What does your government tell you about climate change?

Nearly 20 years ago, nearly 200 governments pledged to inform their citizens about climate change and its effects. What is yours doing?

In 1992, or soon after, your government made an agreement with nearly every other government on the planet to raise public awareness of climate change.

Some do it by accident when they fail to anticipate that increasingly informed and empowered citizens can grab the media spotlight and often seem to know more than their elected representatives.

The US administration’s pursuit of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s tar sands and the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s  repeated efforts to sell off part of his country’s most important protected forest to a sugar cane company are just two cases of climate-harming policies that have raised public awareness of climate change by accident.

But what do governments do in a proactive way to inform their citizens about climate change?

Under Article 6 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — which was agreed in 1992 and entered into force in 1994 — nearly 200 governments agreed to promote actions to develop and implement “educational and public awareness programmes on climate change and its effects”.

They agreed to promote “public access to information about climate change and its effects.”

They agreed a few more things too — full text here — but they promised to do this nearly 20 years ago.

In 2002 they got around to agreeing to do something about these pledges, and they set up something called the New Delhi Work Programme, which had the fairly lazy deadline of five years to come up with some ideas about how to make Article 6 happen.

In 2007 governments agreed that this was going well, so they gave the process another five year mandate.

By last year’s mid-term review, only Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Colombia and the Dominican Republic had submitted reports [PDF] on their activities.

Many countries will say that they cannot afford to fulfil their obligations under Article 6, or will be able but just unwilling to pay for them. Whatever country you live in, the cost is low relative to the cost of your country’s best missile.

It is a small price to pay, and a sure-fire way to get people to understand what other things governments are promising to do or asking for help with at each year’s conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The next — the 17th — such conference starts in less than three weeks. But while the focus will be on the “big picture” issues, I can’t help but think that it would be easier for countries to agree on those issues if more of their people knew more about climate change.

A lot of time has passed since the Convention was signed, so I’m curious to know what governments are doing to meet their obligations under Article 6 — and whether there is any evidence that these actions are effective.

The full text of Article 6 is here. Let me know, what is your government doing to meet this pledge?

And are they just producing “communications” about climate change or are they engaging their citizens in a conversation about climate change.

And if not, why not?

[Update:  January 2013 — At the COP18 conference in Doha in December 2012, the nearly 200 nations that are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to implement something called the “Doha Work Programme on Article 6”. This is an eight-year programme, under which nations are meant to step up to their obligations under Article 6. Details are in this PDFTo support this initiative, at COP18 various UN agencies launched the United Nations Alliance on Climate Change Education, Training and Public Awareness.]

28 thoughts on “What does your government tell you about climate change?

  1. Canada is not just failing on reducing CO2 emissions from the tar sands. It’s also failing on Article #6: it is actively suppressing news of climate change. One example, since 2007, news coverage of climate change has dropped by 80%, due to a communications protocol instituted by the Harper Government. “One department/One voice” restricts access to scientists by the media. http://climateactionnetwork.ca/archive/e/news/2010/release/index.php?WEBYEP_DI=18 I could go on and on… Thanks for letting me know about this.

  2. Well, before he became Prime Minister, Stephen Harper said of the Kyoto Protocol;

    “My party’s position on the Kyoto Protocol is clear and has been for a long time. We will oppose ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and its targets. We will work with the provinces and others to discourage the implementation of those targets. And we will rescind the targets when we have the opportunity to do so.” (Stephen Harper, Ottawa Citizen, November 22, 2002)

    Since becoming Prime Minister, Stephen Harper said;

    “Kyoto is essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations.” – The Star, January 30, 2007

    From statements such as these I suppose what my government is telling me about climate change is that it is a scam to take our money?

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  4. Big Question! hard to be quantative in terms of an answer as this would require of one example of not just what is said about climate change in the media, but what is said about other global news events.

    I have noticed in the media a loss of objectivity and accuracy. Eg UK PM David Cameron often says the most important challenge facing us is the European debt crisis. No it isn’t, yet the media – journalists etc, just allow him and others to say it, unchallenged and go along with such mis-information.

    The economic sysrem is a sub organisational system of the human system which is a sub system of the planetary ecological life support system.

