Online Resonance of the International Climate Change Issue Agenda

Report by Cristel Kolopaking
Issue Mapping for Politics Data Sprint
Instructor: Esther Weltevrede
Date: 4 th of April 2014
Team members: Matthew McKinnon, DARA; Erik Borra, UvA; Cristel Kolopaking, UvA; Emilio Patuzzo, Density Design; Kristina John, UvA; Niklas Johannes, UvA


‘Climate change involves complex interactions and changing likelihoods of diverse impacts. People and societies may perceive or rank risks and potential benefits differently, given diverse values and goals.’ (IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, 2014: 3)

This research is based on a data sprint established for EMAPS (Electronic Maps to Assist Public Science)[1], striving for assessment of “the opportunities and risks in the use of the web and the social media as a meaningful information tool and for developing a participatory communication between scientists and the different publics”[2]. EMAPS is involved with two techno-scientific issues: aging/life expectancy and climate change. As part of the second EMAPS data sprint dedicated to climate change, this sprint took place at the University of Amsterdam from March the 24 th until the 28 th 2014 in collaboration with the Digital Methods Initiative[3] entitled ‘Coping with vulnerability to climate change through adaptation, its limits and its post-adaptation mechanisms’. Simultaneously to the data sprint, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)[4] held a plenary session between the 25 th and 29 th of March to discuss with Working Group II the content of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) in Japan. After the data sprint on March the 30 th, the report was released on their website[5]. However, newspapers Independent[6] and Business Insider[7] already examined a leaked version of the report and concluded that climate change will lead to mass migration and food shortages among other things. Therefore, this research will investigate through a web-based study if migration and food security are internationally recognized issues in relation to climate change.

An emerging field of research into climate vulnerability related to food security and hunger rises. According to Matthew McKinnon, the process of combining and comparing data on climate change and regions of emerging hunger or migration led to high correlations (Data-sprint 2014). Foresight conducted a research, which outlines future scenarios for the effects of climate change on migration (2011). They identify three key ecological regions as most vulnerable to global environmental change and migration, namely dry lands, low-elevation coastal zones and mountain regions (67). The research by Warner et al. emphasizes that climate change is already contributing to displacement and migration due to the breakdown of ecosystem-dependent livelihoods and the increasing frequency and intensity of natural hazards such as cyclones, floods and droughts (iv). In this sense, climate change is not only a future risk anymore, but also a current global problem. Ulrich Beck states that risks on such level require a global approach: ‘we are becoming members of a ‘global community of threats’. The threats are no longer the internal affairs of particular countries and a country cannot deal with the threats alone. A new conflict dynamic of social inequalities is emerging.’ (8).

It is interesting to investigate the controversial topic of climate change from a Beckian perspective by examining how climate change is dealt with on global scale. Therefore, this research aims to create a better understanding of the issues addressed by international NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) dealing with climate change, to find out what kind of focus these issues have and to know how much online resonance can be found for the issues of food security and migration. Next to that, it will consider which issues resonate most in which continents, based on the originating continents of the NGOs and the continents addressed by the NGOs. Finally, it will examine which NGOs are the most prominent actors within the network of the NGO sphere related to climate change.

Research Questions

(1) What kind of focus does the international issue agenda of NGOs related to climate change have?

(2) To which extent do the issues ‘food security’ and ‘migration’ resonate within the international issue agenda of NGOs related to climate change?


