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date: 21 February 2018

Climate Change Communication in Peru

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: climate change, government, news media, Peru

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 (Chevallier, Pouyaud, Suarez, & Condom, 2011; ¿El Fin de las Cumbres Nevadas? Glaciares y Cambio Climático en la Comunidad Andina, 2007). This diverse geography also includes arid coastal areas that depend on those glaciers as its water source. Peru’s economy is based on its abundant natural resources, with various episodes of boom and bust in the last few decades. These periods include a booming fisheries industry during the second half of the 20th century (Aranda, 2009) and an important mining industry (Triscritti, 2013). Peru is among the top producers of gold, silver, copper, and zinc (Bridge, 2004; Bury, 2005). It is also among the most susceptible and vulnerable countries to natural disasters in Latin America (Carey, 2005; Latrubesse, 2009). This reliance on natural resources and the fragility of these ecosystems also make the country highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Tropical glaciers have been retreating at an alarming rate (Bury et al., 2011), with estimates suggesting that more than 20% has been lost from the early 1980s to 2010 (Clements & Torres, 2012). This has dramatic effects on water supplies for industrial agriculture, local farming (Chevallier et al., 2011; Clements & Torres, 2012), and human consumption (Buytaert & De Bièvre, 2012). Also, the Amazon rainforest is a fragile ecosystem and susceptible to minor climatic changes (Schaeffer, Szklo, Frossard Pereira De Lucena, Soria, & Chavez-Rodriguez, 2013). Approximately 50% of greenhouse gas emissions in the country are from converting forests into agriculture and pasture lands within the Amazon region (Robiglio, Armas, Silva Aguad, & White, 2014).

Climate change has also been closely linked to health problems. Some studies have reported an increasing trend of infectious diseases such as dengue, malaria, and diarrhea (Brondízio, Lima, Schramski, & Adams, 2016; Hofmeijer et al., 2013), especially among vulnerable populations in low-income countries due to warmer temperatures (Epstein, 2001; Haines, Kovats, Campbell-Lendrum, & Corvalan, 2006). These health effects have been associated with changes in seasonal weather patterns due to climate phenomena such as El Niño (Hales, Kovats, & Woodward, 2000), which have started to affect livelihoods and access to water resources in various countries (see, e.g., Bury et al., 2011; Clements & Torres, 2012). Peru is highly vulnerable to episodes of El Niño, the climate process that warms the equatorial Pacific region and that has been responsible for catastrophic precipitation and flooding in the northern coast of the country. The El Niño in 1997 resulted in millions of dollars in infrastructure damage and lost crop production (Bayer et al., 2014; Glantz, 2001). Although the relationship between climate change and El Niño is still under scientific scrutiny, it is possible that El Niño impacts in coastal Peru could increase in intensity (Pachauri & Meyer, 2014).

Governmental and nongovernmental actors in Peru have not ignored these current and future impacts. The Peruvian government has been actively involved in international negotiations and projects, both within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and with regional country partners. These activities are aimed at the development and implementation of action plans to mitigate the causes of the problem and to adapt to both the present and future impacts of climate change. In addition, several bilateral agreements have been signed, such as those with Germany’s Development Cooperation Agency (GIZ) which has supported the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment (MINAM), and with the Netherlands through its support to various projects related to climate change. These policy efforts require the development of communication strategies that include collaboration with stakeholders, such as the news media and nongovernmental organizations.

Presented here is an overview of Peru’s main communication efforts. Climate change is discussed in relation to the main policy developments at the national level. Also presented is an overview of how various key stakeholders within political and public arenas, including the news media, governmental organizations, and nongovernmental organizations, communicate climate change and its related causes and impacts in Peru. Current communication practices both internally within the country, and externally in international arenas are covered. Because of the extensive efforts being made at local, regional, national, and international levels and because of space limitations, only some of these prominent efforts are examined. Also explored is relevant research in the fields of journalism, mass communication, and policy studies, among others, on climate change in Peru and Latin America that are relevant to future studies, as examined in the section Research Gaps and Challenges. As a caveat, research on climate change communication in Peru is extremely limited. Therefore, the information presented here is also based on the personal experiences of the co-authors.

Climate Change Policy Developments in Peru

This review of climate change policy developments in Peru, related to climate change since the early 1990s, provides the backdrop to the country’s communication efforts.

Climate change first became part of Peru’s political agenda during the early 1990s, in part thanks to the work by some international organizations. First, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and later the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI)—the latter with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation— served as main sources of information for local efforts. The initial discussions in Peru followed these international efforts. Subsequently, the discussions followed their own path, though always dependent on the international trends. This international influence is not unique to climate change. Lanegra (2008) explains that global actors and the marketplace have historically influenced and shaped environmental institutions in Peru. Other governmental institutions and civil society groups play a much more limited role.

