In the lead up to COP 27, the Climate Action Against Disinformation Coalition released a new report about efforts to undermine climate action through disinformation. Climate change disinformation can span suggesting that the consequences of global warming may not be as bad as scientists claim, arguing without evidence that mitigation and adaptation policies are detrimental to the economy or national security, to claiming that no action will be able to halt climate change. The main culprits spreading disinformation (spoiler alert, no big surprises here!) typically come from sponsored or rogue right-wing media outlets, the fossil fuel industry, and bots and people on social media. 

The surprise lies in the fact that over 50% of the population across 6 countries (Australia, Brazil, Germany, India, the UK and the US) believes at least one major false statement.  Between 6% and 23% of the population in the surveyed countries do not believe in climate change or are uncertain that climate change is happening and between 22% and 38% believe that humans are only partly responsible for it.  

How is it that this significant gap between public perception and the science on climate change remains? Below are 5 key reasons.

(1) The influence of the fossil fuel industry over the editorial agenda of willing right-wing news outlets.  

Across countries, most disinformation appears to be coming through TV news consumption, followed by social media platforms being used as a source of news. Whatever the media used to spread and consume the information, it appears that right-wing propaganda, supported largely by the fossil fuel industry, is the main culprit globally. 

(2) Lack of action by social media leadership.  

“A recent analysis collected on Eco-Bot found that 16 of the world’s biggest polluters were responsible for placing more than 1,700 climate misinformation ads on Facebook in 2021. As a whole, these ads garnered approximately 150 million impressions and have earned roughly $5 million for Facebook.”

The Climate Disinformation Coalition’s 27 point scorecard which was released earlier this year found that all 5 major social media platforms (Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube) are failing to address climate disinformation, with Facebook, Twitter and TikTok faring worse than Pinterest and YouTube. A major issue is the lack of transparency around actions the companies take to monitor and counter disinformation.  

(3) The pandemic and Russian aggression. 

Disinformation spread during the Covid-19 pandemic included the claim that the lockdown was propagated by climate activists. On the back of the pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine not only created an energy, food and supply chain crisis but also distracted the world from the looming climate disaster that appears, ironically, imminent in Russia which is warming 2.5 times faster than the rest of the world. 

(4) Delayism by deception 

“Every myth, lie, and conspiracy about climate change that goes against known science and the lived experiences of others is another obstacle to overcome when fighting for equitable climate action and policies.”

Vested interest groups (most often connected to fossil fuel companies) are primarily responsible for generating and spreading disinformation. The aim: create enough doubt to justify delaying large scale collective action. Looked at in this way, the climate change disinformation lobby is unlike other conspiracy theory groups. It has the power to derail desperately needed efforts to tackle climate change for short-term political and economic gains.

(5) The data gaps

Data gaps severely hamper our ability to predict and mitigate extreme weather events, our ability to educate people on the link between climate change and these events, and to identify the most vulnerable. Grassroots level, community generated data on climate change can be a game changer in establishing its very real effects and analysing trends while at the same time documenting indigenous resilience and adaptation strategies. 

What we’re doing

Emani is developing the processes and technology to allow communities to consistently communicate how climate change and other sustainability issues affect them. In Afghanistan, we helped an NGO understand the potential for forestation activities to secure farmer livelihoods. Meanwhile, our consultants have been helping the UN to examine the links between climate change and crime, with vulnerability to human trafficking in Bangladesh as the case study.  

Even while “a staggering 99.9 percent of peer-reviewed studies on global warming conclude that climate change is real and that humans are causing it by burning fossil fuels and clearing land for agriculture,” climate change disinformation is rampant across the globe. 

Climate change activists and media content moderators do not appear to be sufficiently aware of the nuanced way in which misinformation manifests and therefore are limited in their ability to curb its spread and uptake. Finding ways to systematically and cost-effectively engage local communities will become ever more important as the current generation of adaptation programming reaches its limit and deeper-reaching methods are needed.

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