The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a group of climate change experts representatively selected from regions around the world that periodically releases Assessment Reports in order to inform policymakers and the public about the latest evidence for climate change. The publication of each report is a key event in the debate about climate change, but their reception and coverage in the media has varied widely.
A new paper has for the first time analyzed how Twitter, TV and newspapers reported the IPCC's climate evidence. Understanding how media coverage varies is important because people's knowledge and opinions on climate change are influenced by how the media reports on the issue.
The study found that there were markedly different ways in which the media portrayed the IPCC's latest findings. The researchers investigated this through studying the frames (ways of depicting an issue) the different media sources used to emphasize some aspects of climate change, whilst downplaying others. They also found large differences in how much coverage each Working Group received (the IPCC has three, which focus on the physical science, impacts and adaptation, and mitigation respectively).
The researchers found ten different frames used to communicate climate change: Settled Science, Political or Ideological Struggle, Role of Science, Uncertain Science, Disaster, Security, Morality and Ethics, Opportunity, Economics and Health. The first five frames were used to communicate the IPCC reports much more frequently - whereas the latter frames were not used much at all.
Dr Saffron O'Neill, lead author of the study from the University of Exeter said: "We know that some of these frames are more engaging for audiences than others: for example, the Opportunity or Health frames are both effective at linking the distant issue of climate change to peoples' everyday life. But these kinds of frames are little used in newspaper coverage, on TV, or on Twitter."
The study suggests that the availability of visual content and accessible storylines played a big part in how IPCC science was reported by the media. The authors argue that these findings need to inform how future IPCC Assessment Reports are communicated, in order that policymakers and the public are better informed.
Citation: 'Dominant frames in legacy and social media coverage of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report' by Saffron O'Neill, Hywel T.P Williams, Tim Kurz, Bouke Wiersma and Maxwell Boykoff Nature Climate Change.
The study was funded through an ESRC Future Research Leader Award to Dr O'Neill, and through the University of Exeter Humanities and Social Sciences Strategic Fund.