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The Paris Climate Change Conference & Journalist’s Responsibilities

by on November 6, 2015

At the end of the month, United Nations leaders and diplomats will gather in Paris for a super high-stakes dinner party: the climate change conference. Held annually, the conference brings together the people who have the responsibility to pass legislation that can potentially impact the climate change trajectory in a big way. What does that mean for the future of our planet? And, what responsibility does that give to journalists reporting on the conference? How will they portray the promises made by those in charge?

The conference will bring together 25,000 people. Most of these conferences result in some sort of treaty between leaders agreeing on steps that we can all take together to protect the planet from the devastating harm that we subject it to. However, in past years, the resulting treaties have been a lot of smoke in mirrors and result in little actual advancement toward cleaner living. For example, in 1997 the conference met in Kyoto, Japan where the Kyoto Protocol was passed, requiring countries to cut down on their greenhouse gas emissions… a little bit. Developing countries, including China and India, weren’t actually required to curb their emissions, according to Grist, even though each of those nations contribute a very significant amount of all manmade GHG in the atmosphere. And the US didn’t ratify the treaty, so it was much more talk than action.

With an outcome as misleading as the Kyoto Protocol, how should journalists approach covering the truth of these conferences? Clearly the outcomes are not as straightforward as they seem. There are loopholes and exemptions, and countries seem to be able to find their way around the requirements. This dilemma reminds me of Glenn Greenwald’s article responding to the controversy sparked by Arthur Brisbane, about questioning the the facts journalists are given by powerful people; the stenographic model. Greenwald argues that to not question that statements they are given, journalists  are merely stenographers, uncritically writing down whatever they are told and accepting it as truth. This protects the source from scrutiny and accountability. And in regards to the climate conference, it would allow sources to avoid implementing any real action for change among the world’s leading nations. And this year in Paris, I think a big responsibility falls on the shoulders of journalists to tell us exactly what is going on and to hold leaders accountable for following through on whatever treaty they pass.

Not only do powerful nations need to lessen their fossil fuel emissions, but they need to aid developing countries in gaining access to affordable clean technology. And as with any dinner party, the bill arrives at the end and that has to be dealt with and reported on. Who is paying for what? Are weather countries helping poorer countries cover their expenses to get greener? Or is it every man for himself?

I think that to really educate the public on the outcomes of the Paris Climate Change Conference, it will be important for journalists not only to ask hard-hitting questions and be skeptical of the responses, but also for them to simplify and organize the scientific and monetary information that many average people don’t have the time or patience to sort through. That’s the only way to get people to pay attention to the conference and care about holding those in power responsible for enacting the laws that they’ve promised to each other, to us, and to the earth.


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One Comment
  1. None can know the ultimate result of the meeting of the United Nations leaders and diplomats at the Paris, until after the conference. I agree with your opinion on journalists reporting responsibility concerning the conference. Journalists should actively observe the debate and courageously ask probing questions of their sources in order to be able to later verify their statements, because Journalists have the responsibility to accurately report what was said and by whom in order to ensure accountability. Also, journalists must research the answers they receive to ensure accuracy. Journalists must then organize the results and translate them into an easy to understand format so the public can more easily grasp them. It is my belief that the Kyoto protocol did not deliver on it promises because it was not taken seriously by some of the world’s most polluting countries, such as China and India, which were not mandated to reduce their environmental emissions. Furthermore, the U.S didn’t endorse the treaty possibly because of it multinational business interest which operate in developing countries at a reduce cost. America’s political interest may be stronger than it acceptance of climate change. I also agree that developed countries should share their green energy technology, in the form of subsidies to developing countries so that they may adopt cleaner energy such as solar, water and wind power.

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