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date: 23 November 2017

Climate Change Communication in India

Summary and Keywords

Climate change communication is a relatively new area of research in India—a country that ranks high in vulnerability due to poverty, yet a major emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs). This article reviews climate change communication research in the country from the 1990s to the present. First, it provides a political economy framework to explore the issue of climate change communication amid environment and development debates in India. It shows that elite discourses of climate change have been shifting from externalizing the problem and solutions to a more recent co-benefits approach to address the twin challenges of climate change and economic development. Second, the article reviews research about media coverage and finds that although Indian media portrays climate change as real and human-caused and reports its severe impacts in India, it largely externalizes the problem, with slight changes in recent coverage highlighting domestic responsibility and equity. Third, reviewing studies on public awareness and understanding, it shows that while the Indian public is largely unaware of the term climate change, public opinion surveys and qualitative research indicate that Indians report experiencing changing weather conditions in their local area—an important lesson to communicating climate change in India. Finally, it explores future opportunities for climate change communication research in India.

Keywords: climate change, India, communication, media, media effects, public opinion, co-benefits, equity, vulnerability, development

India is considered one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, primarily because of its high incidence of poverty, illiteracy, and a large population involved in sustenance agriculture (e.g., Hijioka et al., 2014; NAPCC, 2008). About a quarter of Indians live below the poverty line (with income at about $1.25 per day), and India is home to 30% of the world’s poorest people (World Bank, 2015). Moreover, a large majority of the Indian public says that they know very little about the term climate change, which increases their vulnerability to a phenomenon that they may not understand or know how to respond to its impacts (e.g., Lee, Markowitz, Howe, Ko, & Leiserowitz, 2015; Leiserowitz & Thaker, 2012; Ray & Pugliese, 2010).

India, however, is the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, having tripled its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fuel combustion alone between 1990 and 2011, and its emissions are predicted to increase by almost 2.5 times between 2008 and 2035 (IEA, 2013). This projected increase in emissions has resulted in India becoming a key player in international negotiations on climate and facing increasing pressure from the rest of the world to reduce its emissions. However, while its national emissions are high, its per-capita emissions are low, with 300 million Indians still without access to electricity. Compared to the United States, with per-capita fossil fuel CO2 emissions of about 4.43 metric tons (mt) of carbon in 2014, and China’s 2.05 mt of carbon, India’s per-capita emissions are about 0.47 mt of carbon (Boden & Andres, 2017). Addressing the developmental demands of poor Indians remains a core strategy of the successive Indian governments. Because India is a high national emitter but a very low per-capita emitter, with several domestic developmental challenges, addressing climate change is a complex policy issue.

Elite Discourses on Climate Change in India

Climate change emerged as an important issue in India during its transition toward a market economy in the 1990s. After decades of having a government-controlled market system, India shifted toward a market economy due to domestic economic challenges. Due to changing economic conditions, and in part due to lack of domestic scientific capacity to study and understand climate change, the initial position of India was largely reactive (Biermann, 2001; Jakobsen, 1998; Jasanoff, 1993; Kandlikar & Sagar, 1999; Rajan, 1997). India’s position on climate change was primarily to externalize the problem and protect its right to economic development without committing to emission reductions. It strategically used a widely cited report by two prominent Indian environmentalists, Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain of the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), Global Warming in an Unequal World: A Case of Environmental Colonialism (Agarwal & Narain, 1991), to successfully articulate a per-capita framework of emission reduction targets. In response to a World Resources Institute report that branded India, along with other developing countries, as responsible for 50% of total emissions due to deforestation and methane emissions from rice fields and livestock, the CSE report reframed the climate change issue as environmental colonialism, making a distinction between the “luxury” emissions of the west and the “survival” emissions of the east (Agarwal & Narain, 1991, p. 3). Moreover, they argued that climate change has been primarily caused by the “historic” accumulated emissions of GHGs by developed countries, and not annual flows of emissions.

