Institute at Brown for Environment and SocietyIBES

Undergraduates investigate media coverage of UN climate talks in new paper published in Climatic Change

As students in IBES's Climate and Development Lab, Sonya Gurwitt '17,  Kari Malkki '16, and Mili Mitra '18 learned firsthand the challenges inherent to climate change mitigation and adaptation by visiting the annual UN clmate talks. At these talks, nations of all sizes and economic levels come together to negotiate for solutions to the climate problems they face.

Sonya Gurwitt (left), Kari Malkki (center), and Mili Mitra (right) have turned their CDL research into a published paper.Sonya Gurwitt (left), Kari Malkki (center), and Mili Mitra (right) have turned their CDL research into a published paper.

But what happens inside the climate talks is often misunderstood by the outside world. Now, Gurwitt, Malkki, and Mitra have published research into the ways that media outlets portrayed the climate talks—specifically the 2015 negotiations in Paris—in the journal Climatic Change

The students analyzed articles published in newspapers originating from four developed countries, six emerging economies, and three developing countries. Their results suggest that media coverage focused largely on climate change's impact on the developed world, with far more coverage regarding mitigation efforts like emissions reductions and far less coverage regarding the necessity of adaptation efforts, especially in the developing world.

Their findings also revealed that there was little talk of the kinds of human rights and equity issues faced by poorer nations confronted with climate change, and far more talk of environmental impacts and those that affect larger, richer nations. They write,

Online coverage by print news organizations was heavily skewed towards the developed world, with little discussion of the most vulnerable countries or the issues that are important to them. These trends highlight the bias of coverage to developed nation perspectives and the persistence of journalistic norms that seek to emphasize drama, novelty, and balance in news coverage.

Read the full paper by Gurwitt, Malkki, and Mitra here.

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