    (Now personally I don’t see climate change as a discrete problem. it has only been elevated to such as a result of Chief Scientists, politicians and media misquoting my original work. Climate change cannot and will not be resolved while its separatist Cartesian reductionist isolation is maintained against a more accurate understanding of how reality really works. For me climate change should be seen as a symptom or part of the entire interrelated spectrum or web of problems caused by the mismanagement of the planet.)

    Therefore if the planetary ecological life support system collapses, it takes out the human system and as such the economic system – whatever politicians see as important about Euro debt etc. Therefore preventing planetary ecological system collapse is more imprtant than the debt crisis.

    Until these priorities are changed, then the basic minimum ‘communications’ will be produced rather than true engagement in some true holistic understanding of our being ‘part of’ and affecting the life systems of the planet.

    While the media allow those to foister and present unchallenged their dellusionary views on the importance of imaginary money, rather than the true hierarchy of challenges facing this planet, ‘communications’ will be all we get rather than true engagement and coherant action on the real challenges and problems.

    Roger Thomas

  5. ‘By accident’ is probably the best way to describe Russia’s method of raising general public awareness on climate change.

    In short, the credit for implementing Article 6 in Russia goes to local WWF and a few other good people. There’s almost nothing about climate change in the mainstream media (unless the president or the prime minister say something), ALL Russian experts who can talk about it in layman’s terms fit into an average conference room, and the overall attitude is ‘NO ONE CARES’. Plus there’s this abyss of myths, delusions and conspiracy theories surrounding the issue.

    So if anything worthy does in fact get reported/picked up by media and gains attention, it is mainly because the journalist knows that conference room of experts personally, gets invited to various events and wants to please his/her expert friends with nicely done news and features. Or, you know, ask some annoying questions and watch them squirm a bit 🙂

    How do I know this? Well, I am this journalist.

    • and a follow-up on that – the state’s official communication strategy here seems to be ‘we do not say anything, we do not write a single press release, we just do what we absolutely have to and hope no one with a press badge notices’

    • Thanks Kofi, but that doesn’t answer the question of how Ghana’s government is communicating about climate change. Can you say anything about that side of things?

  6. Dear friend,
    At our level we are trying to work in this way and with our weekly, we are doing the best to inform about it. But the government [in Democratic Republic of Congo] is not doing the work exactly because there are any political issues or policies about [climate change] and our government doesn’t communicate in such way.
    We are still waiting the time being to make this political effectively.

  7. I’m from Sri Lanka. Being a small country, we do not have a big carbon footprint — so we get little chance to get involve in mtigation. But adaptation is a must as it is foreseen that our island nation is expected to face negative impacts of climate change such as sea level rise. Being a country focused on agriculture, the changing patterns of rainfall is also expected to create problems in large scale. So several programs on climate adaptations are attempted by the government. However, most of the projects, but many of these projects are still restricted to policy levels.

  8. Hi Mike. I am a journalist based in Bangladesh. Many thanks for an excellent and timely question. In Bangladesh, government speaks a lot about climate change issue but in reality it does little to make people aware about climate change and its adaptation method. Government has taken some good initiatives but the implementation process is very slow. Frankly speaking, the climate change issue benefits some government officials, researchers and aid organisations but the affected people continue suffering. The government has created a climate fund but there is concern about the accountability and transparency of the use of the money. I think, just one example can summarize how government is responding : nearly two and half years after Cyclone Aila struck Southwestern Bangladesh, thousands of survivors are still in need…

  9. I think here [Tanzania] there is now a satisfactory government participation in the inquired public awareness. We have the recently launched National REDD Initiative which goes with production of online publications, seminars, workshops…Under the REDD there is this program called MKUHUMI (CO2 reduction programme) which involves village meetings. You have annual events like the national tree planting day whose themes are closely related to climate change…but we maybe need to have regular radio and tv programmes, increased interactive workshops and seminars and establishment of clubs and interest groups especially for youth….

  10. Here in Yemen, as all know that we have a political crisis and the government has worked with the international community to find out solution before the country becomes like Somalia. Before this crisis or what so called by some as revolution, the government did not put the issue of the climate change within its priorities, it just mentioned such issue occasionally visa broadcasting on state TV some reports on seminars or workshops organized inside and outside the country about the climate changes.

    Sometimes, the government officials talked to different media outlets about future plans that the government would carry out to spread awareness about citizens about this sensitive issue. I could say no serious action has been taken by the government to communicate people here about the climate change.

