Postgraduate research opportunity

Climate misinformation

Sustainable Transitions - Governance, Ecological Management and Society - Leverhulme Doctoral Training Programme 2024-25


This is an opportunity to conduct fully funded interdisciplinary research under the Sustainable Transitions Leverhulme Doctoral Training Programme at the University of Essex.

With the substantial influence of social media and online information platforms, there has been a notable surge in the rapidity, frequency and volume of information dissemination. This proliferation often comes at the cost of information quality. This issue is pronounced in climate and sustainability, where conflicting viewpoints and vested interests frequently give rise to misinformation. What motivates the spread of climate misinformation, and its resultant effects, remains to be seen. Is it a deliberate strategy, or does it stem from unintentional misinformation? This project explores climate misinformation and its repercussions on public opinion. The primary objective is to investigate the multifaceted actors involved, including businesses, governments, and media outlets, and their role in perpetuating climate misinformation. Additionally, the study aims to discern how such misinformation shapes people's preferences and attitudes concerning environmental policy.

Interdisciplinary focus

An interdisciplinary collaboration between the Department of Government and Essex Business School (EBS) will facilitate our understanding of the concept of climate misinformation. These disciplines will complement each other both theoretically and empirically. The EBS focus is on private actors such as businesses and their accountability towards honest environmental strategy. The focus of the Department of Government is on governmental institutions, and their role in designing and implementing ambitious environmental policy, or the media, and how they shape public opinion.

Training and support

You will be supported through the Sustainable Transitions training programme which provides initial training in interdisciplinary research methods, training in the secondary discipline within the project area, and ongoing training throughout the duration of the programme. All doctoral scholars benefit from the support of Proficio, which entitles you to £2,500 that can be used to purchase training courses either within or external to the University. Additionally, all scholars are entitled to an additional £10,000 that can be used to cover research costs and further training. Doctoral scholars are encouraged to audit/attend University masters and degree level courses where appropriate. You will also have the support of the Sustainable Transitions management team as well as your own supervisory team. All Sustainable Transitions scholars will become part of the University of Essex Centre for Environment and Society through which ongoing events and networking opportunities are available.

Person specification

This opportunity is ideal for candidates with a background in accountability and behavioural studies expertise. Candidates with experience in political behaviour and public opinion in combination with corporate governance, ethics, organisational behaviour, and related business studies fields would find this opportunity particularly well-suited to their skill set. Additionally, individuals with a demonstrated understanding of governments’ decision making, the role of media, and the dynamics of corporate accountability frameworks and behavioural patterns within organisational settings would thrive in this role.

Research proposal

The project area is broadly defined, leaving scope for the applicant to develop their own specific research