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The topic of climate change and migration attracts a strong following from the media and produces an increase in academic literature and reports from international governmental institutions and NGOs. It poses questions that point to the core of social and environmental developments of the 21st century, such as environmental and climate justice as well as North–South relations.
This article examines the main features of the debate and presents a genealogy of the discussion on climate change and migration since the 1980s. It presents an analysis of different framings and lines of argument, such as the securitization of climate change and connections to development studies and adaptation research. This article also presents methodological and conceptual questions, such as how to conceive interactions between migration and climate change. As legal aspects have played a crucial role since the beginning of the debate, different legal strands are considered here, including soft law and policy-oriented approaches. These approaches relate to questions of voluntary or forced migration and safeguarding the rights of environmental migrants.
This article introduces theoretical concepts that are prompted by analyzing climate change as an “imaginative resource” and by questioning power relations related to climate-change discourses, politics, and practices. This article recommends a re-politicization of the debate, questions the often victimizing, passive picture of the “drowning” climate-change migrant, and criticizes alarmist voices that can trigger perceived security interests of countries of the Global North. Decolonizing and critical perspectives analyze facets of the debate that have racist, depoliticizing, or naturalizing tendencies or exoticize the “other.”
Indigenous experiences with climate change have become increasingly visible through media stories of rising sea levels, heavy storms, and coastal erosion due to climate change in places as different as Tuvula in the South Pacific and Shishmaref in the Alaskan Arctic. Despite these bursts of attention, indigenous concerns and experiences have not been well or diversely represented in media coverage, nor have they been consistently studied in media scholarship—nor until recently, have indigenous people or knowledge been mentioned in major climate agreements and scientific assessments. There is, however, a growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship that draws on indigenous knowledge, experiences, and activism related to climate change.
Indigenous peoples comprise 5% of the world’s population and live in over 90 countries around the world. Because indigenous communities are often located outside major urban centers, indigenous peoples are likely to suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change. Many indigenous people live in close connection with the ecosystems in their region, and collectively held Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is passed down through multiple generations, providing in-depth, systematic, meaningful, and historically informed views of climate change and potential pathways for resilience and adaptation.
Indigenous people have often been portrayed in media coverage as victims with little attention paid to TEK, communal resilience, human rights and climate justice frameworks, or the historical contexts that may amplify climate change impacts. While indigenous people have diverse circumstances and histories, many are likely to have suffered enormous upheaval in recent centuries due to colonialism, resource development, economic shifts, loss of human rights, and lack of self-determination. Climate change often intensifies existing vulnerabilities and risks. These deeply intertwined social and environmental crises create distinct challenges for considering how and what climate change means for diverse indigenous peoples, how to address it at all levels of governance, and how media can and should be accountable to and represent indigenous publics.
M. Teresa Mercado-Sáez and César Galarza
Climate change research in Argentina focuses on its physical aspects (natural sciences) and not so much on the social aspects, beyond the various surveys measuring perceptions and concerns of Argentinians about climate change. There are few studies that address the problem of communicating the issue from a social sciences standpoint, and these refer to analysis of its coverage in the leading newspapers. And almost all have been published in Spanish. The links between media coverage, policy, and public perceptions in Argentina have not been the subject of academic research thus far. Given the lack of specific bibliography examining the climate change communication from a transversal outlook, in-depth interviews were used to find this out. This study presents an overview of the communication of climate change in Argentina considering not only the journalistic point of view but also that of other social actors. Five areas of interest were defined: the political, the scientific, the media, NGO environmentalists, and what this article refers to as “other sectors.” This fifth area incorporated other voices from the business sector or the non-specialized civil sphere in order to complement the panorama of representative actors that have something to say about the communication of the climate change in Argentina.
Research on climate change communication is a neglected field in Austria. Only slowly, scientists as well as policy makers are entering the domain of communicating climate change, especially in subprojects of larger funding initiatives by the Austrian Environment Ministry and the Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology. In the field of communication research, only sporadic studies can be found: Some of them are investigating science-policy-interfaces and communication among stakeholders; others are focusing on awareness of climate change, especially in climate sensitive areas like (winter) tourism, agriculture, and forestry, which are significant economic fields in Austria and in which major efforts have to be taken to enhance adaptive capacities. Only a few studies are dealing with media representations of climate. Therefore, this article outlines a future research program, based on the assessment of existing scholarship. More scientific efforts should be given to the following fields of research: public communication of stakeholders, studies on media representation of climate change and framing and its effects as well as comparative studies with countries sharing comparable climate scenarios, and the strong need for adapting to climate change (e.g., from Alpine regions) as well as similar political structures.