IAI pushed climate change into the agenda of Latin American and Caribbean countries, and in 1992, it formalized its composition with twelve countries, including Peru, with the Declaration of Montevideo. The main objective of this first declaration was “to develop the best possible international coordination of scientific and economic research on the extent, causes, and consequences of global change in the Americas” (Agreement establishing the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research. Legal document signed the 13 day of May, 1992 in English, French, Portuguese and 13 day of May, 1992, 1992). However, the Peruvian government’s lack of institutional capacity presented a barrier for IAI, which led a group of professionals to form a private group called the Peruvian Committee for Climate Change (Comité Peruano del Cambio Climático [COPECAM]). These processes served as short-term fixes but neglected the institutional capacity building needed for long-term policy decision making.

In 1993, one year after signing the UNFCCC, Peru established the National Climate Change Commission. In 1994, the government created the National Environmental Council (Consejo Nacional del Ambiente [CONAM]), a dependency of the Presidency of the Council of Ministries. CONAM quickly absorbed COPECAM’s functions. CONAM, however, had limited political power, resources, and capabilities to regulate environmental matters around the country (Lanegra Quispe, 2008). Between 2002 and 2005, CONAM developed the Programme for Strengthening National Capacity to Manage the Impact of Climate Change and Air Pollution (Programa de Fortalecimiento de Capacidades Nacionales para manejar el Impacto del Cambio Climático y la Contaminación del Aire). This program was funded by the Royal Dutch Embassy and was the first major national climate change initiative of its kind. In 2002, the Organic Law of Regional Governance (Law no. 27867) decentralized environmental regulations and required all regions to formulate a Regional Climate Change Strategy covering both adaptation and mitigation. The first National Climate Change Strategy came into force in 2003 and was revised in 2014. Major forest-related programs and policy developments, such as the National Forest Conservation Program for the Mitigation of Climate Change (PNCBMCC), were also implemented.

The Ministry of the Environment (Ministerio del Ambiente) was created in 2008 over the structure of CONAM, with the goal of developing a stronger institutional structure to regulate environmental affairs (Takahashi & Meisner, 2012). To specifically target climate change issues, the General Office of Climate Change, Desertification, and Hydric Resources (Dirección General de Cambio Climático, Desertificación y Recursos Hídricos) was created within MINAM. The ministry recognizes the lack of financial and technological resources to face climate change, which requires prioritizing the issue in the political agenda. In 2015, the government created the National Institute for the Study of Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (Instituto Nacional de Investigación de Glaciares y Ecosistema de Montaña), because of the concern about the rapidly melting tropical glaciers due to climate change.

The 20th UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP20) hosted by Peru in 2014 is the key policy event in the history of climate change communication in Peru. Only the second Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting in Latin America (after Cancún in 2010), the conference allowed the government to showcase the work being done in the country and to place on the global political agenda issues of import to the country and the Latin American region. Peru saw the COP20 meeting as an opportunity to highlight the issue of climate change in the country.

While national efforts have focused on the issue of mitigation, many initiatives related to adaptation cannot be overlooked. These include the aforementioned PROCLIM (National Capacity-Building Programs for Managing the Impact of Climate Change and Air Pollution), developed between 2003 and 2005 through the Sustainable Rural Development Program that concluded in 2013 and that had in its Natural Resources Management and Biodiversity component a line of work on measures to adapt to climate change; projects supported by different ministries such as MINAM, the Ministry of Housing, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, institutions such as the Peruvian Society of Environmental Law (SPDA), agencies such as GIZ and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and the Program for Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC Peru), whose second phase culminated in December 2016, with important advances in the regions of Cusco and Apurimac in the southern part of the country.

This early involvement of organizations influenced the initial strong emphasis on mitigation activities, despite recognition of the need for adaptation, and some important local advances in this issue. Governmental actors, including those who have led MINAM, perceive mitigation as an opportunity to obtain funding. From a communication standpoint, mitigation is a broader concept that everyone can engage with (e.g., any individual can change his habits, such as transportation options, energy conservation, and recycling), and much communication focuses on that potential for participation (e.g., the Earth Hour). On the other hand, adaptation initiatives are much more geographically focused and mostly linked to vulnerable populations.

This emphasis also drives the communication efforts toward mitigation. This is particularly salient in the context of forest conservation,1 where several national strategies have been geared toward payments for ecological services such as the UN’s REDD program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).

