Thursday, May 15, 2014

Changing the Way the IPCC Communicates Climate Change

The IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has released its periodic series of reports documenting the state-of-the-science, and the prognosis is not good. Human activities are warming the planet. That is scientific fact.

And yet, not much is happening in the way of policy action to deal with this scientific fact.

I've argued on this page that the IPCC, and scientists in general, need to change the way they communicate the science. While the IPCC has tried to have a better "rollout" of the reports, even to the point of joining the YouTube age, they still haven't figured out 1) that they have to communicate directly to the public, and 2) how to do that.

The Climate Outreach and Information Network, COIN, a UK-based climate communication NGO, has issued a new report discussing this important issue. Called "Science and Stories: Bringing the IPCC to Life," the report offers some recommendations on how IPCC can improve their communication of climate data. The following is taken from page 6 of the COIN report, with the report's following pages going into greater depth on each:

1. Invest in communications

An enhanced communications budget would provide more resources for the
IPCC’s existing communications team to expand their role and reach, and to train
some of the hundreds of scientists involved to communicate more effectively

2. Embrace video content and social media

With an enhanced communications budget and a group of scientists with focused
communications training at their disposal, the IPCC could significantly expand
into a broader range of communication channels that it currently makes only very
limited use of.

3. Show the human face of the IPCC

The IPCC has excised virtually all evidence of human life from its publications.
One way of bringing the IPCC to life would be to show the (many) human faces of
the IPCC – the scientists who give their time and valuable expertise – and tell
their personal stories.

4. Work with a diverse range of partners

The IPCC should work with a range of partners from across the social and
political spectrum who can lend cultural credibility to the scientific consensus they
convey and bring the science to life.

5. Tell human stories about climate change

IPCC outputs must be coupled with human stories and powerful narratives which
can bring the science to life. How will climate change affect the things people

6. Test everything

Any recommendations for communication should be grounded in systematic

7. No more Assessment Reports
- deliver science to 'order'

If the IPCC were structured in order to catalyse a proportionate public and
political response to climate change, the Assessment Reports would be turned
on their head and would start from the needs of their audiences. These
audiences would be defined by their capacity to bring about rapid social,
technological and economic change.

While there is room for debate about the exact procedures that IPCC and other scientific organizations can employ, there is no question that improving communication is necessary. As report co-author Adam Corner writes in The Guardian:

For almost 25 years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released regular assessment reports warning the world of the dangers of climate change. The scientific knowledge that has been accumulated over this time is astonishing in its breadth and scope.
...Despite all the rebuttals of sceptics' arguments, and the "myth busting", public opinion is no further advanced than it was when the IPCC first started producing its reports.

As the science becomes more and more unequivocal, the calls for action haven't followed suit. Clearly there is a need for improvement. Scroll back on this page for more discussion and ideas about how to communicate science.  I'll have more on this and other ideas for how scientists and policy makers can better communicate with the public.