New York Times, where he accepted that there was ‘some connectivity’ between human action and climate change, and described the US as a very complicated place.

Lord Stern also dismissed ideas that without the US as a global leader on climate change, international ambitions would fall through.

“It’s important to remember that people didn’t conclude [an agreement] simply because two presidents said they should,” he said. “Arguments were building, there was an underlying current of action.

“The balance will be different, but China have been crystal clear that they will carry on; China has been saving in recent times more than USA and Europe put together.”

Using the pro-Brexit campaign as an example of a clear, concise and emotionally astute line of communication, Lord Stern said that the media and those passionate about communicating climate change needed to improve their approach – and suggested a focus on the key role of cities.

“We’ve got to get better at telling our story quickly and concisely,” he said.

“There is a story of cities which is gathering momentum – but it’s got to go faster to communicate the scale and urgency. I think Sadiq Khan gets it here in London. Certainly it’s understood in Paris, and it’s become a very political issue in Delhi.”

Lord Stern said that now is a time to be vigilant, but that focusing on the positives of a complex global position was more meaningful than hand-wringing over the negatives.

He said:  “I don’t think its Pollyann-ish to be realistic about where we are now by thinking through how we make the positive more likely, not wringing our hands and weeping into whatever it is we want to weep into.”

Lord Stern was addressing an audience at the launch of Something Old, Something New: Digital Media and the Coverage of Climate Change, by James Painter et al, at CCLA in London. The address was followed by a panel discussion featuring Fiona Harvey (The Guardian), Megan Darby (Climate Home), Kelly Oakes (BuzzFeed), Helen Wildsmith (CCLA), Richard Black (former BBC).

Download the Executive Summary and an essay on climate change coverage on online media sites in Poland here at no cost.

Purchase the book via the Oxford University Online Shop*

*Due to the Christmas break, any books purchased via the Online Shop during this time will not be dispatched until 3rd January 2017.  You will be unable to purchase copies of this book from our Amazon account between 5.00 pm 15th December 2016 and 10.00 am 3rd January 2017.  We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

This book is published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism with the support of Google and the Digital News Initiative, the European Climate Foundation and the Energy Foundation.