How TV weather presenters can improve public understanding of climate change



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David Holmes, Monash University

A recent Monash University study of TV weather presenters has found a strong interest from free-to-air presenters in including climate change information in their bulletins.

The strongest trends in the survey, which had a 46% response rate, included:

  • 97% of respondents thought climate change is happening;

  • 97% of respondents believed viewers had either “strong trust” or “moderate trust” in them as a reliable source of weather information;

  • 91% of respondents were comfortable with presenting local historical climate statistics, and just under 70% were comfortable with future local climate projections; and

  • 97% of respondents thought their audiences would be interested in learning about the impacts of climate change.

According to several analyses of where Australians get their news, in the age of ubiquitous social media TV is still the single largest news source.

And when one considers that social media and now apps are increasingly used as the interface for sharing professional content from news organisations – which includes TV news – the reach of TV content is not about to be challenged anytime soon.

The combined audience for primetime free-to-air TV in the five capital city markets alone is a weekly average of nearly 3 million viewers. This does not include those using catch-up on portable devices, and those watching the same news within the pay TV audience. And there are those who are getting many of the same news highlights and clips through their Facebook feeds and app-based push media.

Yet the ever-more oligopolistic TV industry in Australia is very small. And professional weather presenters are a rather exclusive group: there are only 75 such presenters in Australia.

It is because of this, rather than in spite of it, that weather presenters are able to command quite a large following. And they are highly promoted by the networks themselves – on freeway billboards and station advertising. This promotion makes weather presenters among the most trusted media personalities, while simultaneously presenting information that is regarded as apolitical.

At the same time, Australians have a keen interest in talking about weather. It tends to unite us.

These three factors – trust, the impartial nature of weather, and Australian’s enthusiasm for the weather – puts TV presenters in an ideal position to present climate information. Such has been the experience in the US, where the Centre for Climate Change Communication together with Climate Matters have partnered with more than 350 TV weathercasters to present simple, easy-to-process factual climate information.

In the US it is about mainstreaming climate information as factual content delivered by trusted sources. The Climate Matters program found TV audiences value climate information the more locally based it was.

Monash’s Climate Change Communication Research Hub is conducting research as a precondition to establishing such a program in Australia. The next step is to survey the audiences of the free-to-air TV markets in the capital city markets to evaluate Australians’ appetite for creating a short climate segment alongside the weather on at least a weekly basis.

As in the US, TV audiences are noticing more and more extreme weather and want to understand what is causing it, and what to expect in the future.

The Climate Change Communication Research Hub is also involved in creating “climate communications packages” that can be tested with audiences. These are largely based on calendar and anniversary dates, and show long-term trends using these dates as datapoints.

The calendar dates could be sporting dates, or how climate can be understood in relation to a collection of years based on a specific date, or the start of a season for fire or cyclones. There has been so much extreme weather in recent years that there are plenty of anniversaries.

Let’s take November 21, 2016 – the most severe thunderstorm asthma event ever to impact Melbourne. It saw 8,500 presentations to hospital emergency departments and nine tragic deaths.

There is no reason why this event can’t be covered this year in the context of climate as a community service message. As explained in the US program, just a small increase in higher average spring temperatures leads to the production of a higher count of more potent pollen. Also, as more energy is fed into the destructive power of storm systems, the prospect of breaking up pollen and distributing it efficiently throughout population centres is heightened.

The need to be better prepared for thunderstorms in spring is thus greater, even for those who have never had asthma before.

For its data, the Climate Change Communication Research Hub will be relying on the information from the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO, but will call on the assistance of a wide range of organisations such as the SES, state fire services, and health authorities in conducting its research.

In February 2018, the hub will hold a workshop with TV weather presenters as part of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society conference. At the conference the planning for the project will be introduced, with a pilot to be conducted on one media market to be rolled out to multiple markets in the second year.