The CSE is considered a domestic environmental watchdog that has been critical of the Indian government’s domestic environment and development policies. Yet, the Indian government and CSE found a common platform to articulate a “developing countries” response to climate change. The CSE report thus helped to make the historical responsibility (accumulated carbon emissions) and equity (per-capita emissions) frames central to international negotiations (Jakobsen, 1998). For example, historical emissions/per-capita emissions and technology transfer were the two central points that the Indian government presented during the second Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) session held in Geneva, Switzerland, in June 1991 (Rajan, 1997). As several scholars note (e.g., Atteridge, Shrivastava, Pahuja, & Upadhyay, 2012; Dubash, 2013; Thaker & Leiserowitz, 2014), two environmental organizations, CSE and the Tata Energy Resources Institute (TERI), played an important role in setting the policy agenda for the Indian government, which largely remained intact until the late 2000s. This Indian policy position highlighted the importance of historic and per-capita emissions and made common but differentiated responsibility the foundation for any international agreement on climate change.

At the same time, scholars note that the Indian government’s position is shifting (e.g., Atteridge et al., 2012; Dubash, 2011; Michaelowa & Michaelowa, 2012). India unilaterally took a number of steps domestically to address environmental issues and played a prominent role in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings. For example, primarily driven by energy security concerns, India focused on developing renewable energy resources, including a recent Clean Energy Cess—a form of carbon tax on coal production to fund renewable energy projects (MOEF, 2010). Now renamed as Clean Environmental Cess, the tax on coal production has increased eightfold from 50 rupees per tonne in 2010 to 400 rupees per ton in 2016. While initially skeptical of market mechanisms to deal with the issue, India adopted the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and remains one of the largest CDM host countries, partly due to advocacy from Indian business groups that saw an opportunity to find global investments to take up mitigation so long as it was financially supported by developed countries (Dubash, 2013).

A major shift in this policy took place in 2007 with the establishment of the Prime Minister’s Council of Climate Change, with a focus on eight national missions, including sustainable agriculture, energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, sustaining Himalayan ecosystem, solar, water, and strategic knowledge missions (NAPCC, 2008; INCCA, 2010). The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) reframed the issue of climate change within the co-benefits paradigm: “The NAPCC identifies measures that promote our development objectives while also yielding co-benefits for addressing climate change effectively” (NAPCC, 2008, p. 2). To increase the domestic scientific capacity to understand the drivers and impacts of climate change, the Indian government instituted a network of scientists called the Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment (INCCA). Kandlikar and Sagar (1999) argue that although India had a large number of scientific institutions for a developing country, particularly in the area of climate research, they were not coordinated, resulting in large gaps as well as substantial overlap. This lack of domestic capacity hindered the participation of Indian experts in international assessments, which ultimately undermined the credibility, legitimacy, and usefulness of such assessments (Biermann, 2001). The capacity building in terms of INCCA is particularly important, as some scholars argue; for instance, “The North is in the process out to rewrite the intellectual and ideological terms of discourse of sustainable development in general and in specific areas such as climate change. The developing countries have, however, little by way of knowledge capacities to fall back on, in terms of alternate viewpoints and perspectives and detailed policy research based on them” (Jayaraman, Mittal, & Kohli, 2012, p. 12).

These proactive steps got a boost with the emergence of a vocal environmental minister, Jairam Ramesh, who highlighted that India must act more responsibly if it wants the world to take its international aspirations seriously. Just days prior to the important Conference of Parties (COP) 15 meeting in Copenhagen in 2009, India voluntarily offered to reduce its CO2 emission intensity of gross domestic product (GDP) by 20%–25% by 2020 compared to 2005 levels, following the targets announced by China to cut its emission intensity by 40%–45% below 2005 levels by 2020. At the COP 16 meeting in Cancun, Ramesh, then India’s minister for the environment and forests, stated that “all countries must take binding commitments in appropriate legal form” (PTI, 2010, para. 3). More recently, India ratified the Paris Agreement, pledging to lower its emissions intensity of GDP by 33%–35% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, to increase the share of nonfossil-based power generation to 40% by 2030, and to increase additional (cumulative) carbon sink of 2.5–3 GtCO2 through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

In India, the climate change policymaking process in particular, and policymaking in general, are closed-door affairs, with a few important elements—such as CSE, TERI, and some energy experts—playing an important role in the shaping of climate change policy (e.g., Jasanoff, 1993; Rajan, 1997). With the vulnerability of India becoming more apparent, and questions of domestic equity arising, there has been an emergence of a variety of discourses and actors in India.