Examples of Public Communication Campaigns

Peruvian governmental organizations, as well as international organizations, recognize the importance and challenges of communicating climate change in the country. For example, a USAID report on climate change in Peru stated the following: “One major challenge is the collection of weather and hydrological data and the communication of accurate information to the public” (Stark, Guillén, & Brady, 2012, p. 4). The report further recommends collaboration with other organizations and donors to disseminate scientific knowledge, especially in the Peruvian Andes. In addition, the report asks for increased awareness and dissemination of research findings by the Andean Community (CAN), the Instituto de Promoción para la Gestión del Agua (IPROGA), the Pontificia Universidad Católica (PUCP), and the Universidad Nacional Santiago Antunez de Mayolo (UNASAM). Finally, it suggests that USAID sponsor training for journalists on the current state of knowledge about climate change, with an emphasis on linkages to conflicts. The focus of these recommendations is on awareness and dissemination, with no mention of behavioral changes. This kind of emphasis appears to be common among communication efforts by most stakeholders.

Governmental Organizations

The first national communication campaigns developed by the Peruvian government were linked to the PROCLIM project (2002–2005). These campaigns were specific in their geographic scope, which fitted the scope of the larger project. The campaigns were implemented in two regions: the Mantaro Valley, in the central Andes, and Piura, in the northern coastal region of the country. In both places, the campaigns used an intrigue framework to attract people’s attention. The campaigns used radio and newspapers as their main communication channels. Each campaign revolved around the following slogans: “The climate is changing … so should we” (El clima está cambiando, nostros también deberíamos, in Piura) and “Who will handle this hot potato?” (Quién agarra esta papa que quema?, in Mantaro Valley) (Let’s Get Started: Climate Change in Sustainable Development in Peru). The campaigns targeted both a broad general audience and institutions involved in climate change activities. No evaluation data were found to determine the extent to which the campaigns achieved their awareness or behavioral objectives.

After the culmination of these campaigns, key personnel from PROCLIM and CONAM realized the importance of strategic communication in climate change initiatives.2 This led, in 2007 (with knowledge that CONAM would be absorbed by MINAM) to the creation of the communication consulting group, Libélula (firefly in English). Since then, Libélula has been strongly connected to the work done by MINAM, in many cases doing consulting work for the collection of data, and to the development of awareness and communication campaigns. Libélula has positioned itself as a leader in this area by focusing exclusively on environmental issues, particularly climate change.

Since the creation of the Ministry of the Environment in 2008 (Takahashi & Meisner, 2012), governmental attention to the issue has been channeled through this institution. The ministry has partnered with various institutions to develop communication campaigns that seek to raise awareness and, hopefully, change behaviors related to climate change. In 2014, MINAM, along with organizations such as the Municipality of Lima, the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law, AVINA, and ECODES, unveiled the campaign Pon de tu parte. The campaign targets the general population, with the goal of promoting specific individual commitments, such as water and energy conservation.

MINAM also partnered with the Swiss Embassy and the Press and Society Institute to develop a climate change communication competition called Historias del cambio climático (Stories of climate change). The goal was to promote climate change coverage by the media and bloggers, and climate change communication campaigns. Unfortunately, these types of initiatives are short-lived and lack continuity due to lack of funding.

Various stakeholders involved in climate change issues, including government officials and the news media, have amplified the perceived risks to fragile ecosystems and populations associated with climate change. Among their arguments are the fact that a majority of the population live in arid, semiarid, and subhumid areas, and that the sources of water (such as the glaciers) are retreating. Moreover, this same population is involved with agriculture, fishing, and other economic activities that are dependent on the climate, which threatens their livelihoods. For example, in the early 2000s, the director of PROCLIM began to communicate through the media that the Tyndall Center had published a report that ranked Peru as the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change, behind only Honduras and Bangladesh (see, Cigarán, 2004). However, the report referred by the director does not include this statement (Brooks & Adger, 2003). Nevertheless, this served as a perfect news hook for the media that since 2004 has been repeated, and continues to be so, but without referring to the original source (e.g., see“Perú es tercer país más vulnerable del mundo al cambio climático,” 2014).

Although communication efforts at the governmental level have matured since the first efforts were made in the early 2000s, some of the same challenges remain. First, national communication campaigns are complex and achieve little considering the amount of resources needed. Second, most of the efforts have been centralized in Lima, possibly owing to a lack of human resources and funding to develop more focused campaigns at the local or regional levels. This is a historical problem in a country that has suffered from political and economic centralization in Lima (Alcalde, 2004; Kim, 1992).

Nongovernmental Organizations and Citizens’ Groups

Peruvian civil society groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have also developed climate change communication campaigns, although they are more modest in scope than the governmental campaigns described earlier. In addition, their ability to influence policy decision making or to mobilize the public or private sectors has been limited; with only a handful of environmental nongovernmental organizations (ENGOs) having the capacity (i.e., resources, political leverage, know-how) to do so. Among them, the Peruvian Society of Environmental Law (Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental has played the most important role. One reason for its prominence has to do with the organization’s history, but another important factor is that the minister of the environment and then head of the COP20 meeting in Lima, Manuel Pulgar Vidal, was the executive director of the SPDA. This reflects the characteristics and relevance of the individuals within this particular organization.

