Sunday, December 23, 2012

A fatal gap between science and policy?

David Dickson in little more than 30 years ago, a major UN conference on science and technology for development held in Vienna, Austria, ended on an upbeat note with an agreement in principle to set up a US$250-million fund to finance capacity-building projects.

Sadly, the heady optimism among delegates, which I remember vividly, was short lived. No major donations were received and science slipped off the international aid agenda for the next two decades, during which time the gap in scientific capacity between rich and poor nations grew larger.

The latest negotiations, COP 18, ended in Doha, Qatar, earlier this month with a similar agreement to establish a mechanism to transfer money from rich to poor nations to compensate for the "loss and damage" caused by rich countries' addiction to carbon-based fuels. Judging from media reports, this decision was met with an enthusiasm similar to that at the 1979 Vienna conference.

But there is no binding commitment, and the possibility of significant money becoming available looks remote given that rich nations have so far failed to act on the 2010 promise to raise US$100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing nations cope with climate change.

The otherwise disappointing outcome of COP 18 reflects the growing gap between the science and the politics of climate change. While the scientific case for action hardens, the ability politicians to act appropriately — by replacing the soon-to-terminate Kyoto Protocol, for example — appears to be diminishing, creating a scenario for global disaster.

Science communicators in general — and science journalists in particular — have a key role in bridging this gap. We must present scientific evidence to politicians and the public in a way that means such evidence becomes the basis for sound decisions....

Reading a newspaper in Addis Ababa, shot by Terje Skjerdal, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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