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Climate & Sustainability

Testing Policymaker Understanding of Climate Change Graphics

The Challenge

Curbing climate change involves making informed policy choices. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading global body responsible for sharing findings from climate science with policymakers and practitioners around the world. As the IPCC begins work on its next series of Assessment Reports (AR7), it is important to evaluate how clearly its past work was understood in order to improve the quality of the next reports.

Graphics are an important tool for communicating complicated climate information in a digestible way, beginning with the famous “hockey stick” graph charting the global rise in temperatures over time. However, in the past 30 years, as climate science has become more nuanced, the graphics used to portray climate information have also become increasingly complicated.

Photo: X/@IPCC_CH

To engage with the project team, contact Project Manager
Marianna Babboni

The Partnership

In collaboration with the United Nations Foundation (UN Foundation), USC Dornsife Public Exchange convened a team of behavioral scientists and qualitative interviewers to assess policymakers’ comprehension of climate change graphics from the IPCC.

Working closely with communication experts from the IPCC and UN Foundation, the project team evaluated the design and efficacy of IPCC graphics in communicating their intended messaging and gave recommendations for improving clarity.

“This [research] will be a valuable tool not only for the IPCC as it embarks on its new report cycle, but for anyone engaged in the vital work of making climate science clear and accessible.” - Pete Ogden, Vice President of Climate and Environment at the United Nations Foundation

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The UN Foundation brings together the ideas, people, and resources the United Nations needs to drive global progress and tackle urgent problems.

The Approach

The project team interviewed 20 professionals from 12 different countries who all worked in climate policy. Participants viewed 3 graphics selected by our IPCC partners from the Second Order Draft Summary for Policymakers of the 6th Assessment Report on Mitigation (AR6 WGIII).

Study participants suggested two main types of improvements across all three graphics, which align with best practices in  graphic design literature.

  • First, they suggested that each graphic be limited to one clear message. This involves hard choices about what to show in the graphic and what to leave for the text.
  • Second, participants suggested simple fixes to the graphic formatting. They said it would help readers to have labels, titles, and captions that state what the graphics mean. They also suggested using simple wording, and using colors and fonts that are easy to see.

A more detailed summary of the study and its findings can be found in the report below.

The full study and methodology can be found in a special edition of the journal Climatic Change.

Use our checklist to inform the design of graphics that target policymakers.

Project Team Members

Wändi Bruine de Bruin
USC Price School of Public Policy &
USC Dornsife Psychology
Project Lead

Lila Rabinovich
USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research

Lance Ignon
USC Price School of Public Policy Communications

Sigourney Luz

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Alix Kashdan

United Nations Foundation

Marianna Babboni

Public Exchange

Monica Dean

Public Exchange

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