Visualising climate change: the case of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's cover images

Katrine Claassens - Masters Thesis
Faculty of Science
Department of Environmental & Geographical Science
University of Cape Town

Read and download the thesis here

Climate change is an increasingly urgent problem. How it is communicated and represented are of interest to those seeking to understand action or inaction on the issue. There is increasing interest on how it is being communicated visually. This research speaks to the growing body of literature on the visual communication of climate change in order to contribute to the wider critical literature addressing the role of images in the communication of climate change. It does so by considering a neglected site of climate change imagery: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) report covers. The IPCC's report covers from the first ones in 1990, to the latest ones of 2014, are investigated in this quantitative and qualitative case study where the subject matter, both literal and symbolic of this (hitherto unexamined) body of images, is interrogated. This dissertation sought to identify and investigate what, exactly, the IPCC is using to visually represent and communicate climate change outside the realm of its scientific graphs and diagrams. It sought to compare these findings with the larger lexicon of climate change imagery and look at how the IPCC negotiates the communicational and representational problems inherent in the visual communication of climate change. The question ultimately asked was whether the IPCC's cover images are effective representations of climate change. What was found was that the IPCC images departed significantly from standard climate imagery. The conclusions drawn from the initial content and thematic analysis was that the IPCC images are frequently too banal, bland and decontextualized to be effective representations or communicators of climate change but do offer some potentially effective avenues overlooked in other representations.

All images © 2020 Katrine Brink Claassens