Navigating Disinformation: COP28 Confronts Major Challenge in Dubai

As the world’s leaders gather this week at a major summit, a significant challenge they face is disinformation about global warming. A report released this week identified influential nations like Russia and China among the biggest sources of false or misleading information about the world’s weather. These nations spread diverse and frequently debunked claims, including the idea that humans are not responsible for climate change, recent wildfires were enabled by arson rather than hotter and drier conditions, and the world is cooling. Other false claims are that oil and gas giants are leading the charge toward carbon neutrality, and warnings about the environment are an excuse for authoritarian elites to destabilize the developing world. Such claims have eroded public pressure and political will needed to prevent a dire future for the planet, experts said.

The report, compiled by Climate Action Against Disinformation, warned that such claims have increased conspiracy theories, social divisions, and harassment. It noted “alarming mobilization to violence” against those associated with climate change work, including Spanish meteorologists who reported on extreme spring weather and then faced ominous threats and accusations that they were “murderers.”

Climate activists like Greta Thunberg have been targeted by Chinese state media, which falsely accused her of calling for ending the use of chopsticks and denounced her as a “Swedish princess” after she pushed for more emissions reductions in China. Disinformation and misleading characterizations of the summit’s goals are expected to spike as delegates meet in the United Arab Emirates for the summit, which is known as COP28. UEA is a top oil exporter known for the voracious resource consumption of its most populous city, Dubai. An internal document revealed this week that the Emirates planned to use its hosting role to pursue oil and gas deals around the world.

Climate Action Against Disinformation found that in every month since COP27, the hashtag #climatescam generated more retweets and likes than #climatecrisis and #climateemergency on social media. Unsupported conspiracy theories circulated on social media claiming that governments were using climate change as a pretext to seize land from farmers and cause deliberate food shortages.

Some of the websites pushing climate disinformation made money from ads. Ads for McDonald’s and L.L. Bean appeared next to one opinion column this fall that described “an overbearing ‘climate change’ agenda” as “implementing socialism under the guise of saving the planet” by “tyrannical central planners around the globe.”

Disinformation about climate change has had a long history in China and has been portrayed in the country as a tool by the West to stunt China’s economic growth. Additionally, Russia has become increasingly entangled with geopolitics regarding climate change, which they routinely downplay and frame as a positive phenomenon. Both countries spread disinformation about climate change and have overlapping involvements on disparate agendas to discredit the climate change threat.

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