Mikkel Fugl Eskjær
In terms of climate change, Middle East and Arab countries cover a vast and diverse region with stark variations in natural resources, ecological footprints, and political priorities. It includes large oil and gas producing nations (the Gulf States) as well as resource-depleted countries (Jordan, Syria). Most countries rely on carbon energy, while a few have developed an alternative vision based on renewables (Morocco). It is home to both highly affluent countries (e.g., UAE) as well as poor and conflict-ridden societies (Iraq, the Levant, Yemen).
Although the region as a whole is particularly vulnerable to climate change due to low levels of socio-ecological resilience, potential conflicts over natural resources (e.g., water), and almost chronic refugee and immigration crises, there are considerable differences in the region’s adaptive resources and mitigation strategies. This regional heterogeneity, however, is rarely reflected in the region’s climate change communication, which (with a few exceptions) tends to follow similar communicative patterns.
Long-running social and religious conflicts in the Middle East have pushed climate change down the agenda of public opinion and news reporting in most Arab countries. Moreover, many Arab countries share a semi-authoritarian media system, which seems to exacerbate this tendency. In order to avoid crossing editorial redlines, climate change reporting is mostly copyedited from international news agencies. Local reporting is sparse as it may easily touch on sensitive issues concerning inadequate governance. Consequently, climate change has traditionally been covered as foreign news with a focus on international climate change negotiations—and hence limited relevance for a regional readership.
However, new information technology and an increasing focus on raising awareness on climate change points toward alternative channels of climate change communication in Middle Eastern and Arab countries.
Rhian Salmon, Rebecca Priestley, Michele Fontana, and Taciano L. Milfont
Climate change communication in Aotearoa New Zealand occurs through multiple channels, including public communication by experts; formal and informal science-policy dialogues; and publication of popular books, documentaries, and media reports. There is, in addition, a wide array of climate change communication activities that are less well documented, such as those that utilize the education system, social media, art, community events and festivals, and co-production processes related to adaptation and mitigation choices.
Although research into the communication of climate change is in its infancy in the country, data on public attitudes toward climate change over the past decade indicate that most New Zealanders believe climate change is occurring, is anthropogenic, and is a serious concern. This is mirrored by research into media coverage on climate change, which shows that mainstream news reports are largely consistent with the scientific consensus and reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and do not give much coverage to skeptical or catastrophic viewpoints.
Marianne Ryghaug and Tomas Moe Skjølsvold
Climate change research, activities, and initiatives in Norway started relatively late, by international comparison. From the beginnings in the early 2000s, research has mainly followed two paths: First, media studies, typically focusing on traditional newspaper representations of climate change and the surrounding debate, and second, research on public perceptions of climate change. Initially, the research field was dominated by media studies and science and technology studies (STS). As climate change and related controversies made headlines during the mid-2000s, the authorities implemented several engagement activities and research programs to improve climate change communication, typically aiming at public education on climate change. Teaching the public about climate change as a scientific phenomenon along the lines of the “knowledge deficit model” was a favored strategy.
Research on climate change media coverage indicated that the issue was reported in the same way as other news stories: the journalistic principles of newsworthiness often led newspapers to cover global warming as a contested phenomenon, in which harsh scientific controversy was played out. Thus, the Norwegian media framed the issue similar to U.S. newspapers, giving voice to both concerned climate scientists as well as climate skeptics (representative of “balanced” reporting). Studies of public perceptions of climate change demonstrated that public opinions were largely influenced by this “balanced reporting”: although most people believed the climate threat was real, the many accounts of scientific controversy made people uncertain, and many people questioned the urgency of the issues. This was, of course, not only a result of the media accounts, but also of what the public interpreted as political inertia. Following this, a debate about the ethics of journalism surfaced, and the media increasingly downplayed the controversy angle. Recent research indicates that this may have had paradoxical consequences; downplaying controversy has made climate change less newsworthy, and it has thus been given less priority by Norwegian media.
Recently, more disciplinary groups have become interested in climate change communication, from psychology to linguistics, political science, and philosophy. Accordingly, research trajectories have multiplied, and at least two new strands surfaced: how science is communicated in traditional and new social media and the use of climate change knowledge in so-called “climate change services.” The latter strand of research typically also relates to climate change adaptation work, to a greater extent than the earlier works, where the focus has mainly been on mitigation.
Bruno Takahashi and Alejandra Martinez
Peru is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. More than 65% of the country is covered by the Amazon rainforest, and the Andes region is home to more than 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers. This abundance of natural resources also makes the country highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
The Peruvian government therefore requires the development and implementation of action plans to adapt to the present and future impacts of climate change. At the same time, it requires the development of sound communication strategies that include collaboration with stakeholders such as the media and nongovernmental organizations. Media coverage of climate change can have important implications for policy decision making. This is especially salient in a context of low information availability where media reports play an important role in filling knowledge gaps that in turn can affect the way policies are developed.
