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Climate change is a media topic around the globe – Many countries give it more attention than Germany does


How much room do major daily papers invest in the topic of climate change? Sociologist Andreas Schmidt and his team at the University of Hamburg’s KlimaCampus have analyzed the media coverage in 27 countries. Their study shows: In all countries, the level of media attention has significantly increased since 1996, and is especially high in those countries that have economies largely based on fossil fuels like oil or coal, and that at the same time have agreed to lower their CO2 emissions in the context of the Kyoto Protocol.

To date there have been hardly any studies that compared more than three countries, or that included developing and newly industrialized countries. The new analysis, recently published in the journal “Global Environmental Change,” examines both industrialized and developing countries from 1996 to 2010. For each country, the researchers have studied one or two high-quality newspapers of national significance and with substantial reach, recording the monthly percentage of the overall coverage that was dedicated to climate-related articles for each paper.

For the period in question, on average 0.41 percent of all newspaper articles in Germany dealt with some aspect of climate change. Compared to the other countries surveyed, this puts Germany in the bottom third. In Australia, the leader of the pack, three times as much coverage was devoted to the topic (1.42 percent). Of the eleven industrialized countries, only Russia and Spain scored lower than Germany; all in all, the media in 17 countries (eight industrialized and nine developing countries) spent more media coverage on climate change than Germany did.

“We didn’t expect to find these results,” says Schmidt. Yet whereas there has been a broad consensus in Germany as far back as the 1980s that the country should be a prime mover in international climate policy, stronger lobby groups with diverse agendas made for a much more intensive debate in Australia. Australia’s economy is also more reliant on fossil fuels than is Germany’s; as a result, implementing the Kyoto objectives means an even greater challenge for the former.

A high degree of media attention can help to shape climate policy

“Those countries that produce the most greenhouse gases and are now under pressure to change their lifestyles and economies do a great deal of discussing when it comes to climate change and political solutions,” explains Schmidt. This interconnection between the need for action on the one hand and media attention on the other is particularly clear in the case of Australia. “Also, the strong environmental protection movement in Australia means extreme weather events like droughts and flooding are intensively discussed.” In essence, then, the analysis shows that the scope of articles reflects social and political discussions on climate change. “In the case of Australia, the widespread social debate ultimately led to ambitious climate goals. So we see that a high degree of media attention can help to shape climate policy.”

The study also shows: In those countries with the most “at-risk” climates, the percentage of climate-related articles hardly differs from the average for all countries. However, there are noticeable differences among those countries that have not agreed to be bound by the Kyoto Protocol – and that report less often on climate change in general. Within this group the level of media attention is much higher when significant repercussions are expected for the respective country. In these countries, the articles primarily discuss the impacts of climate change and measures to adapt to it. According to Schmidt, “There are hardly any commercial conflicts of interest at the national level, because these countries haven’t obligated themselves to help achieve the goals of an international climate agreement. So there’s less need for discussion.”

Andreas Schmidt, Ana Ivanova, Mike S. Schäfer: Media Attention for Climate Change Around the World: A Comparative Analysis of Newspaper Coverage in 27 Countries, in Global Environmental Change.

The article is available under: DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.07.020

Levels of Media Attention to Climate Change: an International Comparison


Andreas Schmidt
Universität Hamburg, KlimaCampus
Tel.: 040 42838-7775