  11. A lot is being done in the area of climate change communication in Tanzania but I would say the key players are NGOs while the government takes a secondary stand. Yes, there are many issues that the government has to attend to but climate change should still be given priority because its impacts are already affecting government planning. So we have organisations like WWF, TNRF,TFCG, MJUMITA and others educating communities and helping them to cope with the situation. These organisations team up with the media to air radio and TV programmes as well as publish stories and features in newspapers. Many communities have been reached through these efforts but the messages would have been more effective if government leaders at various levels took time to communicate the climate change message in their ordinary activities instead of doing so only once in a while.
    Deodatus Mfugale

  12. Good question ! The Democratic Republic of Congo is claiming to be the leader in Africa regarding the REDD+. The government failed to educate its people on the phenomenon “climate change” and its consequences. The reason is that climate change issues have become the preserve of only agents of public administration (Focal point) and a few group of delegates who travel simply for attending conferences. They make people believe that through them the country will receive a lot money with REDD with the presence of her forests.

    The majority of the people knows nothing about climate change. The proof is that even the media never do this in their regular publications. Some journalists talk sporadically climate change when they are invited to cover a conference on this issues. At the newspaper “Info-Environnement”, by contrast, issues of climate change is our affair. We talk every day and we devote entire pages to these issues.

    Yes, I am proud to have been formed by the secretariat of the UNFCCC on climate change which I am one of African journalists who have knowldge in this. Unfortunately, the country does not use me to exploit this value. In conclusion, the Congolese government, through the Ministry of Environment, does nothing to educate its people. We fear that we all fell over the head with some rivers flooding in the capital Kinshasa. The farmers are suffering on the effects of climate change and do not know how to adapt or mitigate them. It’s sad. “Info-Environnement” need help to do this.

  13. On paper, the Zambian Government seem to be doing something especially after announcing (June 15, 2010) the formulation of a national climate change response strategy under the Climate Change Facilitation Unit (CCFU) in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.
    The strategy, though, is said to help Government determine whether there is need for a policy or legal framework on climate change, as well as provide a framework for a comprehensive and strategic approach on aspects of adaptation, mitigation, technology, financing as well as public education and awareness.
    “I take this opportunity to inform you that the process of formulating the national climate change response strategy will be based on a broad stakeholder consultation and active participation…” a former Environment and Natural Resources minister Catherine Namugala said then.
    After September 20, 2011 general elections, Zambians ushered into office a new Government and nothing yet has been said on climate change as far as policy direction is concerned.

  14. HI MIke,
    Thanks for this timely question.
    I am a journalist from Bamenda in Cameroon and I am the executive coordinator of Charmers Media and Communication Consults (CHAMECC), which is a civil society organisation.

    The government of Cameroon has been making a lot of noice on climate change issues but has been doing relatively less in this domain. On the contrary, the government counts on the goodwill and assistance from the civiil society and non governental organisations to achieve its goals.
    Cameroon is not doing anything concretely to attain the Millennium Development Goal on environmental sustainability.

    Time for the government of Cameroon to leave the shadow and go for field work.

  15. Mike,
    la position du gouvernement malien, mon pays est claire. Ce sont les pays riches et développés qui polluent le plus l’environnement et qui provoquent le plus grand desordre environnemental. En consequence, ces pays riches doivent payer la facture salée du changement climatique. Ils doivent compenser les tords qui’ils causent aux pays pauvres comme le mali qui se battent pour la survie des populations et dont la vie est liée à la pluie qui se fait d’ailleurs rare. En plus, notre gouvernment mene des actions de sensibilisation pour que les populations arretent les coupures d’arbres, les feux de brousse etc. Il a adopté et financé le système de pluies provoquées pour aider les producteurs à avoir de la pluie, il s’agit d’ensemencer les nuages et les bombarder pour avoir de la pluie.
    Sidiki Dembélé
    Journaliste radio télévision du Mali

  16. Mike,
    The position of the government in Mali, my country, is clear — the rich, developed countries have polluted most and caused the greatest environmental disorder. Consequently, these rich countries must pay the salted invoice of the climate change.

    They must compensate twist them qui’ they cause with the poor countries such as Mali, which fight for the survival of their populations whose life depends on rain which has become rare.

