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Al Gore, Angela Merkel and a translator at a press conference after a meeting with the German Chancellor Al Gore, Angela Merkel and a translator at a press conference after a meeting with the German Chancellor 360
25 Mar
2015
When the IPCC’s climate change findings are reported in the media, crucial points are often overlooked

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces regular reports on the latest scientific evidence for climate change, but the media may be missing important parts of the story, according to research from the University of Exeter.

TV, Twitter and newspapers were examined to see how the IPCC’s climate change evidence was reported in the US and the UK.

Ten ‘frames’ were used to categorise the ways stories were reported, with certain frames more popular than others.

‘Morality, ethics and health are hardly used, even though it would be quite easy – especially, for example with the poor air quality we’ve had recently – to frame the climate change story in terms of health,’ Dr Saffron O’Neill, lead author on the research told Geographical.

Frames
Settled Science
Political or Ideological Struggle
Role of Science
Uncertain Science
Disaster
Security
Morality & Ethics
Opportunity
Economics
Health
 

The frames that tend to be most popular are also those that have been shown in previous research to make the public more disengaged with the issue.

‘There are very well worn paths, such as duelling experts, where a climate change scientist faces a climate change sceptic,’ adds O’Neill.

UK media features five times more reporting on climate change than US media. When climate change does feature in the US, the framing is more partisan, O’Neill says. ‘Climate change is more of a political issue in the US, while in the UK we have consensus through legislation, such as the 2008 Climate Change Act,’ she adds.

Different strands to IPCC research are often overlooked as well. The organisation’s reports are divided between three working groups: Working Group 1 deals with the physical scientific aspects of climate change; Working Group 2 covers impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; while Working Group 3 deals with mitigation.

The first two working groups receive more media attention, according to the research. Work Group 3 tends to be overshadowed while 1 and 2 are discussed in terms of ‘uncertain science’ and ‘disaster’ respectively.

‘Now that we’ve been able to map the frames that media outlets use to report upon the IPCC, the next step in our research is to experimentally examine the psychological impacts that these different media frames have on media consumers,’ says Dr Tim Kurz, a social psychologist on the team.

The team hopes to make recommendations to the IPCC for future communications, and to analyse how the IPCC’s findings are reported in the Chinese media.

This research appears in Nature Climate Change

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