Communicating climate science - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

C&R Sub heading

1.  In order to communicate what climate change is, the Government must agree a clear consistent and precise definition which can be related to direct observations and measurements. This should be based on Professors Slingo's and Rapley's definitions. (Paragraph 12)

2.  Despite the existing polling information, it remains difficult to draw firm conclusions on how public acceptance and understanding of climate change is changing in the UK. However, it is clear that a significant majority of people think the climate is changing and that human activity is at least partly responsible for this. The polling on public understanding is limited and unlikely to highlight the information needs of the general public. In its response to this report, the Government should detail how it will collect, and make available, more regular and more in depth information on the public understanding of climate change. (Paragraph 18)

3.  We acknowledge the difficulty for broadcasters in maintaining coverage of climate change when the basic facts are established and the central story remains the same. We consider it vital, however, that they continue to do so. Our greatest concern is about the BBC given the high level of trust the public has in its coverage. It did not convince us that it had a clear understanding of the information needs of its audience and we note its rejection of Professor Jones' recommendations on climate. (Paragraph 41)

4.  This is not to say that non-scientists should be excluded from the debate, the BBC has the responsibility to reflect all views and opinions in society and it is worth remembering that not all frauds and mistakes in science have been uncovered by scientists. Where time is available for careful consideration and discussion of the facts, it should be possible to explore more detailed consideration of where the science is less certain, such as how feedback mechanisms and climate sensitivity influence the response of the climate to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientists, politicians, lobbying groups and other interested parties should be heard on this issue but the BBC should be clear on what role its interviewees have and should be careful not to treat lobbying groups as disinterested experts. (Paragraph 42)

5.  We recommend that the BBC should develop clear editorial guidelines for all commentators and presenters on the facts of climate that should be used to challenge statements, from either side of the climate policy debate, that stray too far from the scientific facts. Public service broadcasters should be held to a higher standard than other broadcasters. (Paragraph 47)

6.  We are very disappointed by the heavy reliance that the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph place on the ability of their readers to distinguish between fact and opinion on climate science. This is especially the case because opinion pieces about climate science in these publications are frequently based on factual inaccuracies which go unchallenged. (Paragraph 54)

7.  The internet and social media are increasingly used by the public when seeking to verify media reports or obtain further detailed information about climate change. The Government and other trusted bodies are currently failing to make effective use of internet or social media to engage with the public and provide accurate scientific information about climate change. (Paragraph 59)

8.  We consider the lack of a narrative strongly reflects a lack leadership in climate change. (Paragraph 61)

9.  The Met Office is an organisation seeking to have a greater role in the communication of climate science. As such we would have liked to have seen greater effort to communicate to the public on the publication of the IPCC AR5 report. It should have been more timely with information that should be far more accessible to the public at large. (Paragraph 71)

10.  We heard from Government, government agencies and bodies at national and local levels working at engaging with the public on mitigating and adapting to climate change. We found little evidence of any significant co-ordination amongst them to communicate the science. Neither is there any indication that the Government is regarded as a primary, or even a reliable, source of information on climate science by the general public. (Paragraph 79)

11.  The Royal Society is a publicly funded body with a responsibility to communicate about science. We encourage it to step up to that responsibility. (Paragraph 91)

12.  Successive Government efforts to create a clear narrative that ensures a discourse about climate change that is coherent, constructive and results in proper public engagement has been disappointingly limited. (Paragraph 105)

13.  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. (Paragraph 106)

14.  If the Government is to demonstrate its climate policies are evidence based, it needs to be an authoritative and trusted voice which explains the current state of climate science. It is important that climate science is presented separately from any subsequent policy response. We recommend that the Government work with the learned societies and national academies to develop a source of information on climate science that is discrete from policy delivery, comprehensible to the general public and responsive to both current developments and uncertainties in the science. (Paragraph 107)

15.  We have always sought to ascertain that policy is evidence based. We remain convinced that peer review is the best current option for judging the strength of science in any issue. Peer reviewed science is overwhelmingly of the view that anthropogenic climate change exists. (Paragraph 108)

16.  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. (Paragraph 109)

17.  To achieve the necessary commitment from the public to climate policy, the Government must demonstrate a coherent approach to communicating both the scientific basis and the proposed solutions. We recommend that the Government consolidates its strategic approach to communicating climate science across all Departments, formulate the principles of that approach and make it public. All Ministers should acquaint themselves with the science of climate change and then they, and their Departments, should reflect the Government approach in person, in media interviews and online by a presenting a clear and consistent message. (Paragraph 110)

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Prepared 2 April 2014