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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 Russia is one of the leaders in the global carbon market, but its outdated industrial sector needs modernization based on energy efficient technologies.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.
Art Dewulf, Daan Boezeman, and Martinus Vink
Climate change communication in the Netherlands started in the 1950s, but it was not until the late 1970s that the issue earned a place on the public agenda, as an aspect of the energy problem, and in the shadow of controversy about nuclear energy. Driven largely by scientific reports and political initiatives, the first climate change wave can be observed in the period from 1987 to 1989, as part of a broader environmental consciousness wave. The Netherlands took an active role in international climate change initiatives at the time but struggled to achieve domestic emission reductions throughout the 1990s. The political turmoil in the early 2000s dominated Dutch public debate, until An Inconvenient Truth triggered the second climate change wave in 2006–2007, generating peak media attention and broad societal activity. The combination of COP15 and Climategate in late 2009 marked a turning point in Dutch climate change communication, with online communication and climate-sceptic voices gaining much more prominence. Climate change mitigation was pushed down on the societal and political agenda in the 2010s. Climate change adaptation had received much attention during the second climate change wave and had been firmly institutionalized with respect to flood defense and other water management issues. By 2015 a landmark climate change court case and the Paris Agreement at COP21 were fueling climate change communication once again.
Mehmet Ali Uzelgun and Ümit Şahin
The case of Turkey provides some insight into the socio-political and communicative processes taking place at the periphery of global climate governance efforts. Turkey’s 12-year delayed entry into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change regime (in 2004) and its being one of the last signatories to the Kyoto Protocol (in 2009) has hampered climate-relevant efforts in the country in many ways. This includes institutionalization at national and local levels, the development of relevant national policies, and communication activities.
Climate change communication activities in Turkey can be divided into two major categories: the earlier advocacy activities, and the period of mass communication. The earlier activist or advocacy group communication efforts began around 2000, and have contributed significantly to mainstreaming climate change. Paralleling the government’s position towards the issue in many ways, the national-level media activities have remained nominal until 2007, when escalating local weather extremes were widely associated with climate change.
Research in climate change communication in Turkey commenced only recently. Although the studies are limited both in scope and quantity, existing evidence suggests that 2007 was crucial in setting the terms of the debate in the country. Mobilizations at both international and national levels in 2009 made that year another landmark for climate change communication and policy in Turkey. International organizations and governance agencies have also taken active roles in both communication and research activities, and in the translation of governance tools developed at the international level to the national level.
A review of the above-mentioned efforts suggests that a bottom-up direction of climate change communication efforts, and a minority-influence framework—in which minor advocacy and expert groups are supported by global policy norms and scientific knowledge in taking the issue to the national agenda—may be useful in understanding the dynamics taking place in industrializing countries such as Turkey.
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.
Joseph E. Uscinski, Karen Douglas, and Stephan Lewandowsky
An overwhelming percentage of climate scientists agree that human activity is causing the global climate to change in ways that will have deleterious consequences both for the environment and for humankind. While scientists have alerted both the public and policy makers to the dangers of continuing or increasing the current rate of carbon emission, policy proposals intended to curb carbon emission and thereby mitigate climate change have been resisted by a notable segment of the public. Some of this resistance comes from those not wanting to incur costs or change energy sources (i.e., the carbon-based energy industry). Others oppose policies intended to address climate change for ideological reasons (i.e., they are opposed to the collectivist nature of the solutions usually proposed). But perhaps the most alarming and visible are those who oppose solutions to climate change because they believe, or at least claim to believe, that anthropogenic climate change is not really happening and that climate scientists are lying and their data is fake.
Resistance, in this latter case, sometimes referred to as climate “skepticism” or “denialism,” varies from region to region in strength but worldwide has been a prominent part of a political force strong enough to preclude both domestic and global policy makers from making binding efforts to avert the further effects of anthropogenic climate change. For example, a 2013 poll in the United States showed that almost 40% believed that climate change was a hoax.
Climate skeptics suggest the well-publicized consensus is either manufactured or illusory and that some nefarious force—be it the United Nations, liberals, communists, or authoritarians—want to use climate change as a cover for exerting massive new controls over the populace. This conspiracy-laden rhetoric—if followed to its logical conclusion—expresses a rejection of scientific methods, scientists, and the role that science plays in society.
Skeptic rhetoric, on one hand, may suggest that climate skepticism is psychological and the product of underlying conspiratorial thinking, rather than cognitive and the product of a careful weighing of scientific evidence. On the other hand, it may be that skeptics do not harbor underlying conspiratorial thinking, but rather express their opposition to policy solutions in conspiratorial terms because that is the only available strategy when arguing against an accepted scientific consensus. This tactic of calling into question the integrity of science has been used in other scientific debates (i.e., the link between cigarette smoking and cancer).
Opinion surveys, however, support the view that climate change denialism is driven at least partially by underlying conspiratorial thinking. Belief in climate change conspiracy theories also appear to drive behaviors in ways consistent with the behaviors of people who think in conspiratorial terms: Climate change conspiracy theorists are less likely to participate politically or take actions that could alleviate their carbon footprint. Furthermore, some climate skeptics reject studies showing that their skepticism is partially a product of conspiratorial thinking: They believe such studies are themselves part of the conspiracy.