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date: 21 June 2018

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Climate change, media coverage, social perception, voices, framing, education, campaigns

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