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Climate change communication in Japan is characterized by governmental campaigns for carbon dioxide emission reduction and mass media coverage of international events on climate change issues. A series of governmental campaigns included “Cool Biz,” “Warm Biz,” and “Team Minus 6%” for the Kyoto protocol; “Challenge 25” for the Hatoyama initiative; “Fun to Share” and “Cool Choice” for the new mid-term Greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 26%. Those campaigns are popular among public. As for media coverage of international events on climate change issues, one of the biggest events was the COP3 in Kyoto, in 1997; another is the release of AR5 from 2006 to early 2007, and following events of the G8 summits of Heiligendamm, Germany in 2007, and of Toyako, Japan in 2008.
Until now, not much attention has been paid to climate change communication research, as social scientists seldom join research projects concerning climate change science. But recent severe weather, such as stronger or early-season typhoons, heavier rainfalls, early arrival of spring (e.g., earlier bloom of cherry blossoms), and the bleaching of coral reefs bring awareness not only to the general public but also to social scientists. Lack of participation by social scientists in climate change communication research has meant a very narrow range of communication with the public. Experts try to “teach” the science of climate change, and actions such as “50 easy things for tackling global warming,” but it seems those are not what ordinary people want to know. Furthermore, there seems to be no debate on what climate change will bring us, what kinds of energy we should choose, who might be more vulnerable. Debate on ethical issues, justice issues, and sharing of responsibility will be need to be part of future climate change communication.
Javier Urbina-Soria and Karina Landeros-Mugica
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Mexico has always stood out as an active and committed participant at international meetings on climate change; it was one of the first countries to fulfill the mandates of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and has submitted five national communications. Furthermore, in the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP16) held in Cancun, Mexico, in 2011, the Mexican government proposed the creation of a Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was approved and is already operating. Interest in climate change has increased within political, economic, and environmental domains. In the past, most academic and social studies focused on knowledge, beliefs, perception, and social representation of climate change, and only a few of them spoke to the communication process. Moreover, most inquiries centered on the review of literature or descriptive studies for specific samples. Specifically on climate change communication research, there is still a lot to be done; only a few studies on the subject have been completed. Most of the publications show campaigns, workshops, or educational programs that aim to increase knowledge and improve understanding of climate change. The National Strategy on Climate Change along with the Special Program on Climate Change included two lines of action: a) risk perception research and divulgation, and b) risk communication and environmental education. However, it was not until 2006 that the government started to invest in campaigns about climate change, like an internet portal, chats and workshops, stories for kids, or guides for efficient use of household energy. By 2007 and 2008, attention came not only from scientists but also from society; this was due mainly to coverage of the topic in the mass media, along with several publications for specific audiences (children, young, adults, specialists, politicians, and stakeholders). From 2008 to 2014, climate change topics were introduced in educational and cultural programs for students, especially at elementary and high school levels. Also, several publications and videos were released for the general public. In 2015, the first dialog between journalists was held to emphasize the important roll that journalists have when they broadcast scientific information. Nowadays, politicians and stakeholders are the main actors on communicating climate change, leaving academics, journalists, and broadcasters aside. Concerning the main topics, threats and disasters dominate the headlines, while information about mitigation or adaptation are hardly mentioned. Around the world, as well as in Mexico, there is a new discourse focused on future perspectives, accountability, and social legacy instead of immediacy. Mexico has enough material and technological infrastructure: mass media, libraries, museums, communication technologies, among others. However, these have been underutilized, because mass media treatment of ecological subjects have been fugacious, irregular, and surviving, limiting their development and strengthening.
Mikkel Fugl Eskjær
In terms of climate change, Middle East and Arab countries cover a vast and diverse region with stark variations in natural resources, ecological footprints, and political priorities. It includes large oil and gas producing nations (the Gulf States) as well as resource-depleted countries (Jordan, Syria). Most countries rely on carbon energy, while a few have developed an alternative vision based on renewables (Morocco). It is home to both highly affluent countries (e.g., UAE) as well as poor and conflict-ridden societies (Iraq, the Levant, Yemen).
