A panel on the role of governments and multilateral institutions included a discussion of the little-known Article 6 of the treaty, which enjoins member states to “promote and facilitate … public awareness programs on climate change and its effects.” Achim Halpaap of UN CC:Learn described it as an “orphan article” because it receives such little attention and support in practice. “Everybody agrees it’s important but few are willing to fund it,” he said.

Government support of journalism can be controversial. The news media in the US often suspects such efforts are a threat to their independence. But that has not stopped the National Science Foundation, for instance, from launching its own media outreach efforts on the subject.

According to a new study led by James Painter from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University that looked at climate coverage in the US, UK, China, France, India, and Brazil, climate change deniers are also active in the media. This is particularly true in the US and UK, which accounted for about 80 percent of the stories found to be quoting skeptical voices. “Over 40 percent of the stories where such voices were included were found to be in the opinion pages and editorials as opposed to the news pages,” the study reports, and Painter noted that these views often co-existed with solid science-based reporting in the news sections.

The skepticism most prevalent at these climates summits does not concern the scientific basis for human-induced global warming, but rather whether these UN congregations will ever bring about effective, collective action to prevent it. Such doubts were on full display in the widespread media coverage of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action that finally resulted from the COP17 negotiations, thirty-six hours after the summit was due to end.

Although some viewed it as a “significant political breakthrough”, and others dismissed it as a failure, most saw it as simply a modest agreement that included some technical advances but once again postponed any hard decisions. The general consensus seems to be that it saved the UN process but not the planet, which is now on track to undergo a potentially disastrous three-to-four degree Celsius rise in global average temperatures by the end of the century.

The outcome from Durban sets us up for another Copenhagen-like summit circus in 2015. Even if a significant agreement emerges then, it wouldn’t initiate action for another three to five years. Meanwhile, the scientific reports keep raising new alarms, and the really important experiments and advances in climate change prevention and adaptation will be taking place on the local, regional and national levels. But the climate conferences will remain one of the best places to find out all about them, and that’s why journalists will continue to find these summits well worth covering.

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James Fahn is the executive director of Internews's Earth Journalism Network and the author of A Land on Fire.