Climate change: what to say and how to say it

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According to the Special Eurobaromer 409, around one out of six Europeans think that climate change is the single most serious problem that the world is facing. The survey provides some measures on the perception of climate change in relation to other world problems and collected the opinions on who within the EU is responsible for tackling climate change. We had the great pleasure to speak about the usefulness of this important tool with Luca Mercalli (LM), President and Editor in Chief of the Società Meteorologica Italiana, and Sergio Castellari (SC), senior scientist at the Centro Euro-Mediterraneo per i Cambiamenti Climatici and at the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia.

How do you evaluate the survey tool represented by the Eurobarometer? Is it useful? Are other communication initiatives not only desirable, but also essential?

SC: The Eurobarometer is a useful tool to test the opinion of the people, but of course it is not the only one and it is not complete. Presently, I think that there is a lack of communication in Italy compared to other countries such as Germany, United Kingdom and France. Our scientific community should be more involved in the communication of climate change topics to a non-specialist audience. In addition, the Italian media should focus more on high-level science communication programmes about climate, such as the BBC and Discovery Channel ones, which are very good and professional. In general, in our country we have a lack of science information regarding climate and related topics that could affect the results of the Eurobarometer survey.

LM: The Eurobarometer is a tool not really known in Italy, besides some experts. In practice, almost nobody uses it to be attractive to the world of politicians and the media. As a researcher, I would like to learn more about how the sample is determined and who did the survey. Surely, the Eurobarometer should be integrated with other communication initiatives. Since there are already several operators of research and scientific dissemination, we would like to be contacted to give our contribution to these campaigns, using our preferential channel for the dissemination of such information. Furthermore, with the official support of the European Union, I would feel more empowered to do what we are already doing as Società Meteorologica Italiana, which has also the statutory task to spread knowledge.

In particular, in what kind of communication activities are you involved?

SC: As Italian National Focal Point for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), I am conducting a lot of outreach activities regarding the recent IPCC reports on climate change, such as the latest Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability and Mitigation of Climate Change. In particular, I spend a good part of my professional and spare time in several dissemination activities, because I believe that a climate scientist can have a great impact on society due to the strong political significance of climate research. It is not enough to do research, but we have also to communicate in an efficient manner our results to the general public. As far as I am concerned, I co-founded the NGO Italian Climate Network, just to make possible a more effective scientific communication.

LM: At the Italian level, the strength of the political decision-makers is not comparable to those in Europe. As a TV popularizer, I could do a good job raising the awareness of the people, but at the political level I saw few results in the development of a strategy. For example, a few months ago, the Italian Ministry of Environment proposed a national strategy on climate change, but the public consultation with the stakeholders was too short to propose some amendments. In addition, many European Union activities often begin, but then they do not remain active for the appropriate time. I wish that soon there will be a permanent taskforce able to value from time to time the information produced by the European Union, with also a communicative power at a national level.

Probably, a good way to mitigate the climate change is to carry out a European energy transition, following the model of the German Energiewende. What are your expectations for the near future?

SC: At the European level, Italy adopted the 2020 climate and energy package. It would be also very positive to have a EU directive on climate science communication to be implemented by all EU Member States.

LM: I am strongly confident that a European energy transition could happen in the next years and, for Italy, I strongly recommend the model represented by Northern Europe for these topics. In fact, you can reach concrete results just on the basis of these former good experiences. We have to work not only on legislative, scientific and engineering aspects of the energy transition, but also the basic education has to be involved. Presently, the school system is not informing on key issues for the future of the new citizens, such as climate change and renewable energies.

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