Dubash (2013) has identified three distinct discourses of climate change in India. The first perspective, called growth-first realist, views climate change from an international relations (IR) perspective between countries rather than as a global environmental issue. The focus is on achieving rapid growth without any mitigation commitments that will hamper India’s developmental focus and strategy. The second, sustainable development perspective focuses on the co-benefits approach (similar to that of the Indian government) to sustainable development in the domestic policymaking process. However, this perspective remains skeptical of securing any international deal on climate change and subsequently calls to delink domestic action and global process. The third, sustainable development internationalistists seek to align domestic action with an urgent and effective global deal on climate change. Dubash (2013) argues that Indian climate politics largely rests with the second position, that of sustainable development realists.

A recent study evaluating the factors that affect the shifting discourses of climate change in India (Thaker & Leiserowitz, 2014) finds that the traditional national priorities of poverty alleviation and economic growth are key drivers of India’s emerging climate policy narrative. Increasing energy access and energy security in the context of climate change has constrained the nation’s energy policy options and has led to the Indian government increasing its efforts toward energy efficiency and investment in renewable energy resources. A second driving factor appears to be India’s international aspirations, particularly to have a permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. The third factor (with a relatively small impact), which may become more prominent in the future, refers to domestic vulnerability and calls for domestic equity to shape the politics of climate change in India (Adve, 2009, 2010; Raghunandan, 2011).

Media Coverage of Climate Change in India

India has a large and diverse media ecosystem. According to the Registrar of Newspapers for India, a government body, about 15,000 newspapers are registered in the country, with over 90,000 periodicals. The largest number of publications are in the Hindi language (42,493), followed by English (13,661). In 2015, the total circulation of publications exceeded 438 million copies per day, with over half of them in Hindi (52%), followed by other Indian languages (34%) and English (15%). The top seven most read newspapers are in Hindi and vernacular languages; the most-read English-language newspaper, The Times of India, with a readership of 7.6 million, is in eighth position. More than 168 million households have access to television, which has about 61% penetration in India. While just a third of rural households own a television set, 75% of urban households in India report owning one, according to the 2011 census. Similar to newspapers, the most preferred television channels broadcast in Hindi and vernacular languages, with English-language entertainment channels at only 0.9% and English-language news channels only 0.1% of viewership (Kumar, 2017). Just about 1% of rural households report owning a computer with Internet access, with over 8% of urban households reporting the same, according to the 2011 census.

Only a few studies have evaluated Indian media coverage of climate change, and most of these focus on English newspapers. Recent studies find that Indian media coverage of global warming has been low relative to other countries such as the United States and China, with a recent uptick after the 2009 Copenhagen conference (Nacu-Schmidt et al., 2017; Schäfer, Ivanova, & Schmidt, 2013). Billett (2010) analyzed four major English-language newspapers in the country, The Times of India, The Hindu, Hindustan Times, and The Indian Express, from January 2002 to June 2007, excluding editorials and opinion pieces; the study found that all 248 articles sampled reported global warming as real, and 98% of articles reported that it is primarily caused by human activity. He also reported that the articles were very critical of climate skeptics, highlighting that the U.S. media devoted space to airing such views. Overall, Billett (2010) reported that media coverage reports climate change as real and focused on the impacts in India.

Mittal (2012) analyzed three English-language newspapers—Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, and The Times of India—and their coverage of climate change between the February 2007 release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment report and the October 2007 award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC and Al Gore. She discussed the lack of skeptical or contrarian voices on the topic of climate change in the Indian media and reported that prominent frames of climate change in the Indian press are that it is a scientific certainty and an energy challenge, and emphasized themes of social progress, public accountability, and looming disaster. Jogesh (2012) evaluated English-language newspaper coverage in India from September 2009 to March 2010 and found that global politics dominated the coverage, with about 57% of articles focusing on international negotiations and less attention paid to domestic policies and policies (21%), the science of global warming (10%), and business (5%). Painter and Ashe (2012), evaluating the presence of climate skeptics in newspapers from different countries during the “Climategate” episode (hacked emails of climate scientists leaked online, which were then used by climate skeptics to argue for collusion among climate scientists) (November 19, 2009 to February 18, 2010), including two Indian newspapers (The Hindu and The Times of India) and found that compared to 34% of articles in the United States and 19% in the United Kingdom that contained skeptical voices, only 6% were published in the Indian newspapers.

