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date: 21 September 2017

Climate Change Communication in Belgium

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Climate change communication in Belgium has experienced upward and downward cycles over the past three decades. During this period, the United Nations climate change process set the agenda and the terms of the debate. A broad social consensus has emerged amongst most political elites, business leaders, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), journalists, and academics about the importance of climate change action. However, disagreements still exist with respect to the choice of technologies, the importance of equity, the distribution of responsibilities, and the urgency of their timing and implementation. The few remaining skeptics are increasingly marginalized and form the exception to the rule of consent. This is also reflected in the findings of public opinion surveys, which show that the public is largely aware of the anthropogenic causes and negative consequences of climate change and is supportive of individual and political action.

A closer look at climate change communication and public outreach by governments, media, scientific institutes, and NGOs reveals an instrumental, top-down view of communication. These campaigns assume that the effective dissemination of climate science will convince people to support individual and political action against climate change. However, climate change communication efforts also increasingly aim to seduce people to adopt greener lifestyles by highlighting the co-benefits of such actions. Meanwhile, grassroots citizens’ initiatives increasingly adopt a conflict approach to mobilize citizens for alternative climate policies.

Research about climate change communication is sparse in Belgium. Media research about climate change emerged only very recently and examined the production, content, and consumption of representations of climate change in news media. These studies revealed that ideological differences can explain the differences in news coverage and that mainstream media can impede democratic debate between alternative interests and ideological standpoints. Alternative news media provide more space for ideologically pluralist debate by revealing the power relations, (conflicting) interests, and exclusions that shape climate discourse. This research has built further on the work of a school of Belgian authors, from a variety of academic disciplines, who problematize the depoliticization of mainstream discourse on climate change for impeding democratic debate between alternative political projects beyond the political-economic status quo.