This research focuses on the international NGO sphere dealing with issues related to the risk- and adaptation of climate change. According to the rise of problems like food security and human mobility (Walter et al., Foresight, IPCC) as consequences of climate change, it is interesting to see what actually constitutes the issue agenda of NGOs concerned with climate change on both global and continental level. Two editorial lists of relevant NGO websites were consulted through umbrella organizations: Climate Action Network[8] and TckTckTck[9]. The Climate Action Network (CAN) describes itself as ‘a worldwide network of over 850 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in more than 90 countries, working to promote government and individual action to limit human-induced climate change to ecologically sustainable levels’[10]. TckTckTck spans a network of 400 NGOs led by ‘the Global Call for Climate Action’ (GCCA), which both envision ‘a world safe from runaway climate change’[11]. The organizations’ descriptions emphasize the international character of their networks of NGOs, therefore forming a good foundation to excerpt a combined list of mutual websites. The ‘Triangulation Tool’[12] by the Digital Methods Initiative[13] is used to discover commonalities between the two networks. A unique list of 74 NGO websites shared between the international networks is derived and can be found in Appendix 1.

In order to create an issue agenda based on all issues mentioned in the 74 NGO’s, the websites were consulted manually for their missions or prominent issues. A list of 279 is elicited and can be seen in Appendix 2. After that, the resonance of all the issues was tested among the 74 NGOs using The ‘Google Scraper’[14] tool of the DMI. The first twenty issues were depicted as main issues and the remaining 259 are considered sub-issues. The twenty most mentioned issues consist of short queries, while the sub-issues are automatically longer or more specific queries and were categorized organically into the main issues, as can be found in Appendix 3. The top twenty main issues are visualized in a ranked way in the first map, see Appendix 4. The first nine main issues and their sub-issues are visualized in the second map, as can be seen in Appendix 5. By combining the geographical tags and descriptions accompanied with the editorial lists of NGOs, the issue resonance per continent is depicted in two ways for the fourth map. First, the issues addressed by NGOs based on their originating continent are shown, and secondly the continents with accompanied issues, addressed by international NGOs are shown, see Appendix 6. The last map displays the issues and NGOs in a networked way through a Gephi graph. This way of visualizing is effective to show the relations between the NGOs and the issues in order to see which NGOs are the main actors and which issues they address, see Appendix 7. The analysis and findings extracted from the data are discussed in the next section.


Ranking of Main Issues

The first map (Appendix 4) shows the twenty issues that resonate most among the 74 NGOs. The issues ‘Climate’, ‘Food’ and ‘Climate Change’ form the top three most mentioned issues within the NGO sphere, confirming climate as most shared issue among these NGOs. It is interesting to distinguish three kinds of focal points in the main issues. The main issues: ‘Climate’, ‘Climate Change’, ‘Water’, ‘Oil’, ‘Agriculture’ and ‘Conservation’ can be depicted as environmental issues related to climate change. The main issues: ‘Food’, ‘Community’, ‘Women’, ‘Children’, ‘Poverty’, ‘Israel’, ‘Right’, ‘Education’ and ‘Health’ can be considered humanitarian issues related to climate change. Finally, the main issues: ‘Energy’, ‘Future’, ‘Development’, ‘Aid’ and ‘Government’ share a future-oriented focus. This outcome shows that the question of climate change not only captivates an environmental approach, but also humanitarian and future oriented ones.