Part of the problem appears to be related to public perceptions of ENGOs. Overall, Peruvians have a mostly positive view of NGOs (Encuesta de opinión pública acerca de las ONG en el Perú, 2015), but these organizations have been active and regularly visible in protesting large mining operations. And as described earlier, mining has been the main economic sector for the country in recent decades, which puts the discourses of development and conservation at odds (Damonde, 2014). Some media coverage and public and political discourse are fairly critical of the ENGOs’ position against mining, accusing them of being antidevelopment, or of speaking on behalf of foreign interests (this is related to the international funding sources of some ENGOs) (Willer & Takahashi, Forthcoming).

From a communication standpoint, the SPDA and other ENGOs are extending their network through strategic partnerships with similar organizations across the Latin American region. This allows them to have a stronger presence in international meetings and negotiations. However, it also presents an important communication challenge. Takahashi, Edwards, Roberts, and Duan (2015) examined the use of online communication across a collaborative platform (Intercambio Climatico) by some of these NGOs in South America. The study reports that ENGOs in the region are attempting to embrace online media as a communication channel to raise awareness and collaborate; while at the same time trying to create a coherent regional discourse based on a common position for negotiation purposes. However, many individuals in these organizations are skeptical of the usefulness and potential of these approaches.

Before and during the COP20 negotiations, Peruvian NGOs did not play an influential role because at the national level of decision making, country-level agreements are more important. In the case of Peru, NGOs participated in negotiations through the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), a group of seven countries that share interests and positions on climate change.3 Nevertheless, MINAM recognized the importance of providing a forum for these grassroots organizations, including ENGOs and indigenous groups. Providing a space for alternative voices was also a way to minimize the impact of potential protests that could have distracted the public’s attention to the negotiations (“Manuel Pulgar-Vidal espera que protestas por la COP 20 sean pacíficas,” 2014). COP meetings are opportunities for political activism, and the COP20 was no exception. For example, Greenpeace, continuing its trademark staged media events, trespassed into the Nazca lines to display their message (McGrath, 2014). The event garnered media attention, but much of it was in the form of criticism of Greenpeace because they trespassed into a UNESCO World Heritage site.

One way to accomplish these two objectives (i.e., provide a voice and avoid conflicts) was the organization of the event Voces por el Clima. This was a parallel space within the COP20 for discussions, presentations, and the like. Despite happening at an alternative location to the COP, it garnered considerable media and public attention. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a good percentage of the public thought that Voices for the Climate was indeed the COP20. All the infrastructure, communication material and activities developed for Voices for the Climate transcended the COP meeting and now are part of an ecological park in Lima, which attempts to continue to communicate the issue of climate change.

Finally, at the grassroots level, the Citizen Movement Against Climate Change (MOCICC) represents various civil society groups with the goal of promoting new lifestyles that help mitigate and adapt to climate change at the local, regional, and national levels.

Media Coverage of Climate Change

Media coverage of climate change in Peru, as an environmental and social issue, has not included many skeptical positions, as is the case in countries such as the United States (Boykoff, 2013) and Australia (Schäfer, Ivanova, & Schmidt, 2014). 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.

Historically, news organizations in Peru have not put a strong emphasis on reporting environmental or science-based issues (Aldana-Durán, 2008; Macassi, 2006). Most of this coverage uses an episodic framing to report environmental disasters or socioenvironmental conflicts. In addition, Peru has no environmental beat or associations such as the United States’ Society for Environmental Journalists.

From a scholarly perspective, few research studies have examined media coverage of environmental issues in Peru, much as other Latin American countries have. Some studies in Mexico (Gordon, Deines, & Havice, 2010), Chile (Dotson, Jacobson, Kaid, & Carlton, 2012), and other countries (Shanahan, 2009; Zamith, Pinto, & Villar, 2013) have in recent years explored the coverage by newspapers. These studies report similar findings with regard to the use of frames (defined as the central organizing idea of a text; see Entman, 1993; Gamson & Modigliani, 1989), where both policy frames and environmental impact frames are the most prominent ones. There is, however, a lack of studies that explore the factors that affect this coverage and the way other mediums, such as television or online media, cover the issue.

The only empirical studies examining media coverage of climate change in Peru were conducted by Takahashi (2011) and Takahashi and Meisner (2013b). In addition, a report by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) reported findings from a content analysis of newspaper coverage of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) in Peruvian newspapers (Perla Alvarez, Freundt Montero, Burga Barrantes, Postigo Takahashi, & Menton, 2012). This section reports the main findings of these studies.

