What is climate misinformation, and why does it matter?

Opponents of climate science have ways of sowing doubt around climate change. And that can restrict urgent action.

Published : Jan 25, 2024 12:28 IST - 3 MINS READ

Protesters have come out in support of climate science, like this group in San Diego in 2017.

Protesters have come out in support of climate science, like this group in San Diego in 2017. | Photo Credit: Hayne Palmour IV/San Diego Union-Tribune/picture alliance

Misinformation is when people share false information or selectively present data about fossil fuel emissions or climate change that does not give the full picture, potentially influencing how others think about the issue. It does not have to be deliberate—some misinformation can be the result of a simple mistake, or a misunderstanding of a complex subject.

An example is greenwashing, a way that businesses make their environmental credentials seem more environmentally friendly than they actually are. Some fashion brands, for example, tout their use of renewable, natural fibres and recyclable packaging, distracting from the countless racks of fast, disposable fashion they produce every few weeks.

Also Read | COP28: Historic agreement reached on fossil fuels, but developing nations unhappy

Disinformation, on the other hand, is when climate deniers and other groups or official organisations deliberately publicise false information or spread hoaxes to further their own agenda against climate science and government polices intended to benefit the environment.

How does misinformation influence efforts to tackle climate change?

Major fossil fuel companies like Shell, Exxon Mobil, BP, and the Global Climate Coalition, a front group for companies with links to fossil fuel industry that was disbanded in 2002, have been accused of discrediting climate science or hiding their continued fossil fuel investments with lobbying and feel-good ads since the late 1970s.

Groups like The Empowerment Alliance in the US or the Responsible Energy Citizen Coalition in Europe, for example, use a tactic known as astroturfing—allegedly acting like a spontaneous grassroots movement—to support natural gas derived from fossil fuels and discredit green policies, often with funding from unclear sources.

Misinformation and lies are also published by certain media outlets, or promoted by populist politicians. When cyclone-fuelled flooding caused more than 40 fatalities in Brazil in September 2023, government opponents and a prominent journalist blamed the deaths on dam failures in an attempt to turn attention away from efforts to mitigate the extreme effects of global heating.

Social media, along with manipulated photos or videos, have made the spread of such misinformation even easier—especially when linked with conspiracy theories, like the recent backlash against sustainable urban planning trend 15-minute cities​.​​​​​​

Climate Action Against Disinformation, a global coalition that works to confront climate mis- and disinformation, found climate denial tweets with hashtags like #ClimateScam have surged on Twitter (now X) following Elon Musk’s takeover of the platform.

Misinformation has also infiltrated policymaking in recent years, most notably during the US presidency of Donald Trump. He repeatedly criticised renewable energy and dismissed climate science both before and during his time in office, often calling global warming a hoax.

Trump would eventually pull the US out of the 2015 Paris Agreement, delaying US—and likely global—climate action for years.

Why does climate misinformation matter?

As greenhouse gas emissions and global temperatures hit one record high after another, time is running out to address global heating. Most scientists agree that we need to act now, but climate misinformation is leading people to question proven climate science—that humanity has triggered climate change—and cast doubt on solutions, undermining public support for the fight against climate change.

Also Read | Disasters in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand point to flawed development model

In 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognised for the first time that “[r]hetoric and misinformation on climate change and the deliberate undermining of science have contributed to misperceptions of the scientific consensus, uncertainty, disregarded risk and urgency, and dissent.”

Advocacy groups like Climate Action Against Disinformation, governments including the European Union and worldwide organisations like the United Nations, the World Meteorological Organization and the World Health Organization, among others, are working to call out and counter the misinformation. Many media organisations have also dedicated resources to climate reporting and dispelling environment myths and deception.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment