* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Nearly 20 years ago, governments pledged to inform their citizens about climate change and its effects. What is yours doing?
By Mike Shanahan
In 1992, or soon after, your government made an agreement with nearly every other government on the planet to raise public awareness of climate change.
Some do it by accident when they fail to anticipate that increasingly informed and empowered citizens can grab the media spotlight and often seem to know more than their elected representatives.
The US administration’s pursuit of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s tar sands and the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s repeated efforts to sell off part of his country’s most important protected forest to a sugar cane company are just two cases of climate-harming policies that have raised public awareness of climate change by accident.
But what do governments do in a proactive way to inform their citizens about climate change.
Under Article 6 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - which was agreed in 1992 and entered into force in 1994 - nearly 200 governments agreed to promote actions to develop and implement “educational and public awareness programmes on climate change and its effects”.
They agreed to promote “public access to information about climate change and its effects.”
They agreed a few more things too but they promised to do this nearly 20 years ago.
In 2002 they got around to agreeing to do something about these pledges, and they set up something called the New Delhi Work Programme, which had the fairly lazy deadline of five years to come up with some ideas about how to make Article 6 happen.
In 2007 governments agreed that this was going well, so they gave the process another five year mandate.
By last year’s mid-term review, only Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Colombia and the Dominican Republic had submitted reports on their activities.
Many countries will say that they cannot afford to fulfil their obligations under Article 6, or will be able but just unwilling to pay for them. Whatever country you live in, the cost is low relative to the cost of your country’s best missile.
It is a small price to pay, and a sure-fire way to get people to understand what other things governments are promising to do or asking for help with at each year’s conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The next - the 17th - such conference starts in less than three weeks. But while the focus will be on the “big picture” issues, I can’t help but think that it would be easier for countries to agree on those issues if more of their people knew more about climate change.
A lot of time has passed since the Convention was signed, so I’m curious to know what governments are doing to meet their obligations under Article 6 - and whether there is any evidence that these actions are effective.
The full text of Article 6 is here. Let me know, what is your government doing to meet this pledge?
And are they just producing “communications” about climate change or are they engaging their citizens in a conversation about climate change.
And if not, why not?
Mike Shanahan is the press officer for the International Institute for Environment and Development.. This post first appeared on his blog, Under the Banyan.