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Analysis: Newspaper coverage of climate change drops despite release of major UN reports

  • 06 May 2014, 14:00
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Roland Unger

Despite the launch of two major UN reports on climate science, UK newspaper coverage of climate change dropped last month.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released threemajor reports on the causes and impacts of climate change over the past seven months. The publication of the first report last September led to a spike in newspaper coverage.

But the latter two reports - launched on the 31st March and 13th April - didn't capture the same level of attention, our analysis suggests.

climate tracker, total, April 2014

Our analysis shows 452 articles were published in April, just two more than an 12-month average of 448 articles per month. That's significantly less than February's 12-month high, where floods catalysed a widespread debate on the impacts of climate change.

The IPCC's first report was the subject of many of last September's 559 articles on climate change. The next two reports similarly dominated April's coverage in April but failed to lift the total number of articles above average levels.

That doesn't necessarily mean UK newspapers were neglecting climate change coverage, however.

The IPCC's second report was released on the last day of March - a fact that may have skewed the data slightly. While all of the stories on the IPCC's first report were captured in September's data, coverage of the second and third reports was spread across March and April. Nonetheless, even if the 29 stories published on the launch day of the second report were included in April's count the total coverage would not have reached September's level.

The IPCC's reports did serve to focus newspapers' climate change reporting, however.

For instance, the IPCC's second report led to a number of stories on the impacts of climate change on food security and extreme weather events. While stories about renewable energy and the costs of tackling climate change caught  journalists' attention in the wake of the third report.

We've broken down coverage of the IPCC's second report in much more detail here.

Newspaper breakdown

Throughout April, three newspapers continued to dominate the newspapers' climate change coverage. Our analysis shows the Guardian, Times, and Daily Telegraph were responsible for over half of all the articles published on climate change last month.

Climate tracker, by paper, Apr14

But when each newspaper's readership is taken into account, a different picture emerges. While some newspapers drive UK newspaper coverage of climate change, the same papers may not have the greatest impact on the public's perception of climate change.

This graph shows the the proportion of April's climate change coverage, weighted by each newspapers' circulation:

Climate tracker, weighted by paper, Apr14

That's potentially significant, as the tone of each publication's climate change coverage differs. For instance, the newspaper with the highest circulation - the Daily Mail - typically takes a more skeptical angle than the Guardian, which is responsible for the most articles.

Competing events

While the IPCC's first report led to a notable spike in newspaper coverage of climate change, our analysis suggests the latter reports didn't have the same impact.

That may be because journalists struggled to pin down a particular angle on the IPCC's second and third reports, compared to the first report's bold topline: that scientists were more sure than ever that human's were responsible for climate change.

Alternatively, it could be because the IPCC's reports were competed for space with other major news stories - most notably the conflict in Ukraine and search for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

In such a context, not even the launch of two major scientific reports was enough to push climate change onto more pages, it seems.

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