Peru’s media have focused on climate change mostly during key policy events, giving limited attention to it during other time periods. After limited coverage between the years 2000 and 2006, climate change received intense coverage in 2007 and 2008, decreasing again in intensity in 2009 and 2010. The coverage in 2009, the highest peak of attention, is mainly explained by the anticipation of the climate summit in Copenhagen (COP15) in December of that year. The peaks in 2007 and 2008 could be attributed to several events, such as Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth and the Nobel Prize presented to Al Gore and the IPCC in 2007. The IPCC also published the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) during the first half of 2007, which presented evidence on the role of human activities in current climate change. December 2007 is the second highest peak, which coincided with the 2007 meeting of the COP-13 in Bali.

In-country events also received considerable media attention. First, in 2008, Peru hosted the V Summit of Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union (EU-LAC), where the two main themes were poverty and climate change (Takahashi, 2011). This is evident by the number of articles published in May 2008, when the summit was held. During the summit, the then Peruvian President Alan Garcia also announced the creation of the new Ministry of the Environment, which could also explain the intensity of coverage (Takahashi & Meisner, 2012). In addition, Lima hosted the COP20, which preceded the Paris meeting in 2015 that led to a major global agreement. Coverage during these two events was intense.

A good proportion of the coverage in Peruvian newspapers comes from international news wire agencies. Those sources focus mostly on mitigation actions, instead of adaptation, which is more relevant to vulnerable countries such as Peru (Takahashi & Meisner, 2013b). This coverage is in line with the government’s overall view of mitigation as a business opportunity. Developing countries such as Peru contribute little to greenhouse gas emissions, but the effects of climate change disproportionately affect them (Oliver-Smith, 2014). This has implications for developing countries that urgently need information to prepare for the impacts of climate change. News agencies’ stories do not discuss issues directly related to Peru, which could provide an ambiguous representation in which some important effects (e.g., melting glaciers) are covered but the problem is something that is happening mostly outside the borders of the country. This seems consistent with Anderson’s statement (2009) that the emphasis in media coverage has tended to be on mitigation rather than on adaptation in developed countries. As discussed earlier, this trend also occurs in Peru, but it is even more relevant in this context because of the vulnerability of developing countries.

Coverage of climate change in the Peruvian press tends to emphasize generalized climate change effects (e.g., droughts, floods), without expressing skeptical views. The results resemble those reported by Gordon et al. (2010) in Mexico, who argue that a frame of international relations is dominant in previous studies outside the United States (Brossard, Shanahan, & McComas, 2004; Reis, 1999). The coverage in Peru confirms the dominance of the impacts frame and the reliance on government sources in news stories, as well as the limited number of stories focused on scientific topics. The coverage also presents few concrete policy solutions at the national level, and little attention is paid to how the most vulnerable populations (generally the poorest) and ecosystems in the country are impacted and how those problems can be addressed. The treatment of the media on climate change could be perceived as restricted to certain discourses surrounding international policy events and mitigation actions; as well as dominant official sources such as governmental officials, with limited coverage of alternative voices such as those of indigenous populations.

Similarly to this analysis of climate change coverage, Perla Alvarez et al. (2012) examined the coverage by national and regional newspapers of REDD+. Overall, the study reports that the coverage between 2008 and 2011 was very limited, with a total of 33 news stories published (REDD+ was formally established in 2008). These articles provide a mostly positive but superficial treatment of REDD+.

This analysis also showed an event-driven coverage in which coverage of the V Summit of Latin America, the Caribbean, and the European Union (ALCUE) represents the highest peak Coverage is highly politicized, where local problems, discussions of local policies, and adaptation measures are absent. Takahashi and Meisner (2011) found that during the ALCUE coverage, newspapers focused largely on the political and rhetorical skills of the leaders who attended the meeting (especially Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales), rather than on the proposed climate change policies. Although no study has been conducted examining coverage during the COP20, this coverage appears to have been even more significant in terms at least of quantity. It is expected that the amount of coverage created spaces for a greater diversity of voices and relevance to the country’s reality framings, reflecting MINAM’s efforts.

In conclusion, the Peruvian press in the case of climate change depends largely on the international news flow, especially in the coverage of international relations (e.g., COP meetings and other international meetings). The emphasis on general impacts (e.g., droughts, floods) must give way to more constant coverage of solutions and policies in Peru, especially in regard to adaptation. This change will depend in part on the availability and accessibility of sources, such as local researchers and regional and local governments that have not had significant media access to date. In addition, the current structure of the media system in Peru–mostly centralized in Lima–prevents a sustained coverage of environmental and science issues (Aldana-Durán, 2008; Macassi, 2006). Despite a growing diverse media industry (Zeta de Pozo, 2009), the limited coverage of environmental and science issues is related to the new media’s disinterest in the cultural and geographical diversity of the country (Aldana-Durán, 2008) and the lack of a specialized environment and science beat.

