Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

Dominant frames in legacy and social media coverage of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report


The media are powerful agents that translate information across the science–policy interface, framing it for audiences. Yet frames are never neutral: they define an issue, identify causes, make moral judgements and shape proposed solutions. Here, we show how the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) was framed in UK and US broadcast and print coverage, and on Twitter. Coverage of IPCC Working Group I (WGI) was contested and politicized, employing the ‘Settled Science, Uncertain Science, Political or Ideological Struggle and Role of Science’ frames. WGII coverage commonly used Disaster or Security. More diverse frames were employed for WGII and WGIII, including Economics and Morality and Ethics. Framing also varied by media institution: for example, the BBC used Uncertain Science, whereas Channel 4 did not. Coverage varied by working group, with WGIII gaining far less coverage than WGI or WGII. We suggest that media coverage and framing of AR5 was influenced by its sequential three-part structure and by the availability of accessible narratives and visuals. We recommend that these communication lessons be applied to future climate science reports.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Frames evident in media coverage of the IPCC WG reports.
Figure 2: Frames evident in media coverage of the IPCC, shown by media outlet.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Moser, S. C. & Dilling, L. Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  2. Gamson, W. A. & Modigliani, A. Media discourse and public opinion on nuclear power: A constructionist approach. Am. J. Sociol. 95, 1–37 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Carvalho, A. & Burgess, J. Cultural circuits of climate change in UK broadsheet newspapers, 1985–2003. Risk Anal. 25, 1457–1469 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Boykoff, M. T. Who Speaks for the Climate? (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  5. Boykoff, M. T., Goodman, M. K. & Curtis, I. Cultural politics of climate change: interactions in everyday spaces. in The Politics of Climate Change: A Survey (ed. Boykoff, M. T.) 136–154 (Routledge/Europa, 2009).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Newman, N. & Levy, D. A. Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2014: Tracking the Future of News (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 2014).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Leiserowitz, A. Climate change risk perception and policy preferences: The role of affect, imagery, and values. Climatic Change 77, 45–72 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Brossard, D., Shanahan, J. & McComas, K. Are issue-cycles culturally constructed? A comparison of French and American coverage of global climate change. Mass Commun. Soc. 7, 359–377 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bjurström, A. & Polk, M. Physical and economic bias in climate change research: A scientometric study of IPCC Third Assessment Report. Climatic Change 108, 1–22 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Adler, C. E. & Hadorn, G. H. The IPCC and treatment of uncertainties: Topics and sources of dissensus. WIRES Clim. Change 5, 663–676 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Andrews, K. et al. World Newspaper Coverage of Climate Change or Global Warming, 2004–2014 (Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, 2014);

  12. IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014)

  13. Patt, A. G. & Schrag, D. P. Using specific language to describe risk and probability. Climatic Change 61, 17–30 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Budescu, D. V., Broomell, S. & Por, H. H. Improving communication of uncertainty in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Psychol. Sci. 20, 299–308 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Budescu, D. V., Por, H. H., Broomell, S. & Smithson, M. The interpretation of IPCC probabilistic statements around the world. Nature Clim. Change 4, 508–512 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Painter, J. Climate Change in the Media: Reporting Risk and Uncertainty (I. B. Tauris, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  17. Painter, J. Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate Change Scepticism (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 2011).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Painter, J. Disaster Averted? Television Coverage of the 2013/14 IPCC’s Climate Change Reports (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 2014).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Hulme, M. Why We Disagree About Climate Change (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  20. Pearce, W., Holmberg, K., Hellsten, I. & Brigitte, N. Climate change on Twitter: Topics, communities and conversations about the 2013 IPCC Working Group 1 Report. PLoS ONE 9, e94785 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Fairclough, N. Media Discourse (Edward Arnold, 1995).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Hajer, M. The Politics of Environmental Discourse: Ecological Modernization and the Policy Process (Clarendon Press, 1995).

    Google Scholar 

  23. Philo, G. News content studies, media group methods and discourse analysis: a comparison of approaches. in Media Studies: Key Issues and Debates (ed. Devereux, E.) 101–133 (Sage, 2007).

    Google Scholar 

  24. Carvalho, A. Ideological cultures and media discourses on scientific knowledge: Re-reading news on climate change. Public Underst. Sci. 16, 223–243 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Gamson, W. A. & Modigliani, A. in Research in Political Sociology (eds Braungart, R. G. & Braungart, M. M.) 137–177 (Emerald, 1987).

    Google Scholar 

  26. Entman, R. M., Matthews, J. & Pellicano, L. in The Handbook of Journalism Studies (eds Wahl-Jorgensen, K. & Hanitzsch, T.) 175–190 (Routledge, 2009).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Scheufele, D. Framing as a theory of media effects. J. Commun. 49, 103–122 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Entman, R. M. Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. J. Commun. 43, 51–58 (1993).

    Google Scholar 

  29. Kiousis, S. Explicating media salience: A factor analysis of New York Times issue coverage during the 2000 U.S. presidential election. J. Commun. 54, 71–87 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Black, R. No more summaries for wonks. Nature Clim. Change (in the press).

  31. Headline Statements from the Summary for Policymakers (IPCC, Working Group I Technical Support Unit, 2013);

  32. Bennet, W. L. News: The Politics of Illusion (Pearson Longman, 2011).

    Google Scholar 

  33. O’Neill, S., Boykoff, M., Day, S. & Niemeyer, S. On the use of imagery for climate change engagement. Glob. Environ. Change 23, 413–421 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. The Guardian Our Quest to Become the World’s Leading Liberal Voice (The Guardian, 2010);

  35. Science and Technology Committee Communicating Climate Change (The Stationery Office, 2014);

    Google Scholar 

  36. Boykoff, M. The Politics of Climate Change: A Survey (Routledge, 2009).

    Google Scholar 

  37. Leetaru, K. H. et al. Mapping the global Twitter heartbeat: The geography of Twitter. First Monday 18 (2013)

  38. Newman, M. Networks: An Introduction (Oxford Univ. Press, 2010).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  39. Rubin, A. & Babbie, E. Research Methods for Social Work (Wadsworth, 2005).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


S.O’N. was financially supported through an ESRC Fellowship (S/K001175/1). Additional financial support was provided through the University of Exeter Humanities and Social Sciences Strategic Fund. We thank R. Kingston for assistance with coding; and N. Filice, V. Duke, M. Henry and R. Novak for help collecting US newspapers. J. Painter, L. Hickman and R. Black at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism workshop ‘Changing media ecologies and environment reporting’ provided insights that helped shape the discussion.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



S.O’N. conceived the study, designed the frame schema, collected the US TV data, and coded and analysed the data. H.T.P.W. collected and analysed the Twitter data. T.K. contributed to coding and frame development. B.W. collected all UK data. M.B. collected US newspaper data. All authors contributed to writing the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Saffron O’Neill.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

O’Neill, S., Williams, H., Kurz, T. et al. Dominant frames in legacy and social media coverage of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. Nature Clim Change 5, 380–385 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing