Chen Weihua

Media's cold shoulder to Cancun

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-12-07 08:07
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The difference between freezing New York City and warm Cancun is truly climatic.

Since the United Nations climate change conference opened in Cancun on Nov 29, the lobby of my hotel has been filled with young reporters at night, all busy filing stories and ignoring the temptation of the sandy beach in front of the hotel.

However, despite their hard work, the newspapers I have read and the major TV networks have hardly mentioned the conference in the past week, despite the fact the Mexican beach resort is where probably the biggest threat to the human race is being discussed.

The headlines in New York were dominated by a quarter of a million US diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks, the fight over extending Bush's tax cuts, the repeal of "don't ask and don't tell" regarding gays and lesbians serving in the US army, and the controversy over the screening and pat-down at airports in the United States.

Climate change, sadly, is not news. For many media outlets it seems climate change is simply not "sexy" enough to attract viewers and sell newspaper copies.

Compared to the overly high expectations that surrounded the failed Copenhagen conference a year ago, the low expectations for any meaningful agreement at Cancun probably help explain why major US media have devoted so little space and airtime to the summit. The US itself is also in a much weakened position at the global climate talks which means the US media are more reluctant to publicize the talks. But however modest the expectations are and weak the US position is, the US media should fulfil its mission to inform the public about what's going on in Cancun.

They should explain why climate change is such an urgent issue, even when the US is enduring a prolonged economic recession and high unemployment.

The difficulty in reaching a global deal to mitigate the affects of climate change simply shows that the media still has a big role to play. That is especially true in the US, where skeptics of global warming seem to be gaining ground. Climate legislation has become less likely after the mid-term elections. Yet per capita carbon emissions in the US are among the highest in the world.

Although many Chinese journalists are covering the Cancun conference, major newspapers and news portals in the country are also less than enthusiastic about the topic. For China, the challenge for its media to inform and enlighten the public about the issue is equally challenging.

Yes, China's per capita emission is still low and much of the emissions by manufacturing industries are actually relocated from industrialized countries. These are true. Yet that should not be used as an excuse for China to slow down its green energy momentum. China's green revolution, which is already among the most aggressive in the world in the past years, should become even more ambitious, given the huge challenge imposed by its rapid economic expansion.

Global warming is more "sexy" than the cables on WikiLeaks. The floods, droughts, wildfires and decimation of biodiversity it has caused and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people around the world are testament to that.

The worsening effects of climate change are an appalling foretaste of what the future has in store for the planet and all of us if we continue business as usual.

The media should not ignore climate change, certainly not when a UN summit is desperately trying to find a way to prevent tragedy.

A better-informed public would substantially increase the chance of success.

The author is deputy editor of China Daily US Edition. You can reach him at