Research seminars, projects and consultancy altered how the media has covered climate change and renewed BBC environmental programming.


  • A seminar series, first backed by the ESRC in the mid-90s and led by Professor Joe Smith of The Open University, raised awareness in the media community and significantly altered media reporting on climate change. Later engagement with the media sector embedded climate change within wider economic and social themes, summarised by the concept of interdependence.
  • Professor Smith’s work with colleagues informed the tone, content and scope of BBC programming, including the development of the two-part David Attenborough documentary Are we changing planet Earth? and Can we save planet Earth? He also advised on climate change-relevant plot points in the BBC Two drama Burn Up.
  • As part of this work on media and climate change Professor Smith has taken a lead media advisory role and participated in various media productions, including the first series of the BBC TWO hit Coast, the nine-part BBC World Service series Climate Connections and six BBC World News broadcasts.

About the research

Broadcasters, press and online news outlets provide the main source of popular information on climate change - whether it's new climate research findings, policy initiatives, international negotiations and agreements, or the impact of individual actions and policies. How climate change is framed in the media is influential in forming our opinions. Decisions such as what images to use, what questions to ask and who to interview shape the way that diverse audiences engage with climate change.

Following ESRC co-funding for a seminar series on the media and environment in the mid-1990s, in 2006 the ESRC and the Natural Environment Research Council supported Professor Smith's work in this area via the Interdependence seminar series. This shaped the Interdependence Day project - a research, communications and participation project exploring interdependencies between human society and the natural world. This work on the concept of 'interdependence' in turn fed back into a new series of seminars for senior media decision-makers which tested new approaches to public engagement in environmental change and development issues.

As a result of running the seminar series, Professor Smith has brought to the attention of media specialists the importance of going beyond the natural sciences in coverage of climate change, altering the ways in which they present this demanding topic to the public. With an annual attendance of up to 50 participants, an even mix of media professionals and climate change specialists, he fostered dialogue between the numerous experts involved with the representation of climate change.