    Our government carries out publicity campaigns to dissuade people from cuting down trees, starting bush fires, etc. It adopted and financed a system to help the farmers have rain, by seeding and bombarding clouds.

    Sidiki Dembélé
    Journaliste radio télévision du Mali

  17. Nigeria is yet to wake up to the reality of Climate Change. Much of what citizens are hearing about it coming from the civil society groups, largely being driven by the Environmental Rights Action (ERA). At a three-day consultative meeting in Benin City, the capital of Edo State, community and youth leaders heard that our country will be sending a delegation of 167 to COP 17 in South Africa, perhaps, for a jamboree. There is no Nigerian position for South Africa, and guarded whispers from some quarters have it that whatever position Nigeria may adopt is likely to a script dictated by America.

  18. Really in my country [Democratic Republic of Congo] no important effort to limit the effects of climate change is organized by the government. Yet our country could play the principal role of promoting environment in Central Africa because it has more than 70% of equatorial forest surface. Today with high rate of population growth, the environment is damaged by inhabitants especially by indigenous and farmers using the traditional practices (burning field before cultivating). And if no measure of community education on environment from Government is taken and done, the life of population will be much worse than before.

  19. The Government of the DRC does almost nothing to involve the public in environmental issues including climate change. Yet our country has the great potential for its forest to play a major role in the fight against climate change. We do not see the effort of the Government of Congo in contrast to neighboring Congo-Brazzaville.

    The Congolese government is involved,it is true, at conferences on the issue at international level but in return the population is not informed of anything except the participation of experts or the environment minister to this or that conference. The media in the DRC are not back awareness. They remain in the protocol to know about the conference the Minister of Environment has chaired or participated in.

    Some journalists try to talk about environmental issues including climate change at the Congolese National Radio and Television (RTNC) through the issuance Karibu-environment on television and the echoes of the environment on the radio that I co-produce/

  20. Ironically, efforts by governments to inform and engage the public about the science and risks of climate change could be used as ammunition by those who claim that climate change is a governmental tax grab and/or a conspiracy by the ‘new world order’.

  21. So far, the government [in Kenya] has done very little to communicate climate change issues to the public. Two weeks ago, they aired an advert encouraging Kenyans to plant trees but it ends there. When you look at Article 6, the governments were to educate their citizens on the dangers of climate change and its effects. they were to work hand in hand to develop curriculums to train their students from primary school to the university, but that has not happened.

    What they have tried to do is through pressure from civil society organisations (CSOs) , to evict those who had encroached the forests and to try to plant trees. This campaigns have been largely led by CSOs other than the government, though we have a ministry of forestry and wildlife in Kenya.

    More is needed to increase Kenya’s forest cover from the current 2% to 10%.

  22. Dear Mike
    In many times I went for observe coastal area in southern part in our country. I asked many peoples about climate change. But rural peoples don’t have any knowledge about it. Actually 20 years ago here was no initiative about climate change by GO or NGO. But last 3 years our govt. is very serious in climate change issue. Last 5 years ago govt. was busy for implement to millennium development Goal (MDG), AIDS program etc. Now a days govt. take many initiative for climate change issue. But climate change vulnerable peoples have no any idea about it. They are sufferer for climate change but they don’t know how to faces its impact.

    Touhidur Rahman
    Staff Reporter
    The Daily Sangbad
    Dhaka, Bangladesh

  23. I am very interested to your question.

    I am Chanden Mak from Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) which is one of the media institutions in Cambodia focusing on climate change. We are running a program name Earth Talk. Until now, I have observed that the Cambodian Government did not inform the people largely yet about climate change, especially by media. Recently, floods affected people in nearly 20 provinces and killed 250 people including 40% children. 590,000 hectares of farming land were affected and 20,000 hectares of harvest land were destroyed. Most of the people do not know how to prevent and adapt to the climate change yet.

    Chanden Mak (Mr.)
    Chief of production
    Cambodian Center for Independent Media

  24. Days before the Durban climate talks begin, the Philippine government has just approved (Nov 21) its much-awaited 18-years National Climate Change Action Plan. This is a boost for the delegation to bring climate change agenda in the international arena. The question, however, with this action plan is wether it would be implemented as planned and would it be effective to sustain a just environment? That we will see in the coming years…

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