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framing climate changes messaging


Researchers home in on 5 type of messages that focus people on climate action

Spoiler: environment, health, and global frames were among the best performers across five high-emitting countries; migration themes fared the worst.
October 25, 2022

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Positive messages about climate action, emphasizing health and the environment, and highlighting global and immediate effects increase support for climate policies across multiple countries, according to a new study. The findings also suggest key communications strategies to reach people who are not already concerned about climate change.

Researchers are increasingly interested in how different ways of framing climate change messages affect public support for climate policies. But most studies so far have been conducted in high-income Western countries. Studies have also addressed individual message frames separately, but have not evaluated the effect of multiple frames at the same time.

In the new study, researchers set out to address both of those shortcomings. They administered an online survey to 7,500 people, about 1,500 in each of 5 countries: China, Germany, India, the UK and the US. The researchers chose those countries because they are responsible for large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, but vary in terms of socioeconomic development, political system, culture, and so on.

Participants read pairs of climate-related messages and were asked to choose which one would make them more likely to support policies to address climate change. The messages varied in four characteristics—whether they emphasized the positive (opportunities of climate action) or negative (threats of climate change); whether they highlighted health, environmental, economic, or migration themes; whether they focused on impacts at the individual, community, national, or global level; and whether they highlighted impacts now, in 2030, or in 2050—for a total of 96 messages in all. Each participant reviewed 5 pairs of randomly chosen messages.

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The analysis reveals some variation across countries in how people respond to climate change messages, but also some relatively consistent findings. In China, the UK, and the US, positive messages increase support for climate policies and negative messages decrease support, the researchers report in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.

In India the valence of the message has no effect on climate policy support, while in Germany it’s negative messages that are more likely to increase support for climate action—perhaps because those messages are consistent with the way politicians and the media have historically talked about climate change in that country.

Messages that touch on environmental themes are more likely to increase support for climate policies in all five countries, and those emphasizing health in all countries except Germany. The results support a growing trend to emphasize public health in framing climate change messages, the researchers say.

Economic themes don’t affect support for climate policy in any of the countries, and messages about migration reduce support. In all countries except the US, emphasizing the global scale increases the likelihood of support for climate policies. And in all countries except China, highlighting present-day rather than longer-term effects increases support.

The researchers found few differences in the effectiveness of the frames across age, gender, education, or income groupings. Instead, “Our results show that the most important differences are those between those that believe climate change is a global threat and those that do not,” they write.

Among people who are not already concerned about climate change, “positive and health frames increase the likelihood of support for climate policies, indicating the relevance of these frames for shifting policy preferences for different audience groups,” the researchers say.

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In the US, which has the highest percentage of study participants who are not concerned about climate change, environmental themes decrease support for climate policies and economic themes increase support—in contrast to the overall findings.

The results also hint at the possibility that certain combinations of frames may be especially effective in building support for climate change—an idea that should be explored in future studies, the researchers say.

Source: Dasandi N. et al.  “Positive, global, and health or environment framing bolsters public support for climate policies.” Communications Earth & Environment 2022.

Image: ©Anthropocene Magazine.

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