Analyzing media attention to climate change in 27 countries, including two newspapers from India (again, The Hindu and The Times of India), Schmidt, Ivanova, and Schäfer (2013) found that it increased moderately, by a factor of 2.9 in India between 1997 and 2009, compared with a factor of 10.5 in Australia and 16.4 in Indonesia. Moreover, climate change accounted for only a little more than 0.28% of total media coverage in India, compared to 1.42% in Australia, 1.02% in Indonesia, 0.99% in the United Kingdom, and 0.67% in the United States. In addition, the study reported that media attention on climate change in India is mainly driven by the activities of environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international conferences of climate change. However, neither specific extreme events such as floods nor long-term temperature developments influenced media attention on climate change in India.

A few studies have analyzed Indian television coverage of climate change and found that the country’s major news channels largely ignored environmental issues and climate change. According to a series of studies by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS, 2014), between 2009 and 2014, environmental news comprised only 0.8% of all news content during prime time (7–11 p.m.) on five national English-language and Hindi-language television channels: DD News, Aaj Tak, CNN IBN, NDTV 24x7, Star News (now ABP News), and Zee News. In addition, the CMS report highlights that coverage of important international conferences on climate change, such as the Conference of Parties CBD COP 11 in Hyderabad (October 8–19, 2012), was largely absent. The national media did not cover the event, and the local media highlighted unimportant stories about security arrangements and city beautification instead of the context, issues, and consequences of the meeting.

James Painter (2010, 2014), analyzing prime time evening television news in India, found that important 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Reports, as well as 2013/2014 IPCC Fifth Assessment reports, were not covered at all on Aaj Tak, a 24-hour Hindi-language news channel. Even Times Now, the largest English-language news channel in India, did not include any of the IPCC reports in its prime time bulletins between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. Painter (2014, p. 11) argued that “the relentless drive of ‘infotainment’ in the highly competitive media market (where at the time there were 30 24/7 news channels) crowded out climate change issues in favour of sport, Bollywood, crime, and national or regional politics.”

Journalists’ Perceptions About Climate Change

Overall, Indian newspapers report that climate change is real and happening, with impacts located within the country. This accurate coverage of climate change in Indian newspapers aligns with Indian journalists’ beliefs about climate change. Billett (2010) interviewed 15 Indian journalists, finding all of them believed that climate change was a reality, that the impacts of climate change are already manifest in India, and that people in India are already suffering from climate impacts; 10 of them directly linked climate change with recent monsoon disruptions in India. On the other hand, Arul Aram (2011) interviewed 25 journalists covering climate change in India and found that they perceived climate change to be an abstract idea, not connected to everyday reality. Most of these journalists, according to Aram (2011), ignored climate change because they lacked the technical knowledge of and training on climate change and failed to link the politics and policies connected to climate change in India. He also reported that these journalists perceived that scientists do not communicate about climate change in a jargon-free language, which could make it difficult for them to cover the issue. In addition, low coverage of climate change in the Indian media has been attributed to lack of science journalists, lack of scientific and technical expertise among mainstream Indian journalists, and lack of belief among journalists that covering environmental and climate change news makes a difference to policymakers (Bhatta, 2013).

Although the Indian media presents global warming as real and portrays Indians as highly vulnerable to climate impacts, it externalizes the responsibility of action to alleviating climate change. The Indian media portrays climate change as an unfair burden upon India caused by industrialized Western countries, which should be primarily responsible for mitigating the problem and providing the necessary funds for adaptation. Global warming is framed along nationalistic lines, emphasizing global North-South differentiation of risk and responsibilities (Billett, 2010; Boykoff, 2010).

