Following a lengthy enquiry the UK Parliament’s Science & Technology Committee today released their report on climate science communication.
The committee took submissions and representations from organisations, individuals, journalists and scientists, including C3W’s Professor Nick Pidgeon from the Understanding Risk Research Group, at Cardiff University. The report criticises the Government for failing to communicate the science behind climate change “clearly and effectively” to the public. The Science and Technology Committee believe the Government’s efforts to “properly engage the public” while communicating climate change have been “disappointing”.
The report also criticises the media, saying there was a tendency for the media to approach climate science as an argument ‘for’ and ‘against’ and these being two equally valid points of view, rather than a discussion about the implications of the scientific facts.
However, in his evidence Professor Pidgeon suggested greater responsibility lay with those with authority, saying “the impacts of media reporting on attitudes may be less important than the actions and statements of the elite commentators (politicians, prominent personalities, business and NGOs, and government departments) which prompt that reporting”.
Professor Pidgeon, expressed concern about the lack of good quality tracking polling and the restricted questions asked in more recent government polls. He was also critical of what he described as poorly worded ad hoc polls often commissioned by the media and called for a more consistent approach and increased funding from Government: More resources could be made available to adopt a systematic approach to the testing and evaluation of communications messages surrounding climate change and to maintain an on-going assessment of public attitudes to climate change.
The report says that the Government’s “hands-off approach” to engaging with the public and media and “relying heavily on scientists as the most prominent voice has resulted in a vacuum that leads to inaccurate arguments”.
It suggests Government should work with national academics, societies and other experts to develop a source of information on climate science.
The report states: “We found little evidence of any significant co-ordination amongst Government, government agencies and bodies at national and local levels to communicate the science to the public, despite these bodies working to facilitate communities to mitigate and adapt to climate change. This may be due to the fact that the Government is not regarded as a primary, or even a reliable, source of information on climate science by the general public.”
Professor Pidgeon considered that the best approach was a message that focused on making the links with climate change explicit and offered “positive rationales and objectives” that went beyond climate change and therefore engaged with a wider section of the public.