Framing the Debate on Climate Change

Okay, so it’s not all about how to ‘frame’ climate change to make it more acceptable; the substance of policy matters. For instance, the unfolding debacle in the UK concerning how it meets its carbon targets and whether a renewable energy target is helpful in this regard or a hindrance is not a matter of framing but of raw policy. The debate is however playing out in a political context that could quite easily lead to support for existing policy ebbing away. So as well as addressing the policy challenges, we need to pay close attention to how people are engaged in the debate; if there was a broad concensus on the issue then backsliding would not be an option and progress would be easier (to state the obvious).

Framing and its relationship to policy (i.e. does the way an issue is framed have implications for the way policy is designed – we think so) is thus of a high order of importance.

Partly out of naked self interest, as I’m chairing the event, I thought I’d flag a public debate taking place next Monday afternoon, 16 May, at UCL which focuses precisely on how to frame and communicate climate change. Some big hitters, such as Professors Chris Rapley and Mark Maslin of UCL and Prof. Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff are taking part.

I know from conversations with the science community that it has been badly bruised in recent debates. But it would be a shame if this event focuses only on the problems scientists face in taking a complex and not fully resolved (although not inconclusive) scientific enquiry into the public arena. Perhaps the more interesting questions (that it will be up to the audience to raise along with me in the chair) are those concerning how we frame and execute climate change policy now that people are beginning to understand its costs and how they will fall.

Here’s the cast list for the afternoon:

The role of science in the climate change debate

Professor Mark Maslin,UCL Geography and Co-Director, UCL Environment Institute

Response from Professor Nick Pidgeon, Director, Understanding Risk Research Group, University of Cardiff

Public attitudes to climate change

Professor Chris Rapley, UCL Earth Sciences

Response from Dr Jane Gregory, UCL Science and Technology Studies

Climate change and the policy context

Professor Maria Lee, UCL Laws

Response from Dr Slava Mikhaylov , UCL Political Science

Summing up from Professor Yvonne Rydin (Director, UCL Environment Institute)

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Framing the Debate on Climate Change

  1. Tim

    I find it interesting that the debate frames (scopes) the question such that there is no alternative to reducing carbon emissions. On a purely selfish level, climate change could have benefits (eg eat into those 20k UK residents who die from hypothermia each year). At a more global level, it’s not obvious that spending large sums to avoid moving people is more cost effective than spending the same amount of money on improving sanitation.

    Also, much of the near term carbon increase will come from economic growth (see Hans Rosling’s ‘washing machine’ video).

    If the view is that we’re very close to not being able to reverse climate change, then we’d better work out how to live with it.

  2. andrewpendleton

    Will it? Or will it lead to more extreme winters in which more people die of hypothermia and hotter summers in which the numbers of those who die increases as happened in Europe in 2003.

    Vladimir Petoukhov’s paper for PIK (based on modelling) suggests that you do get a likelihood of high pressure and thus colder winters in northern hemisphere if sea ice diminishes. There are papers that argue it the other way, but my point is that claiming something is iin one’s self interest when one is not clear that the outcome of something will be in one’s self interest is a bit daft.

    But I sense an undertone of scepticism and so perhaps I’m wasting my time.

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