Public Opinion about Climate Change

Overall, most Peruvians believe that climate change is a real threat, and they are willing to take actions to solve the problem. At the same time, the Peruvian people harbor some misconceptions about the causes and effects of climate change, although they widely agree that humans have a key role in the problem. These general findings are consistent across various international and national polls conducted throughout the years. However, few theoretically driven studies have been conducted that try to explain these results or that provide recommendations to overcome a limited public engagement or knowledge gaps.

A 2015 Pew Research Center survey about the top concerns of 40 countries around the world reported that climate change was the top concern in 19 of them (Stokes, Wike, & Carle, 2015). All Latin American countries, including Peru, ranked climate change as the top concern. In Peru, 75% of respondents responded that they were very concerned about the threat of climate change, compared to 58% who cited global economic instability as the number one concern and 35% cited ISIS, among others (multiple responses were permitted) (Stokes et al., 2015). In addition, 79% of respondents believed that climate change was harming people around the world, and 16% that these impacts would be felt in the next few years. With regard to personal harm, 68% responded that they were very concerned and 26% somewhat concerned. There was also ample support for governmental control over greenhouse gas emissions (77%) and for making major personal lifestyle changes (83%).

At the national level, MINAM commissioned a series of nationwide surveys about climate change perceptions, in preparation for the COP20 meeting in Lima (COP20 raised awareness on climate change and importance for Peru, 2015). The longitudinal data were collected by the opinion consulting firm IPSOS in April, July, September, October, November, and December of 2014, as well as a post-COP survey in January 2015. The October 2014 IPSOS survey showed that 40% and 38% of respondents, respectively, agreed with the statements that humans alone or humans and natural causes were responsible for climate change. This was a slight increase from answers to a similar question asked in July of the same year (34% and 31%, respectively). Data for the most recent surveys were not available at the time of writing.

A similar survey was conducted by another consulting firm, GfK, in two waves in November and December 2014. In the November 2014 GfK survey, 65% of respondents answered that climate change was either a severe or a very severe problem for the country (23% and 42%, respectively). However, the problem was perceived as very severe among more respondents outside the capital city of Lima (28% vs. 18%). There were no significant differences based on the socioeconomic status of respondents.

Over half of respondents had not heard about the upcoming COP20 meeting (51% according to GFK and 54% according to IPSOS). In regard to media consumption, less than half of respondents (45%) had received any information about the COP20 meeting from the media. Socioeconomic differences were significant, with people in the socioeconomic levels A and B4 (61%) receiving more information than those in the other levels (i.e., level E, 27%). Similar differences were reported in terms of place of residence, with people in Lima receiving more information than those outside the city (53% vs. 38%) and males receiving more information than females (51% vs. 40%).

The GfK survey (COP20 raised awareness on climate change and importance for Peru, 2015) also asked about the actions people could take for the environment (not just climate change). Water and energy conservation (74% and 72%, respectively) were pointed to as the top actions. Only 6% of respondents chose contributing money to environmental groups, which could reflect distrust of these institutions. No alternative for transportation options was provided. A similar question asked about individual and organizational responsibilities in dealing with climate change: 81% of respondents agreed that businesses should be respectful of the environment, while 65% responded that they would personally do something for the environment but did not know how. This reflects the problem of the Peruvian population’s self-efficacy. Interestingly, only 42% of respondents agreed with the statement that the government, not individuals like them, should take care of environmental problems.

Peru is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change; however, according to the IPSOS survey, despite being perceived overall as a very important issue, only a minority of respondents believes that its impacts will significantly affect them (13%), their families (17%), people in their communities (13%), or people in the country (17%). Climate change is seen as a distant (temporally, spatially, and socially) problem that more likely will affect future generations (26%), natural resources (47%), and a nonhuman species (44%).

MINAM also commissioned a qualitative study to IPSOS. Twelve focus groups were conducted in three major cities (Lima, Cusco, and Iquitos). The results suggest a low level of understanding about the causes and consequences of the problem. The misconception that the issues of ozone layer hole and climate change are the same seems to be widespread. The study reports that participants believe that the major cause for climate change is the damage to the ozone layer.

In summary, public opinion polls show that Peruvians are generally aware of the problem and believe that climate change is a major threat. They are also supportive of both governmental actions and lifestyle changes. These polls draw from a national sample, but the findings reported do not make any distinction based on the diverse sociodemographic and cultural populations in the country. A more in-depth analysis is necessary to determine specific target groups.

Decision Makers’ Perceptions and Information Sources of Climate Change

A frequently overlooked population in research about climate change communication is the one composed of politicians and decision makers–this despite the fact that decision makers are among the most important individuals in promoting solutions to specific climate change problems, such as those related to land-use changes (e.g., forest conservation), adaptation measures (e.g., changing agricultural practices), and scientific research (e.g., funding for investigators).

