Cut the 'weirdo words' and put a human face on climate change, says UN chief

  • 06 Mar 2014, 12:00
  • Ros Donald

Scientists are making a huge effort to translate and humanise climate change - and cut out "weirdo words" the public and policymakers can't understand, the UN's chief climate official said yesterday.

Christiana Figueres told reporters that the UNFCCC, the body dedicated to reaching a global deal on climate change, needs to prioritise getting better at communication. But the way she tells it, there's a revolution going on.

Many of those involved in the UN climate talks, and the production of the bumper science reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have "reached the conclusion that we're just not communicating properly" she told journalists yesterday.

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Special reflection: How scientists, media and the public see the surface warming ‘pause’

  • 26 Feb 2014, 17:45
  • Roz Pidcock

A prestigious journal has released a special issue on what's become something of a preoccupation in the crossover between science and mainstream media recently - an apparent slowdown in surface warming over the last decade or so.

Nature Climate Change dedicates a  whole issue to the so called 'pause' - looking at how scientists, the public and the media have been talking about it.

The issue talks a lot about lessons for scientists in engaging with the media, but is it worth so much soul-searching when evidence suggests the 'pause' has barely made a ripple in the public consciousness?

A lively debate

Since the late 1990s, global average temperature at earth's surface has risen slower than in the preceding two decades. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s recent  report said the rate of warming over the past 15 years has been 0.05 degrees Celsius per decade - quite a bit smaller than the 0.12 degrees per decade calculated since 1951.

The apparent slowdown is a hot topic, and not just in the science world. Evidence of the 'pause' in surface warming "has sparked a lively scientific and public debate", says the Nature Climate Change   editorial.

Media pickup

An early outing for the 'pause' as a concept was an op-ed in the Telegraph in 2006. The piece claimed global warming had "stopped", triggering a   series of   articles in parts of the media since then.

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Trust in energy companies has fallen to near-rock bottom. Why?

  • 21 Jan 2014, 15:00
  • Ros Donald

The UK's energy industry is in trouble with the public. The reasons seem pretty simple: energy prices continue to skyrocket, while  media reports claim profits are skyrocketing. So what can polling tell us about trust in the energy industry - and how could the companies that provide our heat and light regain it? 

Low trust 

According to the most recent polling, trust in the industry has fallen significantly over the past year according to consultancy Edelman's  Trust Barometer 2014 - a  six percentage point drop on last year. Just 32 per cent of people said they trusted the energy industry, putting it in last place behind the banking sector.  The survey, out today, asked respondents which groups in society they trusted most, and what attributes are key to driving that trust. It showed that in an environment where trust in business is increasing - and trust in government is falling - the energy sector is bucking the trend, falling far behind other groups and industries.

The result is hardly surprising: following the announcement of  price rises almost across the board last year, politicians and the media have accused the UK's 'big six' energy companies of a lack of transparency, and even profiteering. Labour judged the mood of the country well when it announced it would freeze energy bills for a limited time if it got into office - and ensured the story  hasn't left the news since.

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New studies explore conscious and unconscious links between weather and climate change attitudes

  • 16 Jan 2014, 11:00
  • Ros Donald

Credit: DBKing

This week's moments of sparkling sunshine may make you feel more cheerful, but could an unusually mild January day leave you more likely to believe climate change is real? Two new studies explore the way we consciously and unconsciously associate weather patterns with climate change.

The science of substitution

A study out this week in the journal  Nature Climate Change suggests people substitute the weather they are currently experiencing for climate science when asked whether or not climate change is happening.

A number of studies have suggested there's a  link between peoples' belief in climate change and their  own experiences of local temperatures.

The team behind the new paper wanted to test three theories as to why this phenomenon exists. Is it down to the wording of questions - whether they refer to 'climate change' or 'global warming', for example -, a lack of knowledge about climate science, or because people unconsciously substitute climate science with more-accessible immediate experiences?

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The British don't see cold weather as evidence against climate change, according to new polling

  • 09 Jan 2014, 14:04
  • Roz Pidcock & Mat Hope

Credit: DBKing

Many people in North America will today look out their windows and see snow - lots and lots of snow. The plunging temperatures have led some, like climate sceptic business tycoon Donald Trump and handful of Republican politicians, to  question whether or not "global warming" is real.

Such showboating is nothing new. But is the public's view of climate change swayed by what the weather is doing? New research looking at responses to an exceptionally cold winter in the UK suggests maybe not.

The  new paper in the journal Climatic Change suggests that after a particularly cold snap, three times as many people - in the UK, at least - see the cold weather as pointing towards the reality of climate change, rather than a reason to doubt it.

People understand it gets cold sometimes

A number of studies have suggested there's a  link between peoples' belief in climate change and their  own experiences of local temperatures.

The theory goes that when working out whether or not climate change is a real phenomenon, people tend to trust "the evidence of their own eyes" above scientific research.

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The pitfalls of analysing media coverage of climate change, in three graphs

  • 07 Jan 2014, 12:30
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Roland Unger

2014 started with some seemingly good news: Independent media aggregators,  The Daily Climate, said its analysis showed climate change reporting had "leapt" in the previous 12 months. Working out whether climate coverage is on the up is a rather complicated task, however.

