climate change media

Changing climate opinion in UK newspapers

Last year I wrote about the shift in climate rhetoric from British newspapers, with the Mirror, the Sun and the Daily Express all launching new green campaigns. The latter was the biggest surprise, having spent years regularly trashing climate science and renewable energy.

The change is more than anecdotal though. Researchers at Carbon Brief keep an eye on how climate change is reported. They pay particular attention to editorials, as these can be seen as the most straightforward expression of the paper’s views. Over the years, some newspapers have consistently called for more action on climate change, and others have used their platform to undermine it. There’s a clear left/right split here, with left leaning papers unanimously in support of climate action, and right leaning papers more likely to dismiss it as too expensive, misguided or unfair.

The balance began to tilt significantly in favour of climate action in 2018. This graph from Carbon Brief shows editorial comments on climate action from right leaning newspapers, and shows that pro-climate comments now dominate.

Sceptical editorials are now a small minority, with The Daily Telegraph seemingly determined to hang on the longest.

Opinions differ on how much power the newspapers actually have. But since Britain’s print media is dominated by right leaning newspapers, it’s likely that the climate scepticism of The Sun, The Daily Mail and the Express has been influential. There was basically a decade of political inaction between the Climate Change Act in 2008 and the net zero commitment in 2019 – a time of modest gains in some areas, steps backwards elsewhere, and plenty of missed opportunities in the middle. That’s time we don’t get back.

It will be interesting to see if this new interest in climate change is sustained. We know that certain branches of right wing politics want to scrap the net zero target, and get fracking back on the agenda. Will the newspapers stick with their new green aspirations, or revert to previous positions? Or is climate denial so untenable now that it becomes commercially dubious?

Lots more analysis in Carbon Brief’s interactive report in to how Britain’s newspapers changed their minds.

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