In Peru, only a few studies have examined the ways government elected and appointed officials perceive climate change. Takahashi and Meisner (2011) examined the climate change perceptions of Peruvian legislators and officials in MINAM. The study found that these political and policy elites hold similar environmental attitudes, values, knowledge, and concern about climate change as the general population. Knowledge about climate change among legislators was reported to be relatively low (mean = 2.01 on a 1–4 scale). The misconception about the direct relationship between the ozone layer hole and climate change was prevalent. In addition, the study reported no relationships between knowledge, environmental concern, and support for environmental policies.

Takahashi and Meisner (2013a, 2014) also examined how media coverage influenced policy proposals about climate change in Peru. Research into media effects on policymakers has been limited and scattered, partly because of the difficulties in accessing political elites. In these studies, Takahashi and Meisner examined six bills introduced in Congress during the 2006–2011 legislative period and the process that led to the development of those proposals. One key theme that emerged from in-depth interviews with legislators and staff members was the legislators’ and staffs’ limited previous knowledge about basic scientific and policy related issues. The limited knowledge led to an increased salience of alternative information sources outside the realm of expert sources, which included the news media and online sources. As discussed earlier, coverage of climate change in the Peruvian press was focused mostly on mitigation issues and was driven by coverage from wire services. The bills examined reflected such a position, which made frequent references to news accounts about the COP meeting in Copenhagen, or Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, as sources of inspiration.

Another study examined the environmental perceptions of municipal officials from five municipalities in Lima. Siña et al. (2016) reported that environmental issues, including climate change, are not among the highest priorities for the municipalities. Day-to-day operations such as water sanitation, waste management, infrastructure, and human development are considered more important, which is not surprising considering the nature of their work and the imminent needs of individuals in a developing country. Consistent with the evidence reported by Takahashi and Meisner (2011), these municipal officials also had a limited understanding of climate change, its causes and effects, and such understanding is confounded with other environmental problems (Siña et al., 2016).

In summary, few studies examine decision makers’ perceptions of climate change in Peru, a finding that is consistent with the state of the literature in this domain in other countries (for some examples, see Fielding, Head, Laffan, Western, & Hoegh-Guldberg, 2012; Rickards, Wiseman, & Kashima, 2014). Part of the challenge is to gain access to this population of decision makers, but understanding their political and individual motivations, information seeking and processing behaviors, climate change beliefs, and knowledge gaps can be useful for researchers and practitioners who seek to improve communication practices.


Peru is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Melting tropical glaciers, diminished water sources, impacts on agriculture, and the potential for tragic effects on biodiversity are some of the current and possible effects. However, the evidence points to a need to better align the reality of climate change in the country, as well as the policy and communication efforts by various governmental, nongovernmental, media, and private sector actors.

Most of the past and existing communication efforts by these actors have strongly focused on mitigation actions, with limited attention to the need and the alternatives for adaptation, despite a recognition of the problem and the elaboration of projects that speak to that reality (e.g., Program for Adaptation to Climate Change [PACC Peru]). There seems to be a strong influence of global and regional agendas, which are also linked to the possibility of financial aid to promote these efforts (e.g., REDD and REDD+). These results suggest that the goals of climate change communication campaigns should move from trying to raise awareness (which appear to be the main focus of most campaigns) to focusing on behavioral changes or political engagement, which the academic literature on behaviors related to climate change strongly advocate for (Gifford, 2011; Swim, Clayton, & Howard, 2011).

The Peruvian government has been an active player in global negotiations, hosting the COP20 and trying to raise awareness among the public,5 as well as creating partnerships with private organizations. However, there is no empirical evidence about the effectiveness of such efforts in influencing perceptions or attitudes, much less behaviors, of the widely diverse population of the country.

The media have also played a role in communicating the issue but only during key events and using frames consistent with the global discourse. The coverage was intense during the two international meetings (ALCUE and COP20), and in general, it has focused on international negotiations or mitigation actions. Although no studies have examined the factors (e.g., organizational, individual) that explain this coverage, the lack of an established environmental news beat might well explain this coverage. Outside of a handful of specialized reporters, most of the coverage by Peruvian reporters lacks context and fails to address the issues of import to the country.

When looking at media coverage of climate change, there is also a need for comparative studies in geographically related regions to determine the factors that may explain differences in the coverage. This includes sociopolitical, cultural, and media systems’ differences across countries. For example, a comparative study could examine how the media in countries of the Andean region (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru), which share similar vulnerabilities to climate change, cover the subject. This type of study may explain why, in Peru, limited local coverage has been reported, while a study of coverage in Bangladesh (one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change) revealed a strong local coverage.