Yves Pepermans and Pieter Maeseele
Climate change communication in Belgium takes place in a socio-economic context characterized by an economic surplus and an ecological deficit. This implies that in the short term the benefits of the structures and behaviors that sustain carbon capitalism and cause climate change are larger and more tangible than the consequences of global warming, which are exported to more vulnerable places with less adaptive capacity. Nevertheless, with regard to physical consequences, climate change communication in Belgium also takes place in a context in which heavy thunderstorms and rainfalls, as well as floods, have increased significantly. In general however, Belgians have the means to distance themselves from climate change’s existing impacts. In other words, climate change communication (and public engagement) takes place in a context in which climate change serves primarily as a cultural idea to be acted upon rather than particular geophysical changes, such as weather disruptions.
Belgium is characterized primarily by a consensual, technocratic policy environment, in which debate is limited to a relatively limited spectrum of views and in which citizens are targeted primarily according to the (information) deficit model. However, increasingly initiatives are being taken from a social marketing or public participation approach. In the case of civil society, there is a rich tradition of social movements communicating and campaigning about climate change. These campaigns have primarily focused on individual behavior change and more recently also on collective forms of behavior change such as transition initiatives or collaborative/confrontational strategies of political action. Media research has revealed how the United Nations climate process sets both the agenda and the terms of the debate in Belgian newspapers. Only in the case of an alternative news site were different discourses found that approached climate change communication in terms of a genuine debate about the direction climate policy is taking. Finally, while Belgian citizens clearly acknowledge the urgency of the matter and the need for action, many feel powerless, because of a social, spatial, and temporal distance towards the issue or because it is perceived as a threat to their identity or routines.
Candis Callison and D. B. Tindall
The immense geographical and cultural breadth of Canada includes a significant Arctic region and many distinct indigenous and rurally located peoples who are profoundly affected by climate change. However, most of Canada’s population is located in the urban south, in major cities. While Canadian media coverage of climate change has been more than the global average, it has generally tended to focus on policymaking at the national level, with a secondary focus on energy and economics. Unlike its close neighbor, the United States, Canada has had consistently positive public attitudes and media coverage toward climate change, but this hasn’t necessarily translated to policy or action. Canada’s steadily increasing greenhouse gas emissions are among the highest per capita in the world.
Canada is the home base for highly visible environmental organizations like Greenpeace and the David Suzuki Foundation, which have successfully framed and mobilized on many issues, including climate change. Canada’s resource-based economy includes the controversial oil sands in the western province of Alberta. Scholars note that media coverage of both the oil sands and the proposed and existing pipelines through British Columbia to tidewater are complex because of the way that oil interests have been represented by think tanks and aligned politicians, and, in some regions, because of lingering skepticism and doubts about the ability of political institutions to address climate change. Regional differences on all these points matter immensely, as does framing by environmental groups, indigenous groups, media, and industry proponents.
A further complication for Canadian media coverage relates to both the Arctic and indigenous peoples. The Arctic has not been central to Canadian coverage of climate change, nor have the climate justice issues associated with the disproportionate impacts that this region will experience. Most of the Canadian north is inhabited by indigenous peoples, who have been the primary representatives of climate justice and human rights as frames for media coverage. However, Canadian media has usually either not represented or misrepresented indigenous peoples. Emerging self-representation through Internet-based media provides some hopeful alternatives. In general, taking into account the vast structural changes that are sweeping Canadian media is a key area that new scholarship should attend to, particularly given that most scholarship to date on climate change and media in Canada has focused on national newspapers.