Top nine main issues and their sub-issues

The second map (Appendix 5) shows the first nine main issues with their sub-issues. To reclaim the second research question, it is relevant to look first where the issues ‘Food Security’ and ‘Migration’ are mentioned within the issue agenda. Sub-issue ‘Food Security’ appears in the second main issue ‘Food’, with a number of 41.464 mentions, whereas ‘Migration’ emerges in the fifth main issue ‘Community’, with a number of 23.670 mentions. This shows that food security is considered an important issue within the issue agenda, while migration seems to be of less concern with almost half of the mentions food security has. Another sub-issue related to migration within ‘Community’ is ‘Diaspora’, which has 1922 mentions in the NGO sphere and is relatively low ranked (see Appendix 3). The most resonance is still found in the environmental sub-issues from the climate related main issues. On the environmental agenda are issues like flood, deforestation, air pollution and global warming (‘Climate Change’, Appendix 5). The issue of air quality is raised through the main issues ‘Climate’, ‘Climate Change’ and ‘Health’, which could be considered a combination between environmental and humanitarian issues (See Appendix 3 & 5). Main issue ‘Water’ and all related sub-issues like ‘Fresh water’ and ‘Oceans’ or ‘Seas’ cover a category in itself, emphasizing the water aspect more than the consequence of drought, which is not even an issue in this NGO sphere. This refers to the presence of continents dealing with climate change risks related to water, rather than continents dealing with the consequences of drought. The sub-issues within main issue ‘Climate’ show the concern of wildlife and forests, revealing the presence of targeted or originating continents containing this type of environments. The presence of a lot of future-oriented main- and sub-issues refers to the wealth of the originating continents of the NGOs to have capacities of creating alternatives for development. Main issues ‘Energy’ and ‘Future’ show there is attention for ecosystems, green economy, greenhouse pollution, footprint reduction and a coal free future, through different energy driven solutions like, energy savings, solar, rural or renewable energy and to move away from carbon and fossil fuels. The main issues ‘Development’ and ‘Aid’ show that there is support from business economies and that there are solutions for short- and long-term changes, through new climate related policies striving for a global economy and capacity building.

Geographical Maps

The geographical maps (Appendix 6) display which issues resonate most in the originating continents of the NGO’s and which issues resonate most in continents addressed by the NGOs. The first geographical map shows that European and North American NGOs mostly address the eight main issues. Peaks in the graph expose the involvement of North America with issues ‘Aid’, ‘Government’, ‘Right’, ‘Education’ and ‘Conservation’, while Europe is dealing mostly with ‘Children’, ‘Poverty’, ‘Israel’, ‘Health’ and ‘Agriculture’. This shows the different focus of both continents, with Europe cultivating a humanitarian approach and North America an environmental and future oriented approach. Asia has a minor presence of NGOs and appears only high in the issue of ‘Women’, next to an inferior presence in ‘Children’, ‘Poverty’ and ‘Education’, all humanitarian issues. Africa and South American are completely absent in this map, meaning there are no NGOs within this set originating from those continents. This accounts for the issues being addressed, with an absence of the issues on drought. However, the second map shows that Africa and South America are addressed continents by the NGO sphere. Moreover, Asia turns out to be the major focus area, with North America, the Poles and Europe following respectively. While Asia and North America are targeted equally on all issues, there is s peak at the issue of food, whereas Africa and North/South America have the least resonance on food. On the contrary, water, right and health are important issues for Africa.

NGO/Issue Network Graph

The fourth map (Appendix 7) presents the relation between the main actors (NGOs) and the main issues in a network graph. The network is quite dense which means that the majority of issues are shared among the main actors, therefore not forming unique clusters. This is illustrated in the second network map, which shows a close up of different NGOs related to the same set of main issues. The two main actors in this network are Greenpeace and Oxfam[15] showing again the division between environmental and humanitarian policies. When looking further into the other main actors, Birdlife (4th actor) and National Wildlife Federation (NWF, 8th actor) are concerned with conservation specifically. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC, 5th actor) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF, 6th actor) maintain environmental approaches. Action Aid (7th actor) is concerned with poverty from a humanitarian perspective. Practical Action (9th) and World Resources Institute (10th actor) are actually the most specific organizations related to climate change, addressing the consequences from a humanitarian perspective, while striving for development through technology driven solutions.


This research demonstrated that the question of climate change captivates an environmental, humanitarian and future-oriented approach through the main issues of NGOs dealing with climate change. From the top ten NGOs five appeared to have a humanitarian focus and five an environmental approach. This division reoccurs also in the top two main NGOs Greenpeace and Oxfam. The NGO network appeared to be dense, as main actors (NGOs) share the same main issues. Although there is a larger humanitarian focus within the main issues, environmental sub-issues found more resonance than the sub-issues ‘food security’ and ‘migration’, for instance ‘ocean’ (71.283), ‘wildlife’ (78.668) and ‘carbon’ (86.406). However, with a total number of 41.464 mentions, food security is ranked highest within the humanitarian section, as it remains in the second main issue ‘Food’ of the issue agenda. Migration as a sub-issue of the fifth main issue ‘Community’ has 23.670 mentions, which is around half of the mentions food security has. This shows that food security is a current problem already perceptible, whereas migration remains mostly a future related issue. Warner et al. emphasize though that research on migration related to climate change is challenging, as it remains difficult to separate the climate related cause from others (2).

