Calling Time on Climate Disinformation

By Melissa Fleming - January 11, 2024

The results of the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP28, has left the international community to reflect on a historic deal: For the first time, the world has agreed to transition away from fossil fuels, to keep the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C within reach. 

It’s no longer a question of if – but how fast – we end our reliance on oil, coal, and gas.

Speed and scale are now the key issues. As the UN Secretary-General said in his statement on the closing of COP28, “the world cannot afford delays, indecision or half measures.” 

The science is clear – ambitious action to reduce carbon emissions and accelerate the transition to renewable energy can still stave off the worst consequences of climate change. We must make this our urgent global priority.

Yet the forces of inaction won’t relent so easily. For decades, fossil fuel companies and aligned states have spent eye-watering sums on campaigns to delay the energy transition and keep the world hooked on their products.

The latest COP was no exception. Throughout, researchers monitored a sophisticated campaign, with an army of lobbyists, politicians, global PR giants, advertisers, and even fake social media accounts deployed to spread climate disinformation.

To do so they used a range of tactics – narratives that broadly fall into one of four categories: delayism, deflection, division, or doomism.

Delayism aims to kick the can down the road. It presents fossil fuels as necessary to meet energy demand and pushes unproven technologies as silver bullets to combat deadly emissions.

Deflection, including greenwashing, seeks to downplay the role of fossil fuels in driving climate breakdown and reframes the debate to focus on individual behavior.

Division undermines climate activists by pitting them against each other and demonizing them to erode public support.

Doomism pushes the idea that it is already too late to stave off climate catastrophe and paints all efforts to do so as futile.

Whatever the message, the aim is the same: All four narratives seek to disengage the public and make it seem that there is less public demand for climate action than global polling suggests.

Spreading these narratives is big business worldwide. Large news outlets, social networks, advertising agencies, and global PR companies are all among those cashing in. As long as it remains profitable, we can assume they will continue to do so.

We can’t afford to let up. All of us on the side of science and solutions must redouble our efforts. Both by relentlessly exposing climate disinformation and those behind it, and by getting bolder, smarter, and more strategic – not just in what we communicate, but how.

The need for accurate, science-based information on climate solutions has never been greater.

The UN is standing up to climate disinformation to show people it is not too late to save the planet. To do so we are turbocharging our climate communications using the Verified for Climate initiative, a joint program of the United Nations and Purpose.

Working with thinkers from across communications, philanthropy, academia and business – and with collaboration from our supporters, The Rockefeller Foundation, Fortescue, and TikTok – we are discussing new ways of communicating.

Partnering with trusted voices from around the world, Verified floods digital channels with science-based climate facts and resources, improving the integrity of information in spaces where climate disinformation most typically circulates.

We will deploy best practices in reframing, inoculating, fact-checking and debunking, and to reach those vulnerable to doomism with solutions-based storytelling and messages of agency.

Together, we’re confident we can help to turn the tide in the climate information narrative and power communications that spur action to secure a liveable future for the planet. There is no time to lose. We hope you’ll join us.