Ji Li and Luo Dan
As one of the most serious challenges facing humankind during the 21st century, climate change not only relates to many fields such as science, culture, economics, and politics, but also affects the survival and future development of human beings. In China, climate change communication research specifically first began to be conducted quite late, as the significance of climate change issues came to the fore in the international arena. The year 2007 is known as China’s “first year of climate change communication research.” Climate change coverage up to 2007 can be divided into two periods: In the early period, the number of reports was small, the reporting agenda was simple, and public’s attention was limited, whereas in the late period coverage changed visibly: the amount of coverage experienced a sharp increase, the topics covered were diverse, and reporting gradually reached an advanced level of sophistication. Research on climate change is not only limited to the analysis of science reporters from the professional field, but also includes studies conducted by the government, academia, NGOs, enterprises, and the like, and it has already reached certain research conclusions. Media coverage of climate issues and research on climat communication complement each other—the former promoting the latter and the latter enriching the former—and they jointly advance the dissemination of climate issues in China. This article hopes to sort out the research on media reports on climate change and climate change communication research to gain an overall and comprehensive understanding of climate change communication in China
Luisa Fernanda Lema Vélez, Daniel Hermelin, María Margarita Fontecha, and Dunia H. Urrego
Colombia is in a privileged position to take advantage of international climate agreements to finance sustainable development initiatives. The country is a signatory of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreements. As a non-Annex I party to the UNFCCC, Colombia produces low emissions in relation to global numbers (0.46% of total global emissions for 2010) and exhibits biogeographical conditions that are ideal for mitigation of climate change through greenhouse gas sequestration and emission reductions. Simultaneously, recent extreme climatic events have harshly compromised the country’s economy, making Colombia’s vulnerability to climate change evident.
While these conditions should justify a strong approach to climate change communication that motivates decision making and leads to mitigation and adaptation, the majority of sectors still fall short of effectively communicating their climate change messages. Official information about climate change is often too technical and rarely includes a call for action. However, a few exceptions exist, including environmental education materials for children and a noteworthy recent strategy to deliver the Third Communication to the UNFCCC in a form that is more palatable to the general public. Despite strong research on climate change, particularly related to agricultural, environmental, and earth sciences, academic products are rarely communicated in a way that is easily understood by decision makers and has a clear impact on public policy. Messages from the mass media frequently confuse rather than inform the public. For instance, television news refers to weather-related disasters, climate variability, and climate change indiscriminately. This shapes an erroneous idea of climate change among the public and weakens the effectiveness of communications on the issue.
The authors contrast the practices of these sectors with those of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in Colombia to show how they address the specific climate communication needs facing the country. These NGOs directly face the challenge of working with diverse population groups in this multicultural, multiethnic, and megadiverse country. NGOs customize languages, channels, and messages for different audiences and contexts, with the ultimate goal of building capacity in local communities, influencing policymakers, and sensitizing the private sector. Strategies that result from the work of interdisciplinary groups, involve feedback from the audiences, and incorporate adaptive management have proven to be particularly effective.
Mikkel Fugl Eskjær
Climate-change communication in Denmark was initially related to a broader environmental agenda and to discussions surrounding U.N. charters on sustainability, reflecting a traditional strong Scandinavian commitment to U.N. institutions. Although climate-change communication has since developed into an independent field among academics and environmentalists, some of the earlier links to questions of sustainability and development have been preserved.
Consequently, climate-change communication has been studied in a variety of public arenas in addition to the media system. These venues include parliamentary debates, regional discussions of renewable energy systems, cultural and artistic representations, as well as commercial and strategic discourses on green technologies—the latter representing an important Danish export market. Thus, climate-change communication is studied in several academic disciplines involving both quantitative and qualitative research strategies.
Media representations of climate change comprise the largest area of research on climate-change communication and have been investigated by media, communication, and journalism studies. Climate-change reporting is marked by substantial public consensus concerning the scientific evidence of climate change and the moral obligations of the industrialized world. It reflects a Scandinavian culture based on political corporatism in both the political system and the media system, which under normal circumstances results in a moderate rather than polarized public debate. Outright climate-change denial has consequently been marginal, although the controversies generated by Bjørn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, on how to prioritize climate change in relation to other global problems, can be regarded as the Danish equivalent to climate skepticism.
Another characteristic of Danish climate change communication is the imprint left by the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP15), which was experienced as particularly traumatic in the host country. Like most countries, Denmark experienced a sharp decline in climate change coverage in the aftermath of COP15. However, whereas other countries have slowly picked up the intensity of media reporting following COP15, a similar increase has not materialized in Denmark, illustrating how a failed climate (and media) event can have lasting effects on a nation’s climate change communication.
Mike S. Schäfer
Climate change communication has a long history in Germany, where the so-called “climate catastrophe” has received widespread public attention from the 1980s onwards. The article reviews climate change communication and the respective research in the country over the last decades. First, it provides a socio-political history of climate change communication in Germany. It shows how scientists were successful in setting the issue on the public and policy agendas early on, how politicians and the media emphasized the climate change threat, how corporations abstained from interventions into the debate and how skeptical voices, as a result, remained marginalized. Second, the article reviews scholarship on climate change communication in Germany. It shows how research on the issue has expanded since the mid-2000s, highlights major strands and results, as well as open questions and ongoing debates.