Report on attitudes to climate change among news audiences

Dr. Waqas Ejaz
Mitali Mukherjee
Dr. Richard Fletcher

The year 2023, may go down not only as the hottest ever recorded but also as a year that has, with an alarming increase in the frequency and severity of a wide range of climate change-induced extreme weather events, given us a stark foretaste of the climate change impacts we can anticipate over the coming decades and centuries. These impacts are far-reaching, extending to human health, politics, food supplies, infrastructure, financial markets, and society at large, and transcending national boundaries.

Considering the scale of climate change challenge and the widespread impacts that affect us all, coupled with the awareness that our window for effective action is rapidly closing, the responsibility to help tackle it extends well beyond governments alone; it falls on all key stakeholders, including the news media.

A substantial body of empirical evidence has identified that news media are crucial in shaping policy agendas, fostering public discourse, and motivating individuals to take pro-environmental actions. We know that the majority of people come across information on climate change from news media, which are thus influencing public understanding of and engagement with the issue. Understanding people’s climate news consumption patterns and their impact on related attitudes remains critical for scholars, journalists, and policymakers, especially in countries from the Global South that are generally under-researched.

In this report, our aim is to offer fresh insights on the changes and consistencies in climate change news consumption patterns in a diverse sample of eight countries: France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and Brazil, India, and Pakistan, all of which contend with the profound impacts of climate change. In addition to news consumption, we assess public opinion on various related aspects, including the health impacts of climate change, public support for and coverage of direct action protests, and climate justice.

Survey of the eight countries belonging to the Global North and the Global South enables us to provide a valuable comparison between two groups: countries like France, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the USA in the Global North, and Brazil, India, and Pakistan in the Global South. In the former group, patterns of news consumption are well documented, whereas in the latter, empirical research on the subject is still in its early stages and remains under-researched, even though these regions are home to substantial populations and face heightened climate-related risks.

Analyzing data from Brazil, France, Germany, India, Japan, Pakistan, the UK, and the USA, the survey found that:

  • In most of the eight countries there has been a slight increase in climate change news use, with just over half (55%) on average using climate change news in the previous week.
    Climate news avoidance and trust in climate information from the news media have remained roughly stable, but avoidance has decreased slightly in the UK, USA, and Pakistan, as well as trust in the UK and Germany.
  • Scientists remain the most trusted sources of news and information about climate change, trusted by 73 percent on average, and respondents more often see them used as sources in the news media than any other source of information.
  • Over three quarters (80%) of survey respondents say they are concerned about climate change misinformation, consistent with data from 2022.
  • Once again, respondents think television and online (including social media and messaging apps) are where they see most climate-related misinformation.
  • Politicians, political parties, and governments are frequently mentioned as sources of false and misleading information.
  • Nearly two thirds of respondents believe that news media play a significant role in influencing climate change decisions, actions by large businesses, government policies, and public attitudes, with particularly strong beliefs in Brazil, India, and Pakistan.
  • There is large variation in how soon respondents think people in their country will face the serious effects of climate change, with significant proportions in every country thinking the consequences are decades away at least. However, people who use climate change news on a weekly basis are considerably more likely to think that people are being affected by climate change now.
  • Significant disparities exist in perceptions of the impact of climate change on public health specifically, with those in Global South countries (Brazil, India, Pakistan) generally perceiving larger effects (50% or more) than those in the Global North (UK, USA, France, Germany, Japan).
  • Just over half of respondents think that climate change has a larger effect on poorer people (53%) and poorer countries (52%), but there is a considerable partisan disagreement on this in France, the UK, and the USA, with those leaning politically right less likely to agree.
    People are more likely to think that richer countries and more polluting countries should take greater responsibility for reducing climate change, and weekly climate change news users are more likely to hold this view.
  • In the UK, USA, Germany and France opinion is roughly evenly split on whether direct action climate protests (e.g. blocking roads, disrupting sporting events) are covered fairly by the news media. But in Germany, the UK, and the USA opinion varies depending on whether people support or oppose the protests.
  • People in our survey expressed a high level of interest in various types of climate coverage, including news that discusses latest developments, positive news, and coverage presenting solutions. People did not express a clear preference for the type of solutions journalism they are most interested in.

The report authors expressed hope that the report, while providing new insights on issues linking climate change to health, politics, and climate justice, contributes to the ongoing global conversation about climate change, furnishes journalists and policymakers with evidence-based insights, and inspires informed public engagement on this pressing issue.

Published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism with the support of the Laudes Foundation.

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