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Read all about it!? Public accountability, fragmented global climate governance and the media

Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, Sylvia I., Lars Friberg, and Edoardo Saccenti. 2016. Read all about it!? Public accountability, fragmented global climate governance and the media. Climate Policy. Online first.


The way that the media reports and comments on key events in the fragmented global climate governance landscape is one important route to strengthening public accountability of such governance. Editorials and other opinion pieces provide key contributions to the public sphere, but have been almost entirely neglected in media research on climate change. Another understudied aspect in such research is the reporting on the fragmentation of global climate governance across numerous forums. This article provides an exploratory approach to address these two research gaps. It presents a quantitative analysis of how often leading newspapers in seven countries (Finland, India, Laos, Norway, South Africa, UK and USA) wrote about 18 meetings in six different global climate governance forums between 2004–2009 and whether they provided commentaries about them. The study shows that media coverage (articles and opinion pieces) is limited or absent for many meetings that are not attended by heads of state, are the launch of a new process or do not have the convening power of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The pattern of coverage differs significantly among individual newspapers and there is no clear distinction between developed and developing country newspapers. The article concludes that overall news coverage, and editorial commentary in particular, of global climate meetings in the selected newspapers is too low and too patchy to significantly support domestic publics to hold their own (and indirectly other) governments accountable with regard to fragmented global climate governance.

Policy relevance

This study is instructive for the media and civil society, who should both act as accountholders of governments with regard to how they act in global climate governance and its implementation. Reporting and commentaries need to reflect the overarching process, not only sporadic coverage of high-level meetings, but also critical analysis of what is achieved. They should also take a broader scope in terms of the kinds of meetings and processes in global governance that they cover. Civil society should encourage the media to increase coverage along these lines, e.g. by adequate monitoring of government actions (or lack thereof) and share this with the media.

KEYWORDS: Accountability, climate change, energy, fragmentation, global governance, media

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