The visual framing of climate change impacts and adaptation in the IPCC assessment reports

  • Arjan WardekkerEmail author
  • Susanne Lorenz


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a key source on climate change information. How the IPCC presents and frames this climate information influences how policymakers and various stakeholders worldwide perceive climate change and make decisions accordingly. Visuals are powerful components in this communication. Here, we assess how the visuals (N = 702) in the IPCC Working Group II Assessment Reports frame climate impacts and adaptation. We find that visuals are largely framed as distant in time and space and predominantly portray the threats of climate change rather than possible goals to be achieved. Furthermore, conceptually, they are largely narrow, science-oriented instead of showing a broader multi-impact or multi-strategy evaluation of the impacts on society and necessary adaptations. They primarily depicted what the impacts and adaptations were, with minimal attention to who was impacted or needed to take adaption actions or adopt responsibility. Very few of the visuals in WG II (N = 48, 6.5%) focus on adaptation and those that did often do not show a clear theme, spatial or temporal scale. Our findings suggest that IPCC visuals (still) focus primarily on showing that climate change is real and a problem, with little solution-oriented communication. We recommend that the IPCC pays explicit attention to its visual framing and that approaches are developed to better visualise adaptation.



We thank Catherine van Gessel for conducting a pilot study, and Rasmus Slaattelid and other FIGO/UC4A partners for feedback throughout the study.

Additional information

Supplementary information is available in the online version of the paper. Correspondence and requests for material can be addressed to AW.

Authors’ contributions

AW and SL conceived the study, developed the analytical protocol and coding scheme and collected, coded and analysed the data. All authors contributed to writing the paper.

Funding information

The discussions and research visits that led to this paper were supported through two projects funded by the Research Council of Norway (RCN)’s SAMKUL program: FIGO: ‘Go Figure: Visualising climate change’ (246903/F10) and UC4A: ‘Understanding cultural conditions for climate change adaptation’ (246891/F10).

Compliance with ethical standards

Competing financial interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary material

10584_2019_2522_MOESM1_ESM.docx (31 kb)
Supplementary Material 1 Codebook (DOCX 31 kb)
10584_2019_2522_MOESM2_ESM.docx (39 kb)
Supplementary Material 2 Descriptive statistics (DOCX 39 kb)
10584_2019_2522_MOESM3_ESM.docx (137 kb)
Supplementary Material 3 Coding example (DOCX 137 kb)
10584_2019_2522_MOESM4_ESM.docx (15 kb)
Supplementary Material 4 Analysis of SPM visuals only (DOCX 14 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the HumanitiesUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  2. 2.School of Earth and EnvironmentUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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