The prominent presence of water as an issue with a lot of sub-issues and the absence of the issue on ‘drought’ or the ‘arctic’ was underlined through the geographical maps. It turned out that the majority of these NGOs originate from Europe and North America, and a small attendance by Asia. However, Asia is addressed mostly by the NGOs, followed by North America and the Poles. The minor presence of Africa as addressed country explains the absence of issues on drought. It turns out Africa mostly addresses the issues of water, right and health. Despite the Poles being addressed, the arctic is not an issue within the issue agenda, although water has a major presence in the issue agenda. The addressed continents Asia and North America have food as most important issue, which confirms again the big role of this issue within the agenda. The future oriented main issues show there is a presence of intelligent, technology driven solutions, combining government and economies to create capacities for adaptation. This again refers to the origins of the NGOs being mostly Western continents. It is interesting though that Europe has a more humanitarian focus on their issue agenda, whereas North America has an environmental and future-oriented focus. This is explicable based on the continents’ environments and capacities.

Altogether this research succeeded in facilitating a web-based study to draw sociological conclusions on the topic of climate change, therefore meeting the idea of EMAPS. After the research was conducted, the IPCC report was released and consulted to see if the outcome of this research matched the outlines of IPCC. It turns out there are a lot commonalities[16], however the lack of ‘infrastructural’ problems forms a gap between the issue agenda and the IPCC report. The IPCC strives for united adaptation through different levels: ‘Transformation in economic, social, technological, and political decisions and actions can enable climate-salient pathways.’ (25). This relates to Beck’s idea of approaching world risks through global governance (8). As this research did not address the question of adaptation, but remained on an interpretive level of current web-dynamics around climate change approaches from the international NGO sphere, more research could be performed in that field.


Beck, Ulrich (2009). World at risk. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Foresight (2011). ‘Migration and Global Environmental Change’.

Final Project Report. The Government Office for Science, London.

IPCC (2014). ‘Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability’. WGII AR5 Summary for Policymakers.

Warner et al. (2009). ‘In Search of Shelter: mapping the effects of climate change on human migration’. Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, INC. (CARE).

[1] EMAPS official website:

[2] EMAPS Objectives:

[3] Digital Methods Initiative on Climate Vulnerability project:

[4] IPCC Official Website:


[6] Independent on AR5 WGII leaked report:

[7] Business Insider on AR5 WG II leaked report:

[8] Climate Action Network:

[9] TckTckTck:

[10] CAN About page:

[11] TckTckTck About page:

[12] Triangulation Tool:

[13] Digital Methods Initiative Toolbase:

[14] Google Scraper tool:

[15] and are the second and third main actors in the network. Although the Triangulation tool filters websites based on their host site, is not collided into The issue agenda of the websites show commonalities. However, differences can be found as well, as the UK version addresses more specific topics like ‘food’, ‘water’, ‘women’s rights’, ‘business and poverty’ and ‘conflicts and disasters’, compared to ‘natural resources’, ‘gender justic’, ‘private sector’ and ‘emergency response’. See the about pages of both websites: and .

[16] Examples of common issues between issue agenda and IPCC: Freshwater resources, greenhouse gas concentrations, surface water/ groundwater, ecosystems, marine biodiversity, global marine species, ocean acidification, food security, global economy, human health, poverty – violent conflicts, species (wildlife). (IPCC AR5 WG II, p. 14-19)
Topic revision: r2 - 08 Apr 2014, ErikBorra
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