Although the region as a whole is particularly vulnerable to climate change due to low levels of socio-ecological resilience, potential conflicts over natural resources (e.g., water), and almost chronic refugee and immigration crises, there are considerable differences in the region’s adaptive resources and mitigation strategies. This regional heterogeneity, however, is rarely reflected in the region’s climate change communication, which (with a few exceptions) tends to follow similar communicative patterns.
Long-running social and religious conflicts in the Middle East have pushed climate change down the agenda of public opinion and news reporting in most Arab countries. Moreover, many Arab countries share a semi-authoritarian media system, which seems to exacerbate this tendency. In order to avoid crossing editorial redlines, climate change reporting is mostly copyedited from international news agencies. Local reporting is sparse as it may easily touch on sensitive issues concerning inadequate governance. Consequently, climate change has traditionally been covered as foreign news with a focus on international climate change negotiations—and hence limited relevance for a regional readership.
However, new information technology and an increasing focus on raising awareness on climate change points toward alternative channels of climate change communication in Middle Eastern and Arab countries.
Rhian Salmon, Rebecca Priestley, Michele Fontana, and Taciano L. Milfont
Climate change communication in Aotearoa New Zealand occurs through multiple channels, including public communication by experts; formal and informal science-policy dialogues; and publication of popular books, documentaries, and media reports. There is, in addition, a wide array of climate change communication activities that are less well documented, such as those that utilize the education system, social media, art, community events and festivals, and co-production processes related to adaptation and mitigation choices.
Although research into the communication of climate change is in its infancy in the country, data on public attitudes toward climate change over the past decade indicate that most New Zealanders believe climate change is occurring, is anthropogenic, and is a serious concern. This is mirrored by research into media coverage on climate change, which shows that mainstream news reports are largely consistent with the scientific consensus and reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and do not give much coverage to skeptical or catastrophic viewpoints.
Marianne Ryghaug and Tomas Moe Skjølsvold
Climate change research, activities, and initiatives in Norway started relatively late, by international comparison. From the beginnings in the early 2000s, research has mainly followed two paths: First, media studies, typically focusing on traditional newspaper representations of climate change and the surrounding debate, and second, research on public perceptions of climate change. Initially, the research field was dominated by media studies and science and technology studies (STS). As climate change and related controversies made headlines during the mid-2000s, the authorities implemented several engagement activities and research programs to improve climate change communication, typically aiming at public education on climate change. Teaching the public about climate change as a scientific phenomenon along the lines of the “knowledge deficit model” was a favored strategy.
Research on climate change media coverage indicated that the issue was reported in the same way as other news stories: the journalistic principles of newsworthiness often led newspapers to cover global warming as a contested phenomenon, in which harsh scientific controversy was played out. Thus, the Norwegian media framed the issue similar to U.S. newspapers, giving voice to both concerned climate scientists as well as climate skeptics (representative of “balanced” reporting). Studies of public perceptions of climate change demonstrated that public opinions were largely influenced by this “balanced reporting”: although most people believed the climate threat was real, the many accounts of scientific controversy made people uncertain, and many people questioned the urgency of the issues. This was, of course, not only a result of the media accounts, but also of what the public interpreted as political inertia. Following this, a debate about the ethics of journalism surfaced, and the media increasingly downplayed the controversy angle. Recent research indicates that this may have had paradoxical consequences; downplaying controversy has made climate change less newsworthy, and it has thus been given less priority by Norwegian media.
Recently, more disciplinary groups have become interested in climate change communication, from psychology to linguistics, political science, and philosophy. Accordingly, research trajectories have multiplied, and at least two new strands surfaced: how science is communicated in traditional and new social media and the use of climate change knowledge in so-called “climate change services.” The latter strand of research typically also relates to climate change adaptation work, to a greater extent than the earlier works, where the focus has mainly been on mitigation.
Bruno Takahashi and Alejandra Martinez
Peru is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. More than 65% of the country is covered by the Amazon rainforest, and the Andes region is home to more than 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers. This abundance of natural resources also makes the country highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
The Peruvian government therefore requires the development and implementation of action plans to adapt to the present and future impacts of climate change. At the same time, it requires the development of sound communication strategies that include collaboration with stakeholders such as the media and nongovernmental organizations. Media coverage of climate change can have important implications for policy decision making. This is especially salient in a context of low information availability where media reports play an important role in filling knowledge gaps that in turn can affect the way policies are developed.
