As the climate crisis receives more and more media attention, climate science and policy come under the spotlight, particularly around the annual COP international negotiations. With this, enter disinformation.
Climate disinformation is false or misleading information about climate issues, climate science and solutions, spread intentionally and sowing the seeds for doubt and confusion.
The rise in disinformation during COPs is not unusual. As more reports are published by research organisations or climate NGOs around that time, creating a buzz, more biased articles are also produced in response by various actors with vested interests, such as fossil fuel lobbies, state or commercial players.
The nature of social media, where these publications circulate, helps disinformation to spread and thrive, which can ultimately discredit and delay climate action.
This is why effective action to fight climate change, which is the core objective of the European Climate Pact, must include action to address climate disinformation. We caught up with two European Climate Pact Ambassadors who attended the in Dubai last December, Teresa Giuffrè and Eirini Sampson, to ask them whether they have experienced climate disinformation and what we should do when we come across it.
Here’s what they had to say.
Have you experienced climate disinformation in your work?
Teresa Giuffrè volunteers for the Milan-based Italian Climate Network – an environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO) that wants to set the record straight, especially during COPs. It keeps people in Italy informed about international climate negotiations through education and face-to-face events.
‘As the consensus on climate science becomes greater and the need to act becomes more urgent, companies and industries with vested interests in delaying responses to climate are using more subtle ways to spread disinformation,’ says Teresa. ‘For example, by suggesting that common climate solutions such as renewable energies are more expensive and will be a threat to the economy and people’s jobs.’
Greek PhD researcher Eirini Sampson is the founder of an online resource hub, Sustainability for Students, which focuses on making sustainability and climate issues easy to understand. It’s just one of the ways Eirini is breaking down barriers to climate action.
Through her work, Eirini has seen a lot of ‘climate gaslighting’: ‘an example would be people saying we are doing a great job already and we don’t need to move so quickly with climate solutions’. Like other forms of climate disinformation, it involves downplaying climate change to make it seem less important and less urgent, preventing people from taking action.
Is climate disinformation a problem in your country?
Teresa and Eirini agree disinformation is a problem in both Italy and Greece.
Teresa has seen Italian media host climate deniers in discussions about climate change to encourage heated debates to boost viewers and higher ratings: ‘these debates exploit the use of freedom of expression and opinion by denying science and pretending that climate change is about opinion rather than fact. Thankfully, there is some high-quality media coverage too especially during COPs, which helps the public understand these international negotiations.’
But while media in Italy have covered climate topics for years, Eirini says that in Greece climate change only started making the headlines recently following extreme weather events. And it has led to some confusion: ‘a lack of understanding the science behind the weather events has led many to see arson as the only reason for the wildfires’.
What do you think world leaders, politicians and environmental NGOs should do to combat the impact of disinformation on citizens and policymakers?
Teresa shares the European Commission’s view that more regulations, tools and a coordinated approach are needed to stop online disinformation spreading: ‘social media companies don’t have enough resources to moderate content so a lot of fake news is spread at the speed of light. And environmental NGOs should share good information in a clear way to counter disinformation from other sources.’
Meanwhile, Eirini thinks world leaders and politicians should agree a framework to tackle disinformation. Earlier this year, the EU brought in regulations on sustainability claims to prevent greenwashing. To help consumers make environmentally friendly choices and encourage companies to offer more sustainable products, the new rules set out to ban general and unsubstantiated claims such as ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘natural’, ‘biodegradable’, and ‘climate neutral’.
Similarly, when it comes to disinformation, Eirini suggested that governments could do more to regulate it online as she feels that social media platforms aren’t held accountable for their content and don’t have enough resources to mediate it.
What can we do to help stop disinformation?
Teresa and Eirini gave us a few tips:
- Report disinformation when you see it – many social media platforms have a function to report posts
- Headlines can be misleading so ensure you read full articles
- Don’t engage with disinformation posts on social media as this will only amplify the message and give it more attention
- Help to spread correct information through your channels and networks, online and offline
- Stay informed through reputable sources and proven experts and provide clear, fact-based information during discussions
- Be aware of your own biases and get your information from diverse sources for a balanced perspective
While climate disinformation tends to pick up speed around the annual COP events, it poses a significant challenge to climate action year-round. With wrong information so easy to access and complicated issues being oversimplified on social media, Eirini and Teresa are hoping that culture and policy changes will come into play, fostering a more informed audience.
True to the values of the European Climate Pact, the Ambassadors are focusing their efforts on empowering people to share accurate information online and advocating for increased climate literacy and critical thinking. Simply explaining climate change issues and responding to common misunderstandings can go a long way, and the way we do it is important.
If you are not sure where to start, take a look at the Climate Pact’s toolkit for talking to people about climate action which is full of practical advice to answer difficult questions and communicate clearly about climate change.
- Publication date
- 6 December 2023
- Directorate-General for Climate Action