Climate change disinformation: Beyond confusion, action

10 Nov 2020 11:20h - 12:20h

Event report

Co-moderated by Mr Ricardo Grassi (Director General, Head of Editorial Policy at IPS Academy-Citizens Platform on Climate Change and a Sustainable World) and Mr Bhanu Neupane (Programme Specialist, Communication and Information Sector at UNESCO), the session’s goal was to describe how to go beyond confusion created by disinformation, which oftentimes leads to inaction, and to generate informed action.

Highlighting that false information may delay and hinder actions from responding to climate change, the session stressed the importance of bringing all stakeholders together to normalise ethical and educational contexts, in order to assess the credibility of the sources that produce disinformation.

The panellists referred to relations between disinformation and trust. Mr Asher Minns (Executive Director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research) noted that people usually consider certain pieces of information credible if they have faith in the source. If they trust the particular source of information, the users will share the content with their friends and family. Moreover, he pointed out that worries regarding disinformation have little to do with the disinformation itself. Instead, they are related to erosion of trust in scientific evidence. According to Minns, misinformation often aims to erode trust in the source of information.

Ms Martina Klimes (Advisor for Water and Peace, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and the International Centre for Water Cooperation (ICWC)), referred to trust as one of the four different aspects of the relationship between disinformation and climate change, along with climate, politics, and data. She addressed the issue of a lack of trust in the information that governments communicate on climate-related topics. Concerning politics, Klimes referred to many ways in which different groups can manipulate knowledge transfer; for instance, she described how groups may describe the role of technology in addressing environmental hazards and abuse it to advance their political gains.

Data also featured high in the discussion. Klimes noted that, despite technological progress, a scarcity of data can be found in a number of countries, as well as a lack of understanding of available resources. It is therefore important that scientists and concerned institutions make efforts to communicate the right information to citizens and empower governments to make changes that would minimise the space in which disinformation campaigns thrive.

Mr Fabian Sivnert (Co-Founder & Head of Analytics, ANCORED) highlighted that relevant data is essential in developing policies on disinformation. He noted that this is part of a three-step process to combat fake news and disinformation: the identification, tracking, and understanding disinformation. This can be done through an interplay between technology such as artificial intelligence and big data, and humans.

Mr Marko Grobelnik (AI resarcher, Department for Artificial Intelligence at Jozef Stefan Institute, CEO of also addressed the interplay between technology and disinformation and referred to several significant policy questions. The first relates to the role of existing and emerging digital technologies in facilitating the production and distribution of disinformation about climate change. The second refers to the use of the same technology to combat disinformation. A third points out that policies and regulations need to be developed. With regard to the latter, he mentions fact-checking as a short-term solution and education as a long-term solution.