Climate Change and the Media: Commissioner Hedegaard in Cancun


EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard (left) and Mexico's Vice Minister for Planning and Environmental Policy Fernando Tudela (right)

“The world needs momentum in the global environmental negotiation” stated EU Commissioner Connie Hedegaard at the CoP 16 in Cancun, Mexico. The role of the media in building this momentum and framing the issue is crucial. Commissioner Hedegaard presented her opinion on how the media should cover climate change at a press conference on December 5th.

In the run-up to the CoP 15 in Copenhagen, the media managed to successfully frame the issue of climate change and bring the most important information to the public eye. This put pressure on national governments and made national ministers get on-board for addressing the climate change problem.

“We made the message come across”, stated Mrs. Hedegaard. But then “if we had gotten the big deal done” it would have been a success, yet this was not the case. The Copenhagen CoP was a failure and the media did not spare politicians in this. Now, this is reflecting on the CoP 16 in Cancun.

When the media has a topic on its agenda for a certain amount of time, it risks becoming ‘old news’. The hype created around the CoP 15 and the resulting failure has made the issue of climate change a stale piece of news, which has become evident by the relatively low interest in the CoP 16 in Cancun. Yet, climate change negotiations continue. The science behind the politics: the 2 degrees Celsius target, the problem of providing energy for Africa; helping the people in Panama who experience floods in increasing frequency every year; these issues are still on the table. Communicating these issues and the work of politicians on them is an enormous challenge to achieve in a 30-second tv spot.

Furthermore, the Commissioner could not escape the press conference without answering questions on the EU’s position at the CoP 16. It was no surprise that the answers to these inquiries were no different than those given in the last few months. “Europe stands by its pledges from Copenhagen”, stated the Commissioner. She further reminded everyone that it is not simply a question of international negotiations, but about how we can make the economy ‘green’. The strength of Europe is that it has implemented the tools for tackling climate change on an inter-national level. “We can do more together than individually”.

“It is not Europe that is the problem. It is some of the other big players who have not committed”.

One of the main cases which the EU is pushing for is for parties to willingly put up international pledges without conditions. Mrs. Hedegaard proposed a challenged: “find one region in the world which has set as an ambitious target as the EU has done for its 500 million people”! It was the EU who set its targets in 2008, and as a result, other states did the same before the CoP 15 in Copenhagen. Yet, “a lot more countries will have to do a lot more”.

In the end, Commissioner Hedegaard clearly stated that we have to protect the integrity of the environment. All projects that are to be financed have to adhere to this moral principle. A sensible compromise by all states is needed in the negotiations in Cancun in order for the talks to move forward.

Mrs. Hedegaard also had a clear warning to all politicians engaged in the negotiations about their media image: What would citizens think when they see the pictures and videos of the palms and the beaches of Cancun if nothing comes out of the conference?! Climate change would become even more difficult to sell…


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