A balanced approach to climate change
Will the Copenhagen climate conference next month get a global deal on measures to control the rise in global temperatures?
That was one of the questions discussed this week when The World Tonight, co-hosted a conference at Chatham House with the journal International Affairs and the Royal Society looking at the challenges governments all over the world face with climate change and the potential scarcity of natural resources.
We also discussed how measures to deal with climate change could make food, energy and water shortages worse. You can listen to the programme we did from the conference here.
Most of the people at the conference were climate experts, technology specialists, politicians, lobbyists and activists, but there were also journalists ie us.
At one point, the discussion turned to concerns that many climate scientists have that public scepticism about climate change may be growing just as the models these scientists use to project the rise in global temperatures and the impact that will have on ice melt in places like the Himalayas, are suggesting a worse scenario in the next few decades.
They expressed surprise that this should be so.
One explanation offered was that the counter-message from climate change sceptics and lobby groups, especially in the US, that climate change is part of a natural cycle and nothing to worry about is a much simpler message to convey than the arguments for taking action which are based on a precautionary principle and complex climate modelling.
Others asked if the problem was a decline in public trust in scientists generally, because they are often asked to make projections which may not be subsequently borne out by experience.
Still others asked whether the media was responsible for the apparent rise in scepticism, arguing that the media in the interests of balance give airtime too much prominence to climate change sceptics, given the overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree climate change is happening and it is man-made and measures need to be taken to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
From the BBC's perspective, the answer to this question is that our journalistic role is not to campaign for anything. Impartiality means not taking sides in a debate, while accurately representing the balance of argument.
So, in the case of climate change we need proportionately to reflect the sceptical view but also, for example, reflect the debate among climate scientists about the most effective way of dealing with global warming.
On our programme, for instance, one of our panellists argued an all-encompassing global conference like Copenhagen is not the way to make progress as it is trying to deal with too many issues at once.
Another of the panellists argued that capping emissions and developing a market to trade in carbon is too slow and uncertain a way of dealing with the problem and we should invest in technical solutions to reducing the amount of CO2.
On the wider issue of reporting risk which is often what reporting what scientists are saying involves, the BBC has specific guidelines which you may be interested in reading.
Anyway, take a listen to the programme and let us know what you think.
Alistair Burnett is the editor of The World Tonight.