Climate Change

Fake news, post truth delay global climate justice


“The ideological position of media, influences the intensity and content about climate action, in developed and developing countries alike.”, says the new IPCC report 

The Working Group III (WG III)  of the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has in its new report identified the adverse impacts of misinformation on climate change for the first time. It points out that media professionals sometimes draw on the norm of representing both sides of a controversy, thus giving space to the disproportionate representation of skepticism of climate change. The situation arises despite the convergent agreements in climate science that humans contribute to climate change.

“The ideological position of media, influences the intensity and content about climate action, in developed and developing countries alike.”, the report mentions. “Accurate transference of the climate science has been undermined by climate change counter-movements in legacy and social media environments through misinformation about the causes and consequences of climate change.”

Researchers who contributed to the report explained that the impact of counterviews and misinformation is more extensive than is represented in the report. However, some point out that the IPCC report focuses on comprehensive research. Adverse effects of media reports have not been documented globally. Hence, it is still early to assess the negative impacts of misinformation on climate change.

The mitigation effects are undermined significantly by climate change counter-movements, particularly in developed nations such as the US. And so, at times, the causes and consequences of climate change are disinformed, implying that the media intentionally took sides. Similarly in developing countries, the consequences are underrated due to other pertinent social and economic factors. For example, Reema Banerjee, the Centre for Environment Education program director in Kolkata, explained that misinformation has health consequences in the local Indian context.

“If reports are not explained properly in places such as in the vulnerable ecosystems of Sundarbans or the Northeast states, no preparation is done ahead of time. The heat strokes, cyclones, and migration due to changing climate is taking a toll on people’s health, but prioritizing mitigation policy is still in the early stages. Social and cultural structures do not give a headway. Even policymakers do not get on one platform to understand the urgency for action. So it is important how the story is told.”

Enhanced mitigation and swifter action to shift development systems towards sustainability will have distributional consequences between countries. Experts believe that attention to equity and meaningful participation of all relevant stakeholders in decision-making can help build social trust and deepen support for transformative changes. But, the rise of ‘fake news and ‘post-truth’ in traditional and social media platforms have rather fueled polarization and partisanship on climate change in many countries. The IPCC report mentions in moderate confidence that such a situation further deters the development of new and ambitious climate policy.

While media can be a valuable partner to build public support for mitigation action, it may also be utilized to impede decarbonization endeavors. Media systems have unique cultural and political traditions that affect how climate change is communicated to people.

“Who dominates the debate on media, and how open the debate can be varies significantly across nations,” the report mentions. For example, the control of fossil fuel industries via advertisements shapes new narratives and exerts political influence worldwide. Modern technical tools, such as automated bots, are emerging to shape climate change discussions on major online platforms like Twitter. Open debates also underpin the adoption of more ambitious climate policy. Media coverage on energy-saving methods, patriotism, and social justice in developed countries have helped align climate change mitigation with other concerns, thereby raising support for climate action. But such is not the situation in the developing nations.

The IPCC report acknowledges the role of media in shaping climate governance. Still, it elaborates that increasing media coverage does not always lead to more accurate coverage of climate change mitigation. “It can also spur diffusion of misinformation.”

Climate governance, action through laws, strategies, and institutions based on national circumstances, supports mitigation. They provide frameworks through which policymakers and the public interact, learn, and create the basis for policy development and implementation. Climate governance is effective when integrated across multiple policy domains bringing synergies that minimize trade-offs. Adequate and equitable climate governance is built by engaging civil society, political actors, businesses, youth,  labour, media, indigenous people, and local communities. Gender and other social inequities such as race, ethnicity, age, income, and geographic location are proportional to vulnerability and climate change impacts.

Climate justice initiatives explicitly address the multi-dimensional inequalities as part of a climate change adaptation strategy. The IPCC report acknowledges that addressing inequities apropos to resources, assets, and services and decision-making and leadership is essential to achieving gender and climate justice.

International cooperation is a critical factor enabling ambitious climate change mitigation goals. For example, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement support the national ambitions encouraging the development and implementation of climate policies. Partnerships, agreements, institutional initiatives at the global and sub-global levels help engage multiple actors and bring effectiveness in climate action.

The IPCC report quotes Ugandan journalist Patrick Luganda, “Those most at risk from the impacts of climate change have had access to the least information about it through mass media.” The trend indicates that information availability and capacity are manifestations of global climate injustice.

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