Evaluating media constructions around climate justice, Schmidt and Schäfer (2015) found that the media emphasizes economic and social development, framing GHG restrictions on developing countries such as India as a barrier to their economic development. Furthermore, they highlight the low per-capita emissions of Indians as an argument for the need to prioritize economic growth, which will result in higher emissions, at least in the short term. Moreover, the debate on domestic equity—between the emissions of rich and poor Indians—and India’s responsibility as the third-largest emitter were largely neglected in the Indian media. Jogesh (2012), however, highlights that the nationalistic narrative has slightly decreased in recent years, with more calls for unilateral mitigation and adaptation actions by India. This shift appears to be in alignment with the shifting policy positions on climate change by the Indian government.

Public Perceptions of Climate Change in India

Less scholarly attention has been devoted to analyzing Indians’ beliefs, attitudes, and policy preferences on climate change. Ethnographic and qualitative research approaches to understand public perceptions about climate change, however, provide important insights into understanding how Indians perceive and react to climate change.

According to a Gallup survey conducted shortly before the 2009 Copenhagen summit, only 32% said that they knew at least something about climate, which was similar to awareness levels in 2007 (34%) and 2008 (37%) (Ray & Pugliese, 2010). A slightly higher proportion of respondents in urban India (41%) said that they knew at least something about climate change, compared to 28% of respondents in rural India, but as a majority of Indians live in rural areas, this is a significant result in terms of the entire country. Moreover, Indians who are aware of climate change are divided on who should reduce emissions first: 13% of respondents in the 2009 survey said that developed countries should reduce their emissions first, while 14% say that fast-growing economies such as China, India, and Brazil should do so, and 44% say that both types of countries should reduce their emissions at the same time (29% respondents said “don’t know,” “none,” or refused to answer). Indians are divided on whether the government is doing enough (42%) or not (40%) to reduce emissions of gases released by motor vehicles and factories.

In a national sample survey of Indians conducted in 2012, only 7% of the respondents said that they knew a lot about global warming, while 41% of respondents had either never heard of the term or did not know what it meant (Leiserowitz & Thaker, 2012). When provided with a short definition of global warming, however, 72% of respondents said that they believed it was happening. Over half the respondents said that global warming is caused mostly by human activities, while 31% said that it is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment. Half of the respondents said that they had personally experienced the effects of global warming, reported a higher degree of worry, and believed that global warming will harm future generations (67%), plant and animal species (67%), people in India (66%), people in their own community (62%), and themselves and their own family (57%). Moreover, a majority of respondents reported experiencing changes in the local weather patterns in the past 10 years. For example, while 46% of respondents said that the amount of rainfall was decreasing in their local area, 34% reported increasing rainfall patterns. Further, a recent analysis of people’s perceptions of rainfall patterns shows that instrumental records of rainfall patterns are strongly correlated with people’s perceptions of these patterns, indicating that Indians’ perceptions largely align with recorded data (Howe, Thaker, & Leiserowitz, 2014).

More than half of the respondents (54%) said that hot days have become more frequent in their local area, 21% said that severe storms and droughts have become more frequent, and 38% said that monsoons—the annual rainfall season in India—have become more unpredictable. In other words, while a majority of Indians are unfamiliar with the terms climate change and global warming, their experiences with weather events and environmental changes appear to align with their lived experiences. Climate change communication that connects Indians’ experiences about changing weather patterns most likely will help them understand and respond to climate change.

Indians support a variety of actions related to climate change, including a national program to teach them about climate change (70%), encouraging local communities to adapt (67%), encouraging drivers to waste less fuel by increasing the price of petrol and gas (65%), encouraging households and industry to waste less water by increasing the price of water (54%), and other measures. Over half of the respondents (54%) said that India should be making large or moderate efforts to reduce global warming, even if it has large or moderate economic costs, and 38% said that India should reduce its own emissions of the gases that cause global warming immediately, without waiting for other countries.

