Coverage of climate summit called short on science

Monday, November 15, 2010; A08

OSLO - Less than 10 percent of the news articles written about last year's climate summit in Copenhagen dealt primarily with the science of climate change, a study showed on Monday.

Based on analysis of 400 articles written about the December 2009 summit, the authors of the report for Oxford University's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism called for a rethinking of reporting on future such conferences.

Author James Painter concluded that "science was under-reported" as the essential backdrop when about 120 world leaders met in Copenhagen but were unable to agree on a binding treaty to slow climate change.

Much coverage from Copenhagen instead focused on hacked e-mails from a British university that some skeptics took as evidence of efforts by scientists to ignore dissenting views. The scientists involved have since been cleared of wrongdoing.

"We need more discussion between scientists, journalists and policymakers on how to keep highly significant, slow-burn issues like climate change interesting and engaging to different audiences around the world," Painter wrote.

Of 12 countries studied, Brazil and India gave the summit the most space in print media, followed by Australia and Britain. At the other end of the scale, Nigeria, Russia and Egypt gave the least coverage.

Painter said one way to improve the reporting on climate change is to provide a larger media staff members to help scientists. He said the environmental group Greenpeace had 20 media staffers in Copenhagen, compared with 12 media staff from 250 universities. The U.N. panel of climate scientists has one media officer.

Among other suggestions was more frontline reporting about the effects of climate change, along with more imaginative use of new media.

Findings by a U.N. panel of scientists in 2007 that global warming is probably man-made have been the main driver for action to curb emissions, which are blamed for raising temperatures and causing more floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels.

This year's U.N. talks - of environment ministers rather than world leaders - will be held in Mexico from Nov. 29 to Dec. 10.

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