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Who’s responsible for climate change? Untangling threads of media discussions in India, Nigeria, Australia, and the USA

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Media representations of climate change play a critical role in shaping public perceptions and knowledge of climate change. Public understanding of climate change and the responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions are especially important, as these shape social problem definition, in turn influencing policy responses. In this study, we aimed to understand print media discourses on the existence and responsibility for climate change. We contrasted two Global North countries—the USA and Australia—and two Global South countries—India and Nigeria. We examined 600 newspaper articles, randomly selecting 50 articles each from three newspapers in each country. We conducted discourse analysis to examine narratives on climate change existence and who bears responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions. We found media from all four countries agreed that climate change was real. Narratives of responsibility, however, varied between countries. In Australia, the primary narrative stated that India and China were responsible for the majority of emissions, while abdicating Australia from responsibility. In contrast in the USA, the primary narrative focused on the country’s own responsibility. In India, the primary responsibility was assigned to the Global North, while in Nigeria, all countries were considered equally responsible for global emissions. We demonstrated that media narratives for climate change responsibility were primarily driven by political discourse. As the majority of the public depends on media for information on climate change, it is essential that narratives of responsibility incorporate scientific evidence and not follow purely political expedient discourses to assign responsibility for action.

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We would like to thank Seema Mundoli for her insightful inputs.


This study was funded by Azim Premji University.

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Ranjini Murali—conceptualized the study, coded articles, analyzed results, and prepared the manuscript.

Aishwarya Kuwar—undertook web scraping to access the articles needed for this study and coded articles.

Harini Nagendra—conceptualized the study and prepared the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ranjini Murali.

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Murali, R., Kuwar, A. & Nagendra, H. Who’s responsible for climate change? Untangling threads of media discussions in India, Nigeria, Australia, and the USA. Climatic Change 164, 51 (2021).

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