Nowadays, climate change has entered the mainstream: newspapers, magazines and television shows discuss the topic at great length while organizations and consumers are becoming more vigilant about climate change related information. Since 1995 the United Nations holds an annual conference on climate change, called the Conference of the Parties or COP. The increased interest in climate change is also visible at these conferences. During the 21st COP edition, which took place at the Paris Le Bourget convention center in November 2015, no less than 117 ministers took part in the negotiations that would result in the Paris agreement. British MP Greg Hunt even posted the following message on Twitter: “Last Monday at Paris climate talks was the largest gathering of world leaders since 1948 (& possibly largest ever).”
Increasing media attention is commonly seen as an important precondition for higher levels of public awareness, which in turn should make effective policy responses to climate change more likely. However, international comparative analyses have shown that notable country-level differences still exist with regard to media attention to climate change. Whilst climate change has become headline news in some countries, media attention has remained comparatively marginal in others. The question then is why this is the case.
In this study we wanted to identify reasons for the differences in media attention to climate change. In order to do this we analysed the roughly 2.600.000 climate change related articles that were published by 113 national newspapers in 41 countries in 2008. We limited ourselves to eight newspapers per country so as to limit any geographical biases.
In line with previous research, our results show that the direct exposure of a country to climate change and the measures that a country has taken to combat global warming play some role in determining how much attention climate change will receive in the media. Crucially, however, it is the wider context that helps us to explain levels of media attention to climate change. When we examined other potential factors that influence media attention to climate change we found two more that do influence the media attention. First, when the regulatory quality of a country increases, there is more media attention for climate change. Effective governance therefore seems to be a key element in the attention climate change receives in a country.
At the same time we found a negative effect from unemployment. This means that as the unemployment rate goes up the media attention for climate change goes down. However, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country does not explain any of the encountered differences. This is an interesting finding because it would seem that the lower economic wealth of developing countries (they have a smaller GDP) is not a significant indicator for media attention regarding climate change. Another way of saying this is that, contrary to popular belief, poorer countries do not ‘forget’ about climate change by devoting less attention to the topic. Our study therefore provides several explanations for country-level variations in media attention on climate change and advances our understanding of this vast area of research.
Article in press: Barkemeyer, R., Figge, F., Hoepner, A., Holt, D., Kraak, J. M., Yu, P-S. “Media coverage of climate change: An international comparison.” Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space (2017), http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0263774X16680818