Climate change, as an environmental and social issue in Peru, is not highly politicized, as it is in countries such as the United States and Australia. There is no major debate about the reality of climate change, the scientific evidence, or the need for political action and technological and policy innovations. This approach is also reflected in the media’s coverage of the issue. Peru’s media tend to focus on climate change mostly during key policy events. Among these major events was the capital city of Lima’s hosting in 2010 of the V meeting of Latin American, Caribbean, and European Union countries, where the main topics of discussion were climate change and poverty. In addition, Lima hosted the COP20, which preceded the Paris meeting in 2015 that led to a major global agreement. The media’s coverage of these events was intense. These were the exceptions: A good proportion of Peru’s newspaper coverage comes from international news wire agencies. Coverage from those sources focuses mostly on mitigation actions, instead of adaptation, which is more relevant to vulnerable countries such as Peru. This coverage is in line with the government’s view of mitigation as a business opportunity. There is, however, a lack of studies that explore, first, the factors that affect this coverage, and, second, the way other mediums such as television or radio cover the issue.
Strategic communication by governmental organizations, as well as accurate and fact-based media reporting about climate change, is necessary to better communicate the urgency and magnitude of the problem to the general public, grassroots organizations, industry, and international agencies, among others.
Ana Horta and Anabela Carvalho
In Portugal, global politics tend to dominate climate change communication. Policy-oriented news stories prevail, being very much influenced by international events, dynamics, and actors, especially European ones, whereas national politicians and officials tend to be given less space. Climate change is thus mainly (re)presented as a global issue, distant from local realities, in spite of the vulnerabilities that the country faces. National policy makers tend to adopt a technocratic discourse that comes across as “rational” and fairly optimistic, with little contestation by environmental groups or others. A “green economy” discourse has prevailed in the media, with investment on renewable energy being depicted as the way to both stimulating the economy and addressing climate change. Scientific knowledge tends to be represented as consensual and national scientists tend to avoid dramatization. Although public opinion surveys have shown that the population considers climate change a serious problem and skepticism regarding its anthropogenic causes is low, surveys have also revealed high levels of ignorance and self-evaluated lack of information. In spite of a traditionally weak environmental movement and lack of public engagement, the population has shown a consistent sense of collective responsibility to tackle climate change. The economic and financial crisis up until the mid-2010s considerably affected the already fragile media system and turned political and public attention to economy-related topics. News coverage of climate change, in all its complexity, has been constrained by a lack of specialized reporters and increased dependency on the pro-activity of news sources.
In the Russian case, climate change communication links to critical issues of domestic and foreign policy. Russia is one of the leaders in the global carbon market, but its outdated industrial sector needs modernization based on energy efficient technologies. Russia is an ambitious international player seeking high moral positions in addressing global problems such as climate change, but its growing isolation and authoritarianism strangle free public discussions about climate change on a national scale. This article reviews the development of climate change communication as practice and as a field of academic research in Russia. By outlining the relevant scholarly field, the article splits the discussion into two parts—the realities of communication in climate politics and environmental communication. The section on climate politics touches upon Russia’s climate policy, the development of environmental movement since the 1960s, and the question of indigenous peoples. The environmental communication section highlights historical and more recent roles of environmental journalism, points to a generally low volume of climate change coverage, and raises questions about the potential of alternative media. The article concludes that the Russian field of communication research focusing on climate change is growing, but needs a more systematic approach, international comparisons, and research designs that would include more types of empirical materials.
Shirley S. Ho and Agnes S. F. Chuah
Climate change is not a new topic, but it remains an unsolved issue for most countries in the world. Singapore, a small island nation, is not spared from climate change. The issue is worsened because Singapore is not endowed with natural resources and the country is mainly dependent on imported fossil fuels to generate energy. The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon into the air, intensifying the greenhouse effect. Furthermore, the recurring episodes of haze in Singapore have posed a threat to public health. Realizing the importance of public perceptions on climate change mitigation, the Singapore government and academic researchers have conducted studies to understand public perceptions of climate change. Although the general public do not have great concern about climate change, research suggests that interpersonal communication, information campaigns, and mass communication may have an impact on public awareness of climate change. Attention to mass media, such as newspapers and television, has been found to shape public perception of climate change in Singapore and increase public knowledge of climate change. In addition, the Singapore government has introduced the topic of climate change into the education system to cultivate sustainability among the young generations. Campaigns and programs were funded and organized by the Singapore government as well as the non-governmental organizations to raise the awareness of climate change among Singaporeans. In order to sustain public awareness and concern about climate change, continuous communication strategies are necessary.
