Article | Published:

Linguistic analysis of IPCC summaries for policymakers and associated coverage

Nature Climate Change volume 6, pages 311316 (2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Summary for Policymakers (SPM) is the most widely read section of IPCC reports and the main springboard for the communication of its assessment reports. Previous studies have shown that communicating IPCC findings to a variety of scientific and non-scientific audiences presents significant challenges to both the IPCC and the mass media. Here, we employ widely established sentiment analysis tools and readability metrics to explore the extent to which information published by the IPCC differs from the presentation of respective findings in the popular and scientific media between 1990 and 2014. IPCC SPMs clearly stand out in terms of low readability, which has remained relatively constant despite the IPCC’s efforts to consolidate and readjust its communications policy. In contrast, scientific and quality newspaper coverage has become increasingly readable and emotive. Our findings reveal easy gains that could be achieved in making SPMs more accessible for non-scientific audiences.

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Acknowledgements

We thank E. Ioannou and A. Gibson for valuable research assistance. We also thank participants of the workshop ‘Media, the IPCC and the Cultural Politics of Climate Change’ held at the University of Exeter in May 2014 for their comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. S.D. is supported by the European Research Council under the 7th Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant agreement no. 284369 and by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP).

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Affiliations

  1. KEDGE Business School, Strategy Department, 680 cours de la liberation, Talence 33405, France

    • Ralf Barkemeyer
  2. University of Leeds, School of Earth and Environment, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

    • Suraje Dessai
  3. European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), Shinfield Park, Reading RG2 9AX, UK

    • Beatriz Monge-Sanz
  4. Roma 3 University, Dipartimento di Scienze della Formazione (School of Education), Via Milazzo 11b, 00185 Rome, Italy

    • Barbara Gabriella Renzi
  5. University of Bonn, Institut für Medizinische Biometrie, Informatik und Epidemiologie (IMBIE), Sigmund-Freud-Straße 25, Bonn 53105, Germany

    • Giulio Napolitano

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Contributions

R.B. and B.M.-S. conceived the study. R.B., S.D. and G.N. designed the study. All co-authors contributed to analysis and writing.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ralf Barkemeyer.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2824