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

Nature Climate Change volume 5, pages 380385 (2015) | Download Citation


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.

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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


  1. Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Amory Building, Rennes Drive Exeter EX4 4RJ, UK

    • Saffron O’Neill
    •  & Bouke Wiersma
  2. Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Laver Building, North Park Road Exeter EX4 4QE, UK

    • Hywel T. P. Williams
  3. Psychology, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Washington Singer Laboratories, Exeter EX4 4QG, UK

    • Tim Kurz
  4. Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), University of Colorado-Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA

    • Maxwell Boykoff


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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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Saffron O’Neill.

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