Sei-Hill Kim, Myung-Hyun Kang, and Jeong-Heon Chang
Climate change is a significant issue in South Korea, and the news media are particularly important because they can play a central role in communicating information about climate change, a complex phenomenon on which the public in general lacks expert knowledge.
The amount of climate change coverage increased in South Korean newspapers until 2009 and started to decline thereafter. The increase seems to have been driven primarily by international news and domestic politics. Until 2007, the increase in news coverage—as well as its short-term peaks—coincided with major international events, such as the releases of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. After 2007, the amount was affected not only by international events but also by domestic politics, such as the Lee administration’s “Low Carbon, Green Growth” policy, which became an important part of the national agenda. In terms of the nature of news coverage, newspapers represented the perspectives of climate change believers for the most part, while it was relatively hard to find skeptics’ arguments. News stories relied heavily on such authoritative international figures as the IPCC for information, which often led to conclusions that climate change is real and that human activities are primarily responsible. There are also political reasons for this point of view. President Lee, and his successor, President Park, maintained strong and ambitious environmental policies. As an important part of the president’s agenda, these policies might have affected the nature of news coverage, setting the tone of news articles in favor of strong environmental regulations. Lack of scientific expertise among news writers seems to affect the nature of news coverage as well. The lack of expert knowledge has often resulted in heavy reliance on press releases, newsworthy events, and scandals, instead of providing in-depth analyses of scientific backgrounds in climate change reporting. Another consequence was a heavy reliance on international news. The largest number of climate change articles was found as part of international news, while such articles rarely appeared in the science sections.
María Carmen Erviti and Bienvenido León
It is not easy to determine the precise moment when climate change became a public communication issue in Spain. Among early references, the national newspaper El País published a story titled “World climate is going to change,” on November 17, 1976, and the term “global warming,” imported from the United States, appeared frequently in the media, from 1988 onward. However, academic research about communication of this important issue is relatively recent. A seminar held in 2005 warned that there were “no specific studies on the way the Spanish citizenry is facing the climate change threat” (II Seminario de Comunicación, Educación y Participación frente al Cambio Climático, Lekaroz, Navarra). This seminar precipitated the first study on public perception of climate change in Spain. According to more recent research, 90.1% of Spanish citizens are aware that climate change is happening, whereas only 4.6% are not. Historical records indicate that awareness has grown consistently in the early 21st century, with awareness levels that are similar to those of other countries. However, although there exists a strong consensus within the scientific community on the existence and the anthropogenic origin of climate change, polls indicate that only a small part of the Spanish population (39.0%) is aware of this agreement; a figure that is similar to that of other countries, such as the United States. In addition, two thirds of the Spanish population (64.4%) believe that climate change is mainly a consequence of human activities; a higher percentage than in other countries, like the United States. This ambivalent picture is not surprising, considering climate change is a marginal topic for mainstream Spanish media. According to a study conducted in 2005 and 2011, only 0.2% of all stories in the main national newspapers and 0.19% of national TV news focused on climate change, a lower percentage than in other countries. Media coverage of this issue has fluctuated since the 1990s, depending on several factors, like the existence of links to current affairs (such as international climate summits), notable report publications (from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and public engagement efforts (such as the Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth). As far as the quality of the coverage is concerned, research shows similar trends to those detected internationally, including politicization, superficiality, and catastrophism. However, compared to other countries, there is a lower representation of skeptic viewpoints in the Spanish media that may be related to a weaker public visibility of skeptic think tanks and personalities.
Academic interest in climate change communication has risen since 2010. Only four publications (books or articles) were released from 2001 to 2005, whereas more than 30 appeared in the period 2011–2015. Research has primarily focused on public perception and media coverage of climate change and has been conducted mainly by four universities (Universidad Complutense, Universidad de Málaga, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, and Universidad de Navarra). Communication actions related to climate change have been carried out by several nongovernmental organizations, often as part of international events and campaigns. In the early 21st century, national and regional public institutions have conducted several campaigns to communicate and raise climate change awareness, producing several exhibitions and publications, mainly on climate change mitigation.