The ConversationThe program is not intended to raise the level of concern about climate change, but public understanding of it. As survey after survey shows, Australians are already concerned about climate change. But more information is needed about local and regional impacts that will help people make informed choices about mitigation, adaptation and how to plan their lives – beyond tomorrow’s weather.

David Holmes, Director, Climate Change Communication Research Hub, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Can two clean energy targets break the deadlock of energy and climate policy?



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Climate policy has become bogged down in the debate over a clean energy target.
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Bruce Mountain, Victoria University

Malcolm Turnbull’s government has been wrestling with the prospect of a clean energy target ever since Chief Scientist Alan Finkel recommended it in his review of Australia’s energy system. But economist Ross Garnaut has proposed a path out of the political quagmire: two clean energy targets instead of one.

Garnaut’s proposal is essentially a flexible emissions target that can be adapted to conditions in the electricity market. If electricity prices fail to fall as expected, a more lenient emissions trajectory would likely be pursued.

This proposal is an exercise in political pragmatism. If it can reassure both those who fear that rapid decarbonisation will increase energy prices, and those who argue we must reduce emissions at all costs, it represents a substantial improvement over the current state of deadlock.


Ross Garnaut/Yann Robiou DuPont, Author provided

Will two targets increase investor certainty?

At a recent Melbourne Economic Forum, Finkel pointed out that investors do not require absolute certainty to invest. After all, it is for accepting risks that they earn returns. If there was no risk to accept there would be no legitimate right to a return.

But Finkel also pointed out that investors value policy certainty and predictability. Without it, they require more handsome returns to compensate for the higher policy risks they have to absorb.


Read more: Turnbull is pursuing ‘energy certainty’ but what does that actually mean?


At first sight, having two possible emissions targets introduces yet another uncertainty (the emissions trajectory). But is that really the case? The industry is keenly aware of the political pressures that affect emissions reduction policy. If heavy reductions cause prices to rise further, there will be pressure to soften the trajectory.

Garnaut’s suggested approach anticipates this political reality and codifies it in a mechanism to determine how emissions trajectories will adjust to future prices. Contrary to first impressions, it increases policy certainty by providing clarity on how emissions policy should respond to conditions in the electricity market. This will promote the sort of policy certainty that the Finkel Review has sought to engender.

Could policymakers accept it?

Speaking of political realities, could this double target possibly accrue bipartisan support in a hopelessly divided parliament? Given Tony Abbott’s recent threat to cross the floor to vote against a clean energy target (bringing an unknown number of friends with him), the Coalition government has a strong incentive to find a compromise that both major parties can live with.


Read more: Abbott’s disruption is raising the question: where will it end?


Turnbull and his energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, who we understand are keen to see Finkel’s proposals taken up, could do worse than put this new idea on the table. They have to negotiate with parliamentary colleagues whose primary concern is the impact of household electricity bills on voters, as well as those who won’t accept winding back our emissions targets.

Reassuringly, the government can point to some precedent. Garnaut’s proposal is novel in Australia’s climate policy debate, but is reasonably similar to excise taxes on fuel, which in some countries vary as a function of fuel prices. If fuel prices decline, excise taxes rise, and vice versa. In this way, governments can achieve policy objectives while protecting consumers from the price impacts of those objectives.

The devil’s in the detail

Of course, even without the various ideologies and vested interests in this debate, many details would remain to be worked out. How should baseline prices be established? What is the hurdle to justify a more rapid carbon-reduction trajectory? What if prices tick up again, after a more rapid decarbonisation trajectory has been adopted? And what if prices don’t decline from current levels: are we locking ourselves into a low-carbon-reduction trajectory?

These issues will need to be worked through progressively, but there is no obvious flaw that should deter further consideration. The fundamental idea is attractive, and it looks capable of ameliorating concerns that rapid cuts in emissions will lock in higher electricity prices.