Climate change, as an environmental and social issue in Peru, is not highly politicized, as it is in countries such as the United States and Australia. There is no major debate about the reality of climate change, the scientific evidence, or the need for political action and technological and policy innovations. This approach is also reflected in the media’s coverage of the issue. Peru’s media tend to focus on climate change mostly during key policy events. Among these major events was the capital city of Lima’s hosting in 2010 of the V meeting of Latin American, Caribbean, and European Union countries, where the main topics of discussion were climate change and poverty. In addition, Lima hosted the COP20, which preceded the Paris meeting in 2015 that led to a major global agreement. The media’s coverage of these events was intense. These were the exceptions: A good proportion of Peru’s newspaper coverage comes from international news wire agencies. Coverage from those sources focuses mostly on mitigation actions, instead of adaptation, which is more relevant to vulnerable countries such as Peru. This coverage is in line with the government’s view of mitigation as a business opportunity. There is, however, a lack of studies that explore, first, the factors that affect this coverage, and, second, the way other mediums such as television or radio cover the issue.
Strategic communication by governmental organizations, as well as accurate and fact-based media reporting about climate change, is necessary to better communicate the urgency and magnitude of the problem to the general public, grassroots organizations, industry, and international agencies, among others.
Anabela Carvalho and Ana Horta
In Portugal, global politics tend to dominate climate change communication. Policy-oriented news stories prevail, being very much influenced by international events, dynamics, and actors, especially European ones, whereas national politicians and officials tend to be given less space. Climate change is thus mainly (re)presented as a global issue, distant from local realities, in spite of the vulnerabilities that the country faces. National policy makers tend to adopt a technocratic discourse that comes across as “rational” and fairly optimistic, with little contestation by environmental groups or others. A “green economy” discourse has prevailed in the media, with investment on renewable energy being depicted as the way to both stimulating the economy and addressing climate change. Scientific knowledge tends to be represented as consensual and national scientists tend to avoid dramatization. Although public opinion surveys have shown that the population considers climate change a serious problem and skepticism regarding its anthropogenic causes is low, surveys have also revealed high levels of ignorance and self-evaluated lack of information. In spite of a traditionally weak environmental movement and lack of public engagement, the population has shown a consistent sense of collective responsibility to tackle climate change. The economic and financial crisis up until the mid-2010s considerably affected the already fragile media system and turned political and public attention to economy-related topics. News coverage of climate change, in all its complexity, has been constrained by a lack of specialized reporters and increased dependency on the pro-activity of news sources.
In the Russian case, climate change communication links to critical issues of domestic and foreign policy. Russia is one of the leaders in the global carbon market, but its outdated industrial sector needs modernization based on energy efficient technologies. Russia is an ambitious international player seeking high moral positions in addressing global problems such as climate change, but its growing isolation and authoritarianism strangle free public discussions about climate change on a national scale. This article reviews the development of climate change communication as practice and as a field of academic research in Russia. By outlining the relevant scholarly field, the article splits the discussion into two parts—the realities of communication in climate politics and environmental communication. The section on climate politics touches upon Russia’s climate policy, the development of environmental movement since the 1960s, and the question of indigenous peoples. The environmental communication section highlights historical and more recent roles of environmental journalism, points to a generally low volume of climate change coverage, and raises questions about the potential of alternative media. The article concludes that the Russian field of communication research focusing on climate change is growing, but needs a more systematic approach, international comparisons, and research designs that would include more types of empirical materials.
Shirley S. Ho and Agnes S. F. Chuah
Climate change is not a new topic, but it remains an unsolved issue for most countries in the world. Singapore, a small island nation, is not spared from climate change. The issue is worsened because Singapore is not endowed with natural resources and the country is mainly dependent on imported fossil fuels to generate energy. The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon into the air, intensifying the greenhouse effect. Furthermore, the recurring episodes of haze in Singapore have posed a threat to public health. Realizing the importance of public perceptions on climate change mitigation, the Singapore government and academic researchers have conducted studies to understand public perceptions of climate change. Although the general public do not have great concern about climate change, research suggests that interpersonal communication, information campaigns, and mass communication may have an impact on public awareness of climate change. Attention to mass media, such as newspapers and television, has been found to shape public perception of climate change in Singapore and increase public knowledge of climate change. In addition, the Singapore government has introduced the topic of climate change into the education system to cultivate sustainability among the young generations. Campaigns and programs were funded and organized by the Singapore government as well as the non-governmental organizations to raise the awareness of climate change among Singaporeans. In order to sustain public awareness and concern about climate change, continuous communication strategies are necessary.