Several forums have suggested that the current weaknesses could benefit from a closer relationship among the media and scientific institutions. This could contribute to provide more credible information on the reality of climate change, as well as the options for mitigation and adaptation. Future research could also address climate change coverage in online media and social networks, as well as reception studies, currently underrepresented in academic studies conducted in the country.
The contribution summarizes the topic of climate change communication in Switzerland. The development of the topic of “climate change” is described and located within the general area of environmental politics in Switzerland, based on the specifics of Switzerland as a small, federal state, and non-EU member with direct democratic political processes. Climate change communication then is analyzed based on the results of several content analyses, mostly of Swiss print media, which focus on intensity of coverage, topics, and media frames. In the last part, the perception of and attitudes towards environment and climate change are presented and compared to other countries, based on public opinion survey data.
Art Dewulf, Daan Boezeman, and Martinus Vink
Climate change communication in the Netherlands started in the 1950s, but it was not until the late 1970s that the issue earned a place on the public agenda, as an aspect of the energy problem, and in the shadow of controversy about nuclear energy. Driven largely by scientific reports and political initiatives, the first climate change wave can be observed in the period from 1987 to 1989, as part of a broader environmental consciousness wave. The Netherlands took an active role in international climate change initiatives at the time but struggled to achieve domestic emission reductions throughout the 1990s. The political turmoil in the early 2000s dominated Dutch public debate, until An Inconvenient Truth triggered the second climate change wave in 2006–2007, generating peak media attention and broad societal activity. The combination of COP15 and Climategate in late 2009 marked a turning point in Dutch climate change communication, with online communication and climate-sceptic voices gaining much more prominence. Climate change mitigation was pushed down on the societal and political agenda in the 2010s. Climate change adaptation had received much attention during the second climate change wave and had been firmly institutionalized with respect to flood defense and other water management issues. By 2015 a landmark climate change court case and the Paris Agreement at COP21 were fueling climate change communication once again.
There is a comparably lengthy history of climate change communication research in the United Kingdom that can be traced back to the late 1980s. As is the case for media research in general, most attention has historically focused on print media and elite newspapers in particular. The British public appears to have a rather ambivalent response to climate change, and most people do not view it as a pressing threat. While surveys suggest that most citizens believe that climate change is occurring and is at least partly caused by human activity, skeptic views have received greater prominence in the mainstream media than in many other comparable countries. Climate deniers have received considerable space on the opinion pages of some right-leaning British newspapers. This is no doubt linked to vigorous denial campaigns mounted by climate-skeptic think tanks in the United Kingdom. The left-of-center Guardian newspaper (and its counterpart Sunday edition, The Observer) has led the way on climate change reporting, far exceeding the amount of space devoted to the topic by other print news outlets—yet it has one of the lowest readerships. While traditional media remain important agenda setters, online and social media are increasingly significant sources of news—especially for younger individuals. Future climate communication scholarship should play a vital role in informing stakeholder strategies and better understanding the complex linkages between media framing, political agendas, and public perceptions.
Mehmet Ali Uzelgun and Ümit Şahin
The case of Turkey provides some insight into the socio-political and communicative processes taking place at the periphery of global climate governance efforts. Turkey’s 12-year delayed entry into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change regime (in 2004) and its being one of the last signatories to the Kyoto Protocol (in 2009) has hampered climate-relevant efforts in the country in many ways. This includes institutionalization at national and local levels, the development of relevant national policies, and communication activities.
Climate change communication activities in Turkey can be divided into two major categories: the earlier advocacy activities, and the period of mass communication. The earlier activist or advocacy group communication efforts began around 2000, and have contributed significantly to mainstreaming climate change. Paralleling the government’s position towards the issue in many ways, the national-level media activities have remained nominal until 2007, when escalating local weather extremes were widely associated with climate change.
Research in climate change communication in Turkey commenced only recently. Although the studies are limited both in scope and quantity, existing evidence suggests that 2007 was crucial in setting the terms of the debate in the country. Mobilizations at both international and national levels in 2009 made that year another landmark for climate change communication and policy in Turkey. International organizations and governance agencies have also taken active roles in both communication and research activities, and in the translation of governance tools developed at the international level to the national level.
