Government and BBC failing to communicate climate change, say MPs



Both the government and the BBC must improve their communication of climate science and the risks of climate change to the public, according to a new report by a committee of MPs.

Publishing its findings on Wednesday, the science and technology committee said it had discovered little evidence of co-ordination among the government, its agencies and public bodies on communicating climate science.

This is despite various national and regional policies being in place to try and mitigate or adapt to climate change.

The chairman of the committee, Labour MP Andrew Miller, said, “The mandate to act on climate can only be maintained if the electorate are convinced that the government is acting on the basis of strong scientific evidence, so ministers need to do more to demonstrate that is the case.”

The report concludes that the government must work with scientists and national academies to provide a source of information on climate science to the general public, or risk further boosting climate change scepticism. 

“The government’s hands-off approach to engaging with the public and the media, relying heavily on scientists as the most prominent voice, has a resulted in a vacuum that has allowed inaccurate arguments to flourish with little effective challenge”, Miller said.

“Science is the ultimate sceptic, challenging theories and opinion and ready to abandon or adapt as the available evidence changes. Genuine scepticism should be embraced by the climate science community. Dogma on either side of the debate should be revealed as such.”

The BBC, like other news outlets, has frequently been criticised for presenting the arguments of climate scientists and less informed and often self-interested commentators with equal weight.

The most recent example of this was a debate between scientist Brain Hoskins and the sceptic politician Lord Lawson on Radio 4’s Today programme in February.

Turning its attention to the state-funded broadcaster, the report said that while non-scientific voices should be heard in the communication of climate change, the BBC must be clear about their role.

It argued that broadcasters had to develop “clear editorial guidelines” for climate coverage, suggesting that presenters should be encouraged to challenge comments that aren’t supported by science.

Miller added, “Some editors appear to be particularly poor at determining the level of scientific expertise of contributors in debates.

“Given the high level of trust the public has in its coverage, it is disappointing that the BBC does not ensure all of its programmes and presenters reflect the actual state of climate science in its output.” 

Responding to the committee’s findings, a BBC spokesperson said, “We don’t believe in erasing wider viewpoints even if the select committee doesn’t agree with them.”

He insisted the broadcaster took care “to reflect all viewpoints in the debate” about science and to give them “due weight“.

Commenting on the report’s conclusions, Leo Hickman, chief adviser on climate change at WWF-UK, said, “It is crucial that the public – and policymakers – are accurately informed about the risks climate change presents in the years and decades ahead.” 

“Opinion and scientific facts must not be confused.”

The need for better communication of climate change was made clear earlier this week, by the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest review of the potential impacts.

The report warns that no nation will be untouched by the effects of climate change, explaining how rising temperatures will put pressure on food prices, national security, health and the environment.

Photo: Christine Zenino via flickr

Further reading:

The IPCC’s stark warning: no nation will be untouched by climate change

Climate change denial should be considered ‘criminally negligent’

BBC criticised over lack of scientists on Question Time

Sir Mark Walport: scientists must better communicate the disruption of our climate

Lawson, climate change and the power of wishful thinking


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