Communications as an instrument of change
Publication Date: 15 March 2013
Author(s): Rajendra K Pachauri
I believe one of the more important reports brought out by the IPCC is the one that we released in 2011 on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX). My very good friend Steve Schneider, an outstanding scientist whose talent and expertise extended far beyond climate science, and I agreed that this report could be a game changer. This indeed turned out to be true, but Steve had left his world before he could verify this combined hope that we had come up with. There was a symposium held in his memory in Colorado on August 25, 2011, where I could not go physically but sent a video address, which I believe brought tears to the eyes of the audience particularly to those of his wife, Terry Root. However, I am writing this piece as a part of Tipanni not to pay tribute to Steve, because any tribute to him would be far less than adequate, but only to highlight a series of important developments that have taken place since the release of the SREX. Most significantly, IPCC was not caught unprepared in spreading the message of SREX, and thanks to the support that the IPCC received from the Government of Norway for a number of events held round the world, involving both the leadership of the IPCC and some of the authors who worked on the report, considerable awareness was created on the assessment carried out, particularly on the grim projections of things to come in the form of extreme events and disasters as the reality of climate change. The media also picked up most of what was disseminated, and this certainly helped to sensitize the public, even though some of the denialists and skeptics on the subject of climate change mounted their usual tirade against the IPCC. The evidence of the effectiveness of the report itself and the outreach efforts made by the IPCC came through when, particularly in North America, a series of extreme events and disasters took place, such as Superstorm Sandy, large scale drought and high temperatures in a large part of the U.S. and other occurrences such as heat waves and extreme precipitation events. Tony Leiserowitz, a colleague at Yale University carries out regular surveys of public attitudes towards climate change in North America and other parts of the world. In recent months he has found a dramatic shift in perception on the part of the US public reflecting the links that they draw between human induced climate change and increase in intensity and frequency of extreme events. An important lesson from these recent trends is that even when prejudice and inertia are deep-rooted in the human mind, knowledge and science based awareness can shape changes and alter perceptions sometimes in inexplicable ways. I believe this observation has relevance to TERI’s efforts as well. Much of what we do remains confined to our reports and the minds of the research teams that work on a project. We seldom reach out and regard dissemination of knowledge as one of our primary responsibilities. It is for this reason that I was eager that our Vision Retreat this year focused dominantly on the theme of communications. Just as a final tailpiece and a tribute to Steve Schneider and what he and I came up with, I attended a meeting in New York on March the 6th to define the focus of the next Human Development Report. A decision on this has not yet been taken, but I was happy to see that thinking is veering around to the whole issue and challenge of addressing new vulnerabilities, in which clearly, climate change, particularly as it relates to extreme events and disasters, would occupy a central place. If that happens – and I'm keeping my fingers crossed - the Human Development Report, which does reach out to large numbers of people, would only enhance our earlier expectation of the IPCC SREX becoming a game changer. I am sure Steve Schneider traversing the happy hunting grounds would be watching this development with satisfaction and amusement.
Source: TERI Intranet