The Daily Climate's result may have come as something of a surprise to a group of US academics who had also been tracking climate change reporting. Max Boykoff, Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado, who has been looking at global climate coverage since 2004, found it dropped in 2013.  Likewise, Drexel University sociology professor, Robert Brulle, found US television coverage of climate change was at almost exactly  the same level in 2013 as it was in 2012.

This led the  Columbia Journalism Review to conclude that the Daily Climate's analysis had identified a "pseudo boom" in climate coverage, rather than a significant change of direction.

Perhaps more significant than The Daily Climate's headline result is what the analysis tells us about the potential pitfalls of analysing media coverage of climate change. It shows that such work can can be cut many ways depending on what is being looked at, how the sample is collected, and how results are reported.

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Linking UK floods and climate change: A discussion notable by its absence?

  • 06 Jan 2014, 12:40
  • Mat Hope & Roz Pidcock

The UK is in the midst of extremely wet weather. The Met Office has issued flood warning for  almost all of the UK. But despite scientific evidence linking climate change to an increased risk of flooding, politicians and the media seem unwilling to make the connection.

Flooding is one of the biggest  natural threats in the UK and climate change is predicted to raise that risk. Why?Rising temperatures mean the atmosphere can hold more moisture, which means rain falls in heavier bursts.

That doesn't automatically mean more heavy rainfall everywhere because  complex weather patterns govern the amount, timing and distribution of rainfall. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  projects a combination of factors will mean more extreme rainfall for the UK as temperatures continue to rise.

Of course, there's  more to flooding than heavy rainfall. Building houses on flood plains and paving over natural surfaces means that when it does flood, there's  more to lose.

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Seven climate and energy stories that will definitely/probably/maybe happen in 2014

  • 01 Jan 2014, 00:01
  • Mat Hope

Kate ter Haar

Predicting the future is a fool's game, but we'd be letting Santa down if we didn't give our brand new crystal ball a whirl. Here's our stab at pre-empting 2014's seven big stories.

1. There'll be a scuffle in Lima

It will be a relief to many that after negotiating through a Polish winter in Warsaw last time around, the annual international climate talks are being held in Lima's sunnier climes in 2014. But will delegates' moods match the weather? Probably not.

In recent years, the negotiations have sparked  tears walkouts and a (most recently) a hunger strike over the lack of tangible progress towards a new global climate change deal. Expect next year's talks to go to form, as nations try to  lay yet more 'foundations' for a new deal to be signed in Paris in 2015.

2. Britain will have the SOMETHINGEST weather in SOME YEARS

We're going to stick our necks out here, and say the UK will have some weather next year. And some of it will probably be record breaking.

In 2013, news outlets fell over themselves to report that the UK had the  hottest day for seven years, the  driest summer since 2006, and the coldest spring in 50 years. Shift the adjectives, seasons and base years around a bit and you can probably generate some of 2014's headlines yourself.

Another prediction: directly linking these weather happenings - or any other extreme weather events - to  climate change will continue to be problematic in 2014.

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Bad tidings: Carbon Brief’s best climate change reads of 2013

  • 30 Dec 2013, 10:00
  • Ros Donald

Credit: Abhi Sharma

Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, energy dilemmas ... don't they say Christmas to you? Ignore the umpteenth series of Downton Abbey and curl up with Carbon Brief's pick of the best energy and climate reads from 2013. From the big reports to the best writing, our staff recommend their standout reads of the year.

Climate: The IPCC Working Group 1 report

In case you've been living under a stone for the past few months, you'll know the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Working Group One report this autumn. The report concluded that scientists are more sure than ever- 95 per cent certain - that humans are causing extra warming. The oceans, land and atmosphere are getting warmer, snow and ice is melting and sea levels are rising.

Communicating the science

As not many people are likely to read the whole tome, communicating the report has been a key preoccupation for those of us who are interested in that sort of thing. The IPCC demonstrated laudable self-awareness in producing a 10-minute film running through the main points in the report.

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Q & A: Untangling the science on climate change and tropical storms

  • 19 Nov 2013, 14:45
  • Roz Pidcock

As aid finally reaches the stricken Philippines, the question of whether or not typhoon Haiyan can be linked to climate change has received more coverage this weekend.

With some pretty nuanced conclusions in the scientific literature and some selective deployment of those conclusions by parts of the media, it's become a tricky issue to navigate.

Here's a guide to some of the questions about climate change and tropical storms, and the sometimes quite complicated answers.

Was Haiyan a tropical storm, a typhoon or a cyclone?

All of the above. Tropical storm events are given different names depending on which ocean they form in. They are called hurricanes in the north Atlantic and northeast Pacific, typhoons in the northwest Pacific, and cyclones in the Indian Ocean.

Does the IPCC say there's no link between tropical storms and climate change?

No, it doesn't.

Scientific understanding of tropical storms is that they  derive energy from the warmth of the ocean and convert it into wind strength. Some of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is entering the oceans, causing them to  warm.

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