The ConversationFor mine, I would not be at all surprised if prices decline sharply as we begin to decarbonise, such is the staggering rate of technology development and cost reductions in renewable energy. But I may of course be wrong. Garnaut’s proposal provides a mechanism to protect consumers if this turns out to be the case.

Bruce Mountain, Director, Carbon and Energy Markets., Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Developing countries can prosper without increasing emissions


Meg Argyriou, ClimateWorks Australia

One of the ironies of fighting climate change is that developed countries – which have benefited from decades or centuries of industrialisation – are now asking developing countries to abandon highly polluting technology.

But as developing countries work hard to grow their economies, there are real opportunities to leapfrog the significant investment in fossil fuel technology typically associated with economic development.

This week, researchers, practitioners and policy makers from around the world are gathered in New York city for the International Conference on Sustainable Development as part of Climate Week. We at ClimateWorks will be putting the spotlight on how developing countries can use low- or zero-emissions alternatives to traditional infrastructure and technology.


Read more: How trade policies can support global efforts to curb climate change


Developing nations are part of climate change

According to recent analysis, six of the top 10 emitters of greenhouse gases are now developing countries (this includes China). Developing countries as a bloc already account for about 60% of global annual emissions.

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If we are are to achieve the global climate targets of the Paris Agreement, these countries need an alternative path to prosperity. We must decouple economic growth from carbon emissions. In doing so, these nations may avoid many of the environmental, social and economic costs that are the hallmarks of dependence on fossil fuels.

This goal is not as far-fetched as it might seem. ClimateWorks has been working as part of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, a global collaboration of researchers looking for practical ways countries can radically reduce their carbon emissions – while sustaining economic growth.

For example, in conjunction with the Australian National University, we have modelled a deep decarbonisation pathway that shows how Australia could achieve net zero emissions by 2050, while the economy grows by 150%.

Similarly, data compiled by the World Resources Institute shows that 21 countries have reduced annual greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously growing their economies since 2000. This includes several eastern European countries that have experienced rapid economic growth in the past two decades.

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Low Carbon Index also found that several G20 countries have reduced the carbon intensity of their economies while maintaining real GDP growth, including nations classified as “developing”, such as China, India, South Africa and Mexico.

‘Clean’ economic growth for sustainable development

If humankind is to live sustainably, future economic growth must minimise environmental impact and maximise social development and inclusion. That’s why in 2015, the UN adopted the Sustainable Development Goals: a set of common aims designed to balance human prosperity with protection of our planet by 2030.

These goals include a specific directive to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”. Likewise, language in the Paris Climate Agreement recognises the needs of developing countries in balancing economic growth and climate change.

The Sustainable Development Goals are interconnected, and drawing these links can provide a compelling rationale for strong climate action. For example, a focus on achieving Goal 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) that also considers Goal 13 (Climate Action) will prioritise low or zero-emissions energy technologies. This in turn delivers health benefits and saves lives (Goal 3) through improved air quality, which also boosts economic productivity (Goal 8).


Read more: Climate change set to increase air pollution deaths by hundreds of thousands by 2100


Therefore efforts to limit global temperature rise to below 2℃ must be considered within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. These global goals are intrinsically linked to solving climate change.

But significant barriers prevent developing countries from adopting low-emissions plans and ambitious climate action. Decarbonisation is often not a priority for less developed countries, compared to key issues such as economic growth and poverty alleviation. Many countries struggle with gaps in technical and financial expertise, a lack of resources and inconsistent energy data. More fundamentally, poor governance and highly complex or fragmented decision-making also halt progress.

The ConversationIt’s in the best interest of the entire world to help developing countries navigate these problems. Creating long-term, lowest-emissions strategies, shaped to each country’s unique circumstances, is crucial to maintaining growth while reducing emissions. Addressing these problems is the key to unlocking the financial flows required to move to a just, equitable and environmentally responsible future.

Meg Argyriou, Acting CEO of ClimateWorks, ClimateWorks Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.