I’ve gotten a bit of attention for this blog by commenting on my frustrations with the IPCC’s relationship to the media.  Andy Revkin has a great post on his Dot Earth blog at the New York Times on the latest iteration of this issue.  Revkin argues:

“Here’s the vital step: The panel would do well to cultivate, rather than restrict, contact between its authors and reporters in poor countries. There is a glaring need for the panel and related institutions — the United Nations Environment Program and World Meteorological Organization — to facilitate informed media coverage of climate risks, both natural and human-driven, in poor places. This is nowhere more pressing than in sub-Saharan Africa, where exposure to climate-driven hazards, particularly drought, is acute even now, let alone with whatever shifts may come through the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. (And keep in mind that populations in the region are projected to double by 2050, greatly increasing exposure to climate-related hazards.)”

I couldn’t agree more.  What spurred this commentary from Revkin was a request for help from a Nigerian journalist, who wanted to contact African scientists on the IPCC but couldn’t.  Revkin circulated this call to a number of people, including me – so I was fortunate to be included on the group emails that he includes in his post.  I offered a number of comments, but one seems pertinent to the issue of media relations.  While several people on the email immediately moved to get this information to the journalist, the new media officer for the IPCC, Isabel Garcia-Gill, seemed to be slowing down this process.  When Nick Nuttall, the senior press officer for the United Nations Environment Program, asked if she could provide an updated register of national expert climate scientists from across the key and relevant disciplines for the media, Garcia-Gill responded:

“So far we are going to keep that list at the Secretariat so that all requests come through the media and communications team. We cannot yet post it on the internet, not before the authors are media trained. But of course, you will be informed.”

I responded to this comment in an email to Revkin:

“I was a little bothered by Isabel’s response to Nick – basically, she reaffirmed her and her organization’s right to gatekeep “their” experts.  This does not build our credibility or our legitimacy.  I am not at all convinced by claims that the authors need to be media trained – they just need to make it clear they speak for themselves, and not the larger processes to which they belong.  We need to hear the different voices in this process, and the different foci they might bring to these assessments – otherwise, we run the risk of the problem I mentioned earlier – we get African voices parroting the same lines as those of us from advanced economies, which does nothing to move us forward on issues of adaptation and mitigation.”

Thanks to Revkin for working this concern into his post, near the end.  We’re getting better, but institutional cultures seem hard to overcome . . .