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Mikkel Fugl Eskjær
Most climate change scenarios indicate that Middle East and Arab countries will be adversely affected by increasing heat and reduced precipitation, adding further stress to an already vulnerable region, due to low levels of socio-ecological resilience, potential conflicts over natural resources (e.g., water), and almost chronic refugee and migration crises.
At the same time, Middle East and Arab countries cover a vast and diverse region characterized by stark variations in ecological footprints, natural resources, and political priorities. Included are the 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). The region is home to both highly affluent countries (e.g., the United Arab Emirates), as well as poor and conflict-ridden societies (Iraq, the Levant, Yemen). Accordingly, there are considerable differences in the region’s mitigation strategies and adaptive resources.
However, these regional variations are rarely reflected in the region’s climate change communication, which, with a few exceptions, tends to follow a similar communicative pattern marked by media institutional constraints and low editorial priority. This may also explain the relatively sparse research literature on climate change and environmental communication in Arab countries.
Decades-long 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 only exacerbates this tendency. In order to avoid crossing editorial red lines, climate change reporting is predominantly copied from international news agencies. Local reporting is sparse as it may easily touch on sensitive issues concerning inadequate local or national governance. As a consequence, climate change has traditionally been covered as foreign news, with a focus on international climate change negotiations, and hence, of limited relevance for a regional readership.
However, new information technology, and an increasing regional focus on raising awareness of climate change, points toward alternative channels of climate change communication in Middle East and Arab countries.
Rhian Salmon, Rebecca Priestley, Michele Fontana, and Taciano L. Milfont
Climate change communication in Aotearoa New Zealand occurs through multiple channels. This includes public communication by experts; formal and informal science-policy dialogues; and publication of popular books, documentaries, and media reports. There are, in addition, a wide array of climate change communication activities that are less well documented, such as those that utilize the educational 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, there is a wealth of data on public attitudes towards climate change over the past decade. Much of this information indicates that most New Zealanders currently 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 “climate skeptic” viewpoints. This latter perspective is, however, represented in other media such as opinion pieces in newspapers, blogs, popular books, and public lectures.
Climate change communication in Aotearoa New Zealand is shaped, to some degree, by the country’s small population. This leads both to opportunities, such as the relative ease of access to political decision makers, and to barriers, mostly related to limited resources for both New Zealand-specific research on climate change impacts and implications, and for national communication and public engagement on the topic.
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
Severely threatened by heat waves, droughts, fire hazards, water restrictions, coastal flooding, and climate-related impacts on the economy, among other socio-ecological disturbances, Portugal is an interesting case for the analysis of climate change communication.
In view of those risks, public debate and policy action towards adaptation are lacking. National climate policies have been formulated mostly in response to external impulses coming from the European Union membership. There has been almost no political conflict regarding climate change, and levels of skepticism regarding its anthropogenic causes are low.
Media coverage of climate change tends to focus on global political issues and international negotiations, relying heavily on political sources, the dominant—but quite mistrusted—voices in media discourses. National policy makers tend to adopt a technical discourse that comes across as “rational” and fairly optimistic, with little contestation by environmental groups or others. Climate change is thus mainly (re)presented as a global issue, distant from local realities, and scientists seem to avoid dramatizing its consequences for the country.
Climate change is closely tied to energy issues. In the 1990s, national governments initiated significant investments in renewable energy sources and publicly depicted climate change through a green economy discourse. Since then, the weight of wind power in energy generation has increased significantly, and its expansion has not faced major opposition. The mega-dams that are currently under construction and were also officially justified by climate change (as well as energy sovereignty), have encountered some civic resistance, but it is disproportional to the large environmental and landscape impacts the dams will cause.
Although public opinion surveys have shown that the population considers climate change a serious problem, surveys have also revealed levels of ignorance and self-evaluated lack of information among the Portuguese that are considerably higher than in other European countries. Behavioral commitment to address climate change is rather weak. Moreover, public participation is generally low in Portugal, and the environmental movement is traditionally weak. This particular set of conditions seems to contribute to low levels of awareness of the country’s vulnerability to climate change and a lack of effective measures to deal with its impacts, in spite of the fact that Portugal is included in a group of countries—the European Union—that is considered watchful, and a frontrunner regarding climate change.
Adam R. Pearson, Matthew T. Ballew, Sarah Naiman, and Jonathon P. Schuldt
Interest in the audience factors that shape the processing of climate change messaging has risen over the past decade, as evidenced by dozens of studies demonstrating message effects that are contingent on audiences’ political values, ideological worldviews, and cultural mindsets. Complementing these efforts is a growing interest in understanding the role of nonpartisan social factors—including racial and ethnic identities, social class, and gender—that have received comparably less attention but are critical for understanding how the challenges posed by climate change can be effectively communicated in pluralistic societies. Research and theory on the effects of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status (education and income), and gender on climate change perceptions suggest that each of these factors can independently and systematically shape people’s attitudes and beliefs about climate change, as well as both individual and collective motivations to address it. Moreover, the literature suggests that these factors often interact with political orientation (ideology and party affiliation) such that climate change beliefs and risk perceptions are typically more polarized for members of advantaged groups than disadvantaged groups. Notably, differential polarization in the perceived dangers posed by climate change has increased in some group dimensions (e.g., race and income) from 2000 to 2010. Groups for whom the issue of climate change may be less politically charged, such as racial and ethnic minorities and members of socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, thus represent critical audiences for bridging growing partisan divides and building policy consensus. Nevertheless, critical knowledge gaps remain. In particular, few studies have examined effects of race or ethnicity beyond the U.S. context or explored ways in which race, ethnicity, class, and gender may interact to influence climate change engagement. Increasing attention to these factors, as well as the role of diversity more generally in environmental communication, can enhance understanding of key barriers to broadening public participation in climate discourse and decision-making.
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.
Edson C. Tandoc Jr. and Nicholas Eng
While initial research on climate change communication focused on traditional media, such as news coverage of climate change and pro-environmental campaigns, scholars are increasingly focusing on the role of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Sina Weibo. Social media platforms provide a space for three important domains of climate change communication: information, discussion, and mobilization. First, social media platforms have been used by scientists, activists, journalists, and ordinary people to share and receive reports about climate change. Policymakers and academics also use social media for climate change research. Second, social media platforms provide users with a space to discuss climate change issues. Scientists and journalists use social media to interact with the public, who also use social media to criticize policies, as well as media coverage. Finally, social media platforms have been used to coordinate rescue and relief operations in the aftermath of climate change–related disasters, as well as to organize movements and campaigns about climate change. However, most research about climate change communication in social media spaces are based on quantitative analysis of tweets from Western countries. While this body of work has been illuminating, our understanding of social media’s increasingly important role in climate change communication will benefit from a more holistic research approach that explores social media use in climate change communication across a variety of platforms, cultures, and media systems.
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.