Sei-Hill Kim, Myung-Hyun Kang, and Jeong-Heon Chang
Climate change is a significant issue in South Korea, and the news media are particularly important because they can play a central role in communicating information about climate change, a complex phenomenon on which the public in general lacks expert knowledge.
The amount of climate change coverage increased in South Korean newspapers until 2009 and started to decline thereafter. The increase seems to have been driven primarily by international news and domestic politics. Until 2007, the increase in news coverage—as well as its short-term peaks—coincided with major international events, such as the releases of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. After 2007, the amount was affected not only by international events but also by domestic politics, such as the Lee administration’s “Low Carbon, Green Growth” policy, which became an important part of the national agenda. In terms of the nature of news coverage, newspapers represented the perspectives of climate change believers for the most part, while it was relatively hard to find skeptics’ arguments. News stories relied heavily on such authoritative international figures as the IPCC for information, which often led to conclusions that climate change is real and that human activities are primarily responsible. There are also political reasons for this point of view. President Lee, and his successor, President Park, maintained strong and ambitious environmental policies. As an important part of the president’s agenda, these policies might have affected the nature of news coverage, setting the tone of news articles in favor of strong environmental regulations. Lack of scientific expertise among news writers seems to affect the nature of news coverage as well. The lack of expert knowledge has often resulted in heavy reliance on press releases, newsworthy events, and scandals, instead of providing in-depth analyses of scientific backgrounds in climate change reporting. Another consequence was a heavy reliance on international news. The largest number of climate change articles was found as part of international news, while such articles rarely appeared in the science sections.
María Carmen Erviti and Bienvenido León
It is not easy to determine the precise moment when climate change became a public communication issue in Spain. Among early references, the national newspaper El País published a story titled “World climate is going to change,” on November 17, 1976, and the term “global warming,” imported from the United States, appeared frequently in the media, from 1988 onward. However, academic research about communication of this important issue is relatively recent. A seminar held in 2005 warned that there were “no specific studies on the way the Spanish citizenry is facing the climate change threat” (II Seminario de Comunicación, Educación y Participación frente al Cambio Climático, Lekaroz, Navarra). This seminar precipitated the first study on public perception of climate change in Spain. According to more recent research, 90.1% of Spanish citizens are aware that climate change is happening, whereas only 4.6% are not. Historical records indicate that awareness has grown consistently in the early 21st century, with awareness levels that are similar to those of other countries. However, although there exists a strong consensus within the scientific community on the existence and the anthropogenic origin of climate change, polls indicate that only a small part of the Spanish population (39.0%) is aware of this agreement; a figure that is similar to that of other countries, such as the United States. In addition, two thirds of the Spanish population (64.4%) believe that climate change is mainly a consequence of human activities; a higher percentage than in other countries, like the United States. This ambivalent picture is not surprising, considering climate change is a marginal topic for mainstream Spanish media. According to a study conducted in 2005 and 2011, only 0.2% of all stories in the main national newspapers and 0.19% of national TV news focused on climate change, a lower percentage than in other countries. Media coverage of this issue has fluctuated since the 1990s, depending on several factors, like the existence of links to current affairs (such as international climate summits), notable report publications (from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and public engagement efforts (such as the Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth). As far as the quality of the coverage is concerned, research shows similar trends to those detected internationally, including politicization, superficiality, and catastrophism. However, compared to other countries, there is a lower representation of skeptic viewpoints in the Spanish media that may be related to a weaker public visibility of skeptic think tanks and personalities.
Academic interest in climate change communication has risen since 2010. Only four publications (books or articles) were released from 2001 to 2005, whereas more than 30 appeared in the period 2011–2015. Research has primarily focused on public perception and media coverage of climate change and has been conducted mainly by four universities (Universidad Complutense, Universidad de Málaga, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, and Universidad de Navarra). Communication actions related to climate change have been carried out by several nongovernmental organizations, often as part of international events and campaigns. In the early 21st century, national and regional public institutions have conducted several campaigns to communicate and raise climate change awareness, producing several exhibitions and publications, mainly on climate change mitigation.
Several forums have suggested that the current weaknesses could benefit from a closer relationship among the media and scientific institutions. This could contribute to provide more credible information on the reality of climate change, as well as the options for mitigation and adaptation. Future research could also address climate change coverage in online media and social networks, as well as reception studies, currently underrepresented in academic studies conducted in the country.
The contribution summarizes the topic of climate change communication in Switzerland. The development of the topic of “climate change” is described and located within the general area of environmental politics in Switzerland, based on the specifics of Switzerland as a small, federal state, and non-EU member with direct democratic political processes. Climate change communication then is analyzed based on the results of several content analyses, mostly of Swiss print media, which focus on intensity of coverage, topics, and media frames. In the last part, the perception of and attitudes towards environment and climate change are presented and compared to other countries, based on public opinion survey data.