Thirty years of international effort since the Earth Summit have witnessed the global dialogue on climate change and sustainability steadily widening in scope and depth. They have brought forth many new initiatives and efforts, leaving no sector of human activity and social and economic life untouched by scrutiny through the lens of resilience and sustainability.
While a number of global targets and goals are being set, the question of whether tangible progress is indeed being achieved is intensely debated, alternating on occasion between the extremes of optimism bordering on denial of the challenge to the extreme pessimism of doomsday scenarios. However, even if the extreme viewpoints are set aside, there is broad agreement that the window for making the transition to resilience and sustainability is narrowing, especially with respect to global warming.
Climate change is the multi-scalar environmental challenge par excellence, with the local, regional, national and global scales interacting substantially with each other in both climate mitigation and adaptation, with the global aspect being perhaps the most novel dimension of climate change.
In the global South, the challenge of sustainable development is further exacerbated by their socio-economic context and the globally unequal world that confronts them. The need to radically improve the material conditions of well-being, which have always had to overcome the hurdles posed by inter-country and intra-country inequalities, must now face the additional burden of constraints on the available socio-economic pathways for the future. While these constrained pathways may benefit the rest of the world, the burden of these constraints and corresponding costs fall on those who have contributed the least to the problem of global warming. Indeed, given that more than 80 per cent live in what is the developing world under the definition of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), their resilience and their sustainability is critical to the future, though the responsibility for the current situation lies predominantly with the minority, that lives in the global North that is less than a fifth of the world’s population,. Thus, equity and justice are key to dealing with the challenge of sustainability, and the need for an equitable and just global social, economic and political order even more pressing than ever before.
International, national, and regional initiatives on issues such as biodiversity, environmental protection and conservation, the sustainability challenge in agriculture, and the energy transition to low-carbon development, building on a steady stream of scientific advances, have steadily heightened awareness of the importance of the issues of sustainability and climate change. This is true of all actors including government, civil society, the media and the public at large. It is arguable though whether the heightened interest and awareness is matched by an adequate understanding of both the science of sustainability and climate change, and the science-development-policy nexus in this context.
In building such a scientific understanding, the media has an essential role to play. Given the pace and breadth of scientific advance across the world, and across different branches of natural and social sciences, including technology and disciplines such as public policy, the role of the media is rising in importance, as an essential part of the knowledge dissemination that is essential to informed climate action. However, this requires a nuanced understanding of climate science and policy that is adequate to the task of representing uncertainty, of representing policy debates fairly, or not giving up a critical outlook and not surrendering to groupthink, all of which are key to understanding the global discourse on climate change. Building such an understanding in the media needs regular interaction between scientists and media-persons, through in-depth interaction that provides the foundations for informed and insightful media coverage of sustainability and climate change.
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M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) established in 1988 is a not-for-profit trust. MSSRF was envisioned and founded by Professor M S Swaminathan, agriculture scientist with proceeds from the First World Food Prize that he received in 1987.