A review of the above-mentioned efforts suggests that a bottom-up direction of climate change communication efforts, and a minority-influence framework—in which minor advocacy and expert groups are supported by global policy norms and scientific knowledge in taking the issue to the national agenda—may be useful in understanding the dynamics taking place in industrializing countries such as Turkey.
Edson C. Tandoc Jr. and Nicholas Eng
While initial research on climate change communication focused on traditional media, such as news coverage of climate change and pro-environmental campaigns, scholars are increasingly focusing on the role of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Sina Weibo. Social media platforms provide a space for three important domains of climate change communication: information, discussion, and mobilization. First, social media platforms have been used by scientists, activists, journalists, and ordinary people to share and receive reports about climate change. Policymakers and academics also use social media for climate change research. Second, social media platforms provide users with a space to discuss climate change issues. Scientists and journalists use social media to interact with the public, who also use social media to criticize policies, as well as media coverage. Finally, social media platforms have been used to coordinate rescue and relief operations in the aftermath of climate change–related disasters, as well as to organize movements and campaigns about climate change. However, most research about climate change communication in social media spaces are based on quantitative analysis of tweets from Western countries. While this body of work has been illuminating, our understanding of social media’s increasingly important role in climate change communication will benefit from a more holistic research approach that explores social media use in climate change communication across a variety of platforms, cultures, and media systems.
Joseph E. Uscinski, Karen Douglas, and Stephan Lewandowsky
An overwhelming percentage of climate scientists agree that human activity is causing the global climate to change in ways that will have deleterious consequences both for the environment and for humankind. While scientists have alerted both the public and policy makers to the dangers of continuing or increasing the current rate of carbon emission, policy proposals intended to curb carbon emission and thereby mitigate climate change have been resisted by a notable segment of the public. Some of this resistance comes from those not wanting to incur costs or change energy sources (i.e., the carbon-based energy industry). Others oppose policies intended to address climate change for ideological reasons (i.e., they are opposed to the collectivist nature of the solutions usually proposed). But perhaps the most alarming and visible are those who oppose solutions to climate change because they believe, or at least claim to believe, that anthropogenic climate change is not really happening and that climate scientists are lying and their data is fake.
Resistance, in this latter case, sometimes referred to as climate “skepticism” or “denialism,” varies from region to region in strength but worldwide has been a prominent part of a political force strong enough to preclude both domestic and global policy makers from making binding efforts to avert the further effects of anthropogenic climate change. For example, a 2013 poll in the United States showed that almost 40% believed that climate change was a hoax.
Climate skeptics suggest the well-publicized consensus is either manufactured or illusory and that some nefarious force—be it the United Nations, liberals, communists, or authoritarians—want to use climate change as a cover for exerting massive new controls over the populace. This conspiracy-laden rhetoric—if followed to its logical conclusion—expresses a rejection of scientific methods, scientists, and the role that science plays in society.
Skeptic rhetoric, on one hand, may suggest that climate skepticism is psychological and the product of underlying conspiratorial thinking, rather than cognitive and the product of a careful weighing of scientific evidence. On the other hand, it may be that skeptics do not harbor underlying conspiratorial thinking, but rather express their opposition to policy solutions in conspiratorial terms because that is the only available strategy when arguing against an accepted scientific consensus. This tactic of calling into question the integrity of science has been used in other scientific debates (e.g., the link between cigarette smoking and cancer).
Opinion surveys, however, support the view that climate change denialism is driven at least partially by underlying conspiratorial thinking. Belief in climate change conspiracy theories also appears to drive behaviors in ways consistent with the behaviors of people who think in conspiratorial terms: Climate change conspiracy theorists are less likely to participate politically or take actions that could alleviate their carbon footprint. Furthermore, some climate skeptics reject studies showing that their skepticism is partially a product of conspiratorial thinking: They believe such studies are themselves part of the conspiracy.
