Climate change may cause massive migration across the globe. Anywhere from 25 million to 1 billion environmental people will be displaced by climate change by the year 2050. And according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), major news coverage is failing to explain climate change as a key driving force behind food insecurity and subsequent migration. To draw attention to this urgent new issue, a recent IFAD report, “Food, Migration and Climate Change: The Untold Story” was presented to international media attending the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (COP21) climate talks in Paris.
The research reveals systematic problems with major media coverage of climate change, noting that most news stories fail to draw connections between crop failure, food insecurity, climate, and migration from developing countries. Media content analysis for the report focused on eight influential news outlets in the United Kingdom and France, and the authors then conducted four focus groups in each country to better understand news consumers’ perceptions of the role of climate change in other global issues. The research preceded COP21 so that the surge in interest around the conference would not influence the findings.
“The research clearly shows that media analyzed did not make the connection between climate change and many of the other stories dominating the news agenda at that time,” says Sam Dubberley, a journalist who prepared the report. “In fact, our research shows that climate change never once reached the front page of the news outlets we looked at.” Focus group participants shared their attitudes on climate change and participated in a “news game” that allowed them to act as journalists and discuss their motivations for approaching news coverage.
Major findings of the report include:
- Front-page news and major televisions stories rarely analyze climate change, and news consumers don’t know where else to go to find richer information.
- News consumers did not believe that major media helped them understand the linkages between climate change and issues such as agricultural failure, food insecurity, conflict, and migration from developing countries.
- Editorial decisions made by media organizations directly impact audience views and beliefs about climate change.
- News consumers believe climate change-related impacts need to be prioritized by news organizations.
- Individuals on the front lines of climate change who suffer its direct impacts rarely have a voice or are mentioned in news stories. Instead, stories focus on academic institutions, climate scientists, and government reports.
“The media, whether local or global, are among the world’s most influential institutions and how they shape the climate change narrative remains vitally important,” says IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze. “[If] we don’t recognize the signs earlier, if we don’t make those crucial links, then poverty, migration, hunger and conflict will continue to make headlines,” he says.
The research identifies these links, reporting recent findings on crop failure, ailing livestock, and localized natural resource conflicts that act as driving factors for rural migration. Climate change is a “threat multiplier” to national security, according to IFAD, contributing to the recent surge of immigration into Europe.