Nov 30, 2023 - World

Study warns about climate change misinformation during extreme weather

A 10 Tanker DC-10 fire plane combats a forest fire in Ninhue, Ñuble Region, in Chile, on February 10, 2023.

A 10 Tanker DC-10 fire plane combats a forest fire in Ninhue, Ñuble Region, in Chile, on February 10, 2023. Photo: Javier Torres/AFP via Getty Images

As Latin American leaders head to the COP28 climate summit, a new study warns that some politicians and their followers have been using recent extreme weather events to spread misinformation about climate change, a new report finds.

Why it matters: More than 1 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean were internally displaced in 2021 because of disasters worsened by climate change, and a failure to address the issue through policies will lead to more displacement, according to a different study released last week.

The big picture: Climate change misinformation surges in most places around the world following weather events, the authors write.

Details: In the latest report, released Wednesday, researchers analyzed 14 extreme weather events that took place in Latin America this year and last.

  • That includes flooding caused by a cyclone in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul in September that killed nearly 40 people and caused extensive damage.
  • Without any evidence, local politicians, a conservative journalist and users on WhatsApp blamed the flooding on a broken dam, a false theory that quickly spread online.
  • In parts of Chile stricken by extreme drought, some conservative politicians attributed hundreds of deadly forest fires in February solely to arson, according to the report.
  • Chilean authorities arrested several people "for their actions related to the fires," but researchers say climate change-linked drought also plays a role in the spread of wildfires.

Between the lines: Climate change misinformation and political polarization go hand in hand, the researchers say, adding that both the left and right have entrenched views that affect debates around extreme weather events.

  • "I think this is just a continuation of what we've been seeing in political disputes throughout many decades in Latin America," Andrés García, associate partner at Dentons Global Advisors, tells Axios Latino. He was not involved with the report.
  • García adds that politicians are "essentially weaponizing events" to attack opposing political interests.

What they're saying: "We won't be able to protect people in Latin America from climate change if professional disinformers keep manipulating weather disasters by gaming social media algorithms," Michael Khoo of Friends of the Earth, one of the organizations involved in the report, said in a statement.

Zoom out: Brazil is among the biggest Latin American players expected at COP28. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has made environmental policy a cornerstone of his presidency, is scheduled to attend the conference in Dubai.

  • Lula has also been a vocal advocate of the need for more developed nations to help with environmental investments, and has said he'll push that message at Dubai.
  • The Brazilian delegation will have more than 15 government officials promoting the country's efforts to stop deforestation in the Amazon.
  • Colombia has said it will push the same issue and promote for global leaders to commit to stronger emission cuts pledges.

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