Tim Rayner and Andrew Jordan
The European Union (EU) has long claimed, with some justification, to be a leader in international climate policy. Its policy activities in this area, dating from the early 1990s, have had enormous influence within and beyond Europe. The period since ca. 2000 in particular has witnessed the repeated emergence of policies and targets that are increasingly distinct from national ones and sometimes globally innovative. They encompass a wide array of instruments (e.g., market-based, informational, voluntary, as well as regulatory). Policy development has been motivated by a mixture of concerns: to avoid national differences in policy causing distortions of the EU’s internal market; to enhance the domestic legitimacy of the wider project of European integration; to improve energy security; and to increase economic competitiveness through “ecological modernization.” Climate policy has also offered a means to enhance the standing of the EU as a global actor. The EU has, in general, been influential in international negotiations, for example, in its promotion of the 2°C warming limit and advocacy of emission reduction “targets and timetables.” In turn, its own policy has been shaped by developments at global level, as with the surprisingly enthusiastic adoption of the “flexible mechanism” of emissions trading. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that acute challenges to policy coherence and effectiveness—applying to emerging policy on adaptation, as well as mitigation—lie ahead in a Europe that is more polarized between its more environmentally conscious Member States and those in central and eastern Europe who have extracted significant concessions to protect their fossil fuel–intensive sectors. Although the Paris Agreement of 2015 offers an important opportunity to “ratchet up” the ambition of EU policy, it is proving to be a difficult one to seize.
Philipp Pattberg and Oscar Widerberg
In 1992, when the international community agreed on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the science of climate change was under development, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were by and large produced by developed countries, and the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere had just surpassed 350 ppm. Some 25 years later, climate change is scientifically uncontested, China has overtaken the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of CO2, and concentrations are now measured above 400 ppm. Against this background, states have successfully concluded a new global agreement under the UNFCCC, the 2015 Paris Agreement. Prior to the Paris Agreement, the climate regime focused on allocating emission reduction commitments among (a group of) countries. However, the new agreement has turned the climate regime on its feet by introducing an approach based on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Under this approach, states decide their ambition levels independently instead of engaging in negotiations about “who does what.” The result is a more flexible system that for the first time includes all countries in the quest to reduce GHG emissions to keep temperature increase below 2°C compared to preindustrial levels. Moreover, the international climate regime has transformed into a regime complex, denoting the broad activities of smaller groups of states as well as non-party actors, such as cities, regions, companies, and non-governmental organizations along with United Nations agencies.
Kerry H. Cook
Accurate projections of climate change under increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels are needed to evaluate the environmental cost of anthropogenic emissions, and to guide mitigation efforts. These projections are nowhere more important than Africa, with its high dependence on rain-fed agriculture and, in many regions, limited resources for adaptation. Climate models provide our best method for climate prediction but there are uncertainties in projections, especially on regional space scale. In Africa, limitations of observational networks add to this uncertainty since a crucial step in improving model projections is comparisons with observations. Exceeding uncertainties associated with climate model simulation are uncertainties due to projections of future emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Humanity’s choices in emissions pathways will have profound effects on climate, especially after the mid-century.
The African Sahel is a transition zone characterized by strong meridional precipitation and temperature gradients. Over West Africa, the Sahel marks the northernmost extent of the West African monsoon system. The region’s climate is known to be sensitive to sea surface temperatures, both regional and global, as well as to land surface conditions. Increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases are already causing amplified warming over the Sahara Desert and, consequently, increased rainfall in parts of the Sahel. Climate model projections indicate that much of this increased rainfall will be delivered in the form of more intense storm systems.
The complicated and highly regional precipitation regimes of East Africa present a challenge for climate modeling. Within roughly 5º of latitude of the equator, rainfall is delivered in two seasons—the long rains in the spring, and the short rains in the fall. Regional climate model projections suggest that the long rains will weaken under greenhouse gas forcing, and the short rains season will extend farther into the winter months. Observations indicate that the long rains are already weakening.
Changes in seasonal rainfall over parts of subtropical southern Africa are observed, with repercussions and challenges for agriculture and water availability. Some elements of these observed changes are captured in model simulations of greenhouse gas-induced climate change, especially an early demise of the rainy season. The projected changes are quite regional, however, and more high-resolution study is needed. In addition, there has been very limited study of climate change in the Congo Basin and across northern Africa. Continued efforts to understand and predict climate using higher-resolution simulation must be sustained to better understand observed and projected changes in the physical processes that support African precipitation systems as well as the teleconnections that communicate remote forcings into the continent.