Research Gaps and Challenges

The few climate change communication research efforts that Peru has made have focused on government elites and traditional media. Beyond the public opinion polls conducted on behalf of MINAM, little more is known about what Peruvians think about climate change or what factors affect such beliefs and perceptions. Despite the development of interesting studies on vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, such as PROCLIM itself, Maremex,6 projects of the Swiss Intercooperation, GIZ, and CARE-Peru which include participatory work with vulnerable populations, these are mostly local and fairly specific. There is limited evidence about the success of the communication efforts that have been developed. Moreover, no efforts have been made (on a large scale, or at the level of a national program—quite the contrary, with very specific efforts) to engage with disenfranchised and vulnerable populations, who are the most at risk to suffering from climate change impacts and who constitute the majority of the population. This research could and should incorporate traditional forms of knowledge about the problem.

The diverse population of Peru, based on cultural and geographic differences, and the centralization of political and economic power in the capital city of Lima are important considerations for governmental or nongovernmental organizations interested in developing long-term and large-scale communication efforts. For instance, the population of Lima, which is close to 10 million people (about a third of the population) is considerably different from those rural populations in the Andean highlands with deeper roots in Amerindian cultural practices and traditional forms of social knowledge and solidarity. Similarly, the Amazon Basin, which covers two-thirds of the territory, is more sparsely populated by diverse indigenous people. These populations hold unique sets of values, different from the traditional Western values more common in Lima and other urban centers. The indigenous populations’ views of natural resources, land ownership, and the role of government are not always aligned with the dominant views found within the centralized power structure based in Lima and in international development circles (Hogue & Rau, 2008; Munarriz, 2008; Tobin, 2001). It is therefore imperative that these local cultural understandings be incorporated into communication efforts and that scholars examine such efforts empirically.

Unfortunately, Peruvian and Latin American communication scholars are currently not deeply involved in the scholarly dialogue about climate change communication that occurs in the pages of academic journals, with only a few exemptions (e.g., Gavirati, 2012; Nosty, 2009; Takahashi, 2013). Although some Peruvian universities have been active in promoting the issue,7 it is unclear in what ways and to what extent these campaigns are based on theoretical models or empirical evidence. Also, a search of some major academic databases, both in Spanish and in English, did not result in any more relevant and rigorous academic publications outside those reviewed here. The limited research on climate change communication in Peru, and more generally in Latin America, responds in part to the small number of communication researchers engaged in this type of scholarship. This is a symptom of larger structural problems within institutions of higher education in the region that provide little incentives or resources to researchers, especially to those in the social sciences. This limits the possibility of collaboration between academics and those practitioners involved in the design and development of climate communication campaigns. And despite some modest success in the form of awareness, the long-term behavioral changes that are needed (especially in the form of adaptive capacity) will be harder to achieve. The promotion of behaviors such as energy conservation, recycling, and the use of public transportation are important and can have impacts on local environments, but the systemic long-term adaptation measures need to be communicated with a different strategy that could benefit from the type of theoretical and empirical studies that are now common in the United States and Europe (Gifford, 2011; Moser & Ekstrom, 2010; Whitmarsh, Lorenzoni, & O’Neill, 2012). It is important to consider that those best practices should not be just applied to different cultural contexts. For example, the segmentation work by Maibach and colleagues on the six Americas (Roser-Renouf, Stenhouse, Rolfe-Redding, Maibach, & Leiserowitz, 2015) has been replicated in other countries (e.g., Germany, India; Leiserowitz, Thaker, Feinberg, & Cooper, 2013; Metag, Füchslin, & Schäfer, 2015) and has resulted in a set of different beliefs groups. It is therefore necessary to consider those unique cultural nuances in any communication research efforts about climate change.

Finally, communication researchers around the world should continue to more aggressively expand their research efforts outside their comfort zones, where so much research has already been conducted (e.g., the United States and Europe), and start addressing the most vulnerable populations, such as those in Peru. Cox (2007) referred to environmental communication as a crisis discipline, so climate change communication scholars should heed that call but do so by looking beyond our comfort zones.


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(2.) Based on personal observations by the authors.

(3.) AILAC is a negotiation group within the COP. Although the group labels itself as an independent group, the German government finances it. The group was formed in part as a way to channel an intermediate position, distinct from other more radical positions, such as, for example, that of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) (

(4.) Levels A and B are considered upper and middle upper class, C is middle class, and D and E are lower middle class and lower class (those leaving in poverty)

(5.) A survey conducted in January 2015 after the COP20 suggests that 50% of the population approved the government’s organizational efforts during the event. See

(6.) Disaster management in the event of extreme weather events (droughts, frost, and heavy rains) as an adaptation to climate change in the Mantaro Valley (see

(7.) One noteworthy effort is Clima de Cambios (Climate for Change) developed by the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. The goal of the campaign is to “inform and sensitize the citizenry about the impacts of climate change in the country and the world.”