Defra forced to defend 'appalling' media handling of major climate change report

The Government has been forced to defend its media handling of a major report released last week, after being accused by politicians and pressure groups of trying to bury bad news.

Flooding on the Somerset Levels in February 2014 (© Alastair Grant/AP/Press Association Images)
Flooding on the Somerset Levels in February 2014 (© Alastair Grant/AP/Press Association Images)
The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment was quietly put online last Wednesday, with no proactive media relations work. Instead, a news story was put on the Gov.uk website, with a link to the report. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, virtually no national news outlets have covered the report, which is only published every five years.

In contrast, the previous assessment, in January 2012, was released with a high-profile launch, including a speech by the then environment secretary Caroline Spelman, and a press release to the media. 

This resulted in widespread coverage, with pieces in several national newspapers.

The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 warns that Britain faces "significant risks" to future food supplies, thousands of more people dying from heatwaves each year, and damage from severe flooding.
 
It states that the government needs to take "more action" in five of the top six areas of climate-change risk facing Britain – health, drought, food shortages driving up prices, flooding, and ‘natural capital’ such as soil quality for farming.

The government is taking "appropriate action" in just 18 of 56 risks identified in the new report.

The decision by Defra’s press team not to be more proactive in promoting the latest report to the media has been condemned by campaigners.

I was astonished, it was literally sneaked out, they didn’t put out a press release, they didn’t tweet about it, they did a news story that was tucked away at the bottom of their home page.

Bob Ward, policy and comms director at LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment

Bob Ward, policy and comms director at the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, told PRWeek: "I was astonished, it was literally sneaked out, they didn’t put out a press release, they didn’t tweet about it, they did a news story that was tucked away at the bottom of their home page, so they did the very minimum by the looks of it to try and make people aware."

He added: "The secretary of state should have made a big speech about it, they should have done a big media release about it and they should have done their best to have made as many people aware of its content as possible. Instead, they appear to have done almost the opposite."

The concerns were echoed by Stefano Gelmini, head of news, Greenpeace UK, who said: "Since ministers know how to drum up attention for the issues they care about, we must assume they're deliberately trying to muffle the media noise around these announcements. The changing climate is one of the most serious security threats Britain faces, and the way the government communicates about it should reflect that sense of priority."

Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley described the media handling of the report as "appalling".
He added: "It’s astounding the Government appears to have tried to bury its own climate change report. Climate change is the single biggest threat we face."

Responding to the criticisms, a Defra spokesperson told PRWeek: "The Climate Change Risk Assessment was announced with a Gov.uk news story quoting the minister."

According to government officials, the way in which the five-yearly climate change assessment was released is "standard practice for such a report".


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