UK newspapers’ narratives of climate change impacts and adaptation strategies: Few recommendations for individual households

14:00 Tuesday 28 May


Room S2


Rachel Harcourt (United Kingdom) 1; Wandi Bruine De Bruin (United Kingdom) 1,2; Suraje Dessai (United Kingdom) 1; Andrea Taylor (United Kingdom) 1

1 - University of Leeds; 2 - Carnegie Mellon University


The UK is already experiencing climate change impacts which are expected to increase over time. The UK government is encouraging all sectors of society, including households, to take adaptive actions to protect their own interests. In this study we examined how UK newspapers are describing climate change impacts, and adaptation strategies for individuals.


We analyzed 282 newspaper articles from 2013, 2015 and 2017 collected through LexisNexis. We searched fourteen UK newspapers, including broadsheets, tabloids, national and regional publications. The selection criteria for the articles were: relevance to the UK; coverage of events presented as unusual and disruptive by the text; and at least some discussion of longer-term changes or adaptations. Each article was coded for type of disruptive event; the individuals and/or groups identified as having agency to respond; and the types of responsive actions mentioned.



Heavy rain and flooding were the most frequently discussed disruptive events in the UK newspapers we analyzed. Other weather events, including heatwaves, drought and extreme cold, were covered much less. Non-weather events, such as rising seas, had very limited coverage.


There was relatively little discussion of actions individuals might take to protect themselves and their properties. In the few articles that did promote individual agency the focus was on getting insurance to protect against flood damage. Instead, national government, and to a lesser extent local government, was most often presented as having the agency to respond to extreme weather events. The most discussed actions for government to take were built flood defenses, followed by alternative types of flood management.However, many newspaper articles expressed criticism of government for not taking enough or appropriate adaptive action.


A small number of topics, particularly flooding, government responsibility and built defenses, dominate coverage of climate change adaptation in the UK newspaper sector. Discussion of actions individuals might take to protect against climate change impacts is limited in volume and scope. Individuals reading the current narrative of UK climate change adaptation are unlikely to see themselves as at the center of the story.