A few studies have evaluated the factors that affect awareness of climate change among Indians. Thaker, Zhao, and Leiserowitz (2017) found that television watching was positively associated with risk perception about climate change, but Internet use was negatively associated, while newspaper reading had no association with risk perception. Similarly, television watching was positively associated with policy support, while Internet use was negatively associated, and newspaper reading was unrelated to policy support. Attention to news about world affairs was positively associated with risk perception, and attention to news about world affairs and environmental issues was positively associated with policy support. Scientists are the most trusted sources of information about global warming, followed by family and friends, environmental organizations, and news media. Trust in scientists was associated with science-based global warming beliefs, and trust in scientists and in environmental organizations was positively associated with risk perception and policy support. More scholarly attention on factors that shape Indians’ awareness of and engagement with climate change likely will help the government and other environmental organizations to better reach their target audiences.

Another study identified six distinct segments of Indians concerning the issue of climate change (Leiserowitz, Thaker, Feinberg, & Cooper, 2013). The Informed (19%) are the most aware and convinced of the reality and danger of climate change and highly supportive of national actions to mitigate the threat. The Informed come from a rich, educated, and higher social and economic status demographic. The Experienced (24%) form the largest segment among the six segments. The Experienced say that they know less about climate change but are convinced that it is happening and a serious problem, in part because they say that they have personally experienced the impacts more than any other group. The demographic profile of the Experienced is that they come from a low economic background, with over half being from lower socioeconomic status, or castes. They are the most religious of the groups, with over half of the demographic participating in religious activities every day.

The Undecided (15%) say that they know at least something about global warming, and when provided a short definition, agree that it is happening. However, they are most likely to say that global warming is caused mostly by natural changes in the atmosphere. The Undecided are more likely to be middle-class men, with salaried jobs and postgraduate degrees. Two other Indias—the Unconcerned (15%) and the Indifferent (11%)—represent different stages of understanding of and concern about the problem.

The final India—the Disengaged (16%)—have never heard of climate change and have no opinion about it, even when it is described. The group is made disproportionally of females from rural areas, with little to no education, and from the lower socioeconomic strata of Indian society. Given their socioeconomic background, as well as their lack of awareness of and responses to climate change, the Disengaged appear to be the most vulnerable group to climate change impacts.

Compared to national sample surveys, there are more ethnographic and qualitative studies on climate change, particularly among farmers. Vedwan and Rhoades (2001) found that farmers’ perceptions of weather changes largely align with the instrumental record and that farmers’ perceptions are shaped by their experiences with weather patterns and its impacts on crop yields in the Western Himalaya region. Moreover, they found that farmers describe climate change as a displacement of weather cycles. Dhanya and Ramachandran (2016), using focus groups and interviews in a semiarid region in South India, found that farmers’ perceptions about climate variability and change align with the observed trends of climate data in the local area, except for perceptions of rainfall patterns, probably because, the authors argue, the farmers were more concerned with rainfall at the onset of sowing season rather than annual rainfall patterns. They reported that farmers were worried that they could lose their traditional varieties of seeds due to intermittent dry spells after germination and transplanting.

In a study conducted in Western India, Moghariya and Smardon (2014) found that a majority of rural people had not heard about the scientific theories of global climate change, yet they believe that their climate has changed and conceive a variety of causes and solutions of climate change that may be at odds with scientific knowledge. More than 97% of the respondents believed that human activities, including industry and transportation, are responsible for changes in climate. Respondents associated decrease in milk production, increased incidences of conditions such as misconception and difficulty in delivery, and decreased food intake in cattle with changes in the local climate. A majority of respondents attributed increased incidences of heart attack, cancer, and skin diseases in humans to climate change.

Macchi, Gurung, and Hoermann (2015) found that water scarcity, unpredictable weather events, and increasing crop pests were identified as affected by climate variablity and change. Increasing water scarcity and erratic rainfall events, as well as increases in crop pests and disease, have had negative repercussions on yields, exacerbating already existing food, water, and income insecurity. The study also stated that vulnerability varies among different social groups and many of the most vulnerable groups, specifically the poor, lower-caste families, women, and other marginalized groups, may not have the necessary resources to mitigate climate risk. Sharma and Shrestha (2016) interviewed 228 households in 12 villages in Sikkim, in the Himalayan region, and found that 89.04% of the respondents perceived an increase in temperature compared to a decade earlier. The majority of the respondents (60%) believe that rainfall had declined compared to 10 years before, 89% perceived that winters were getting warmer year after year, 57% suggested that mosquitoes were prevalent even during the winter months, 78% said that the spring season had changed, 86% believed that water springs were drying up rapidly, 88% agreed that there was a change or shift in the spring-water recharge concept, and 86% witnessed a decrease in crop yields compared to the past 10 years. They found that the observed climate change was consistent with the people’s perceptions. Halder, Sharma, and Alam (2012), using participatory rural appraisal methods to collect data, found that the present climate crisis not only brings new survival challenges, but is also amplifying the existing livelihood challenges of the poor and marginalized communities in India. They identified that much of the present vulnerabilities of those local communities have links with the historic socioeconomic changes that took place in their settlements due to various developmental projects. Moreover, since those communities were already worse off due to those historic changes, the present climatic conditions are worsening their already vulnerable conditions rapidly.

