UNESCO urged to take measures to address Climate Change disinformation

Long-term actions to reduce gaps in trust and transparency in climate change discourse can alleviate confusion.

These were the points made when UNESCO in partnership with IPS Academy organized a four-part webinar on 15th, 17th, 19th and 22nd of June 2020. Convened with a multi-stakeholder spirit, the series brought together experts from around the world, including academics, policy makers, scientists, storytellers and activists, providing a space to discuss climate change disinformation.

The webinar series was inaugurated by UNESCO’s Assistant Director Generals Mr Moez Chakchouk and Ms Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, who highlighted the need to rally multi-stakeholder support to fight falsehoods in climate change. Both Assistant Director Generals highlighted the importance of scientific communication and advocated for the need to initiate inclusive dialogue particularly with the youth. Underscoring this importance, Ms. Nair-Bedouelle noted “young people are the guardians of misinformation and advocates for sound science and must be equipped to take over and transmit this knowledge”.

The webinars were structured to set the context, discuss the receiver/demand- and producer/supply-side dynamics of disinformation and converge discussions to agree on a way forward:

  1. Webinar 1 laid the groundwork to question the context of false content and climate change.
  2. Webinar 2 explored strategies to communicate science to the public. This discussion revealed how governments, scientists and media outlets can generate quality information and ensure that it reaches the public in a form that is easily understandable and that inspires action.
  3. Webinar 3 investigated the origins of false information. A dynamic discussion amongst journalists, activists and academics explored the roles of journalism, including investigative journalism, and media and information literacy, as well the ethics needed to generate accurate information.
  4. Webinar 4 converged discussions of the previous webinars and reflected on ways to take false content beyond confusion and instead inspire actions that can drive change. The discussion concluded that measures at both the audience/demand- and producer/supply-side are needed to combat disinformation.

The webinars noted that following the COVID-19 pandemic, renewed attention has been drawn on how scientific information is generated and communicated amongst different stakeholders and the challenge to avoid both intentional and inadvertent falsehoods.

These problems and their detrimental impacts on health provided parallels to the issues faced in the field of climate change, where false information is being used to divert attention away from rational judgement based on scientific information, and instead is pegged on subjective interpretation of short-term weather events.

The discussions reiterated the important role of the education system and life-long learning to combat false content on climate change.

The webinars also highlighted the role of peer-reviewed science as the basis of climate change policy making. Panellist Dr Astrid Caldas from the Union of Concerned Scientists noted that  “Scientific information should not be suppressed but rather be central to government policymaking”, as informed choices by governments are key to tackling climate change disinformation and maintaining accurate data in in the information sphere.

The webinars further called for bridging a perceived gap in trust and transparency between the government, climate scientists, media outlets and the public. Speaking at the final webinar, Italian Minister for Environment, Mr Sergio Costa urged stakeholders to develop a formal “pact of environmental communication, where science, politics, … journalism can be integrated … to build a new green normality”.

The discussions also urged UNESCO to:

  • Lead a process so that scientific information would not be suppressed but rather be central to government policymaking.
  • Encourage and build capacities for storytelling amongst information providers and packaging of accurate information for the general public.
  • Develop tools and mechanism for sharing knowledge and leverage the power of new technologies such as AI where feasible.
  • Inspire actions for secondary and tertiary education that would help the youth navigate the information sphere and analyse information so that they can act as their own gatekeepers of disinformation and as advocates for sound science.

The spirit of the series was concluded by Mr Shahidul Alam who stated that we  need a “synchronized movement that has the power of the people on its side… for our message to succeed we don’t merely need to get data… we must rely on trust, reliability of the source and the veracity of the evidence”. Amplifying the voices of those left behind and creating a sphere of trust is vital to ensuring viable and accurate information, he added.

The webinar also provided an opportunity for the IPS Academy to launch a dedicated Citizens Platform on Climate Change and a Sustainable World with a core intention to fight disinformation.