These qualitative studies highlight the important findings consistent with the large-scale survey data—namely, that a majority of Indians report perceiving changes in their local weather patterns that are largely consistent with the instrumental record. In particular, farmers, whose livelihood is directly dependent on weather patterns and cycles, report experiencing changes in local weather patterns and perceiving themselves to be at risk from local climatic changes. A similar finding was also reported by Howe et al. (2014)—specifically, that rural residents were more sensitive to local precipitation changes than urban residents. While a majority of Indians perceive changes in the atmosphere, they attribute the changes to a range of causes, which may not be scientifically appropriate. These findings highlight the role of communication in helping Indians understand the appropriate causes and consequences of, and ways to mitigate and adapt to, climate change.

Future Research

In spite of India’s high vulnerability among its largely unaware population, as well as its importance in global climate change negotiations as a leading GHG emitter, it is surprising that few studies have focused on climate change communication in India, particularly on efforts to help Indians learn about and engage with the issue. On the one hand, a number of studies have analyzed the English-language print media in the country, and there have been a few studies on television coverage as well, and this research has provided important data. The most important findings are that the Indian press coverage accurately portrayed the science of climate change (Billett, 2010; Mittal, 2012; Painter, 2010; Painter & Ashe, 2012), and the amount of coverage is increasing (Schmidt et al., 2013), yet it is largely driven by environmental organizations and international negotiations (Schäfer et al., 2013). Further, while prior studies indicated that Indian media portrays climate change along the nationalistic postcolonial lines of internalizing risk and externalizing responsibility (Billett, 2010), there are some indications that as Indians’ vulnerability increases, issues of domestic equity may play a important role in the shift in framing of climate change (Dubash, 2013; Jogesh, 2012; Thaker & Leiserowitz, 2012). Increased domestic scientific capacity to understand the drivers and impacts of climate change will likely help increase media coverage of climate change in India.

On the other hand, however, there is a large gap in analyzing regional press coverage of climate change. Understanding how the regional press covers climate change is particularly important and urgent, given that a majority of viewers of press and television media speak Hindi and other Indian languages. Equally important is to understand how television—the most accessed medium—covers climate change and environmental issues. Finally, scholarship should also account for how new media covers and helps to communicate about climate change in India, given that at least one study reported a negative association between Internet use and climate change risk perception and policy support (Thaker, Zhao, & Leiserowitz, 2017).

Most Indians are unaware of the scientific terms climate change and global warming. Yet a majority of Indians also report experiencing changes in their local weather patterns that are largely consistent with recorded climate change patterns. Therefore, it is important to test the efficacy of communications on climate change that align with people’s experiences of it. While the number of scientific analyses of climate change in India appears to be increasing, a lack of public understanding and awareness is likely to result in low demand for government action on climate change in a democracy. At the same time, studies evaluating how Indian businesses communicate about climate change are lacking, which can provide an important impetus to understand the drivers of change in expanding business areas.

It appears that research in communication specifically, as well as in the broader area of social sciences, is not commensurate with either the vulnerability or the magnitude of challenges that India faces due to climate change. More research is needed to underscore the important factors that drive public knowledge and engagement with climate change in India, which could be helpful for the government and other organizations. Similar research on subsidiary fields, such as communications on energy efficiency, renewable energy uptake, and green buildings, are likely to be beneficial as India continues to find ways to develop and lift its population out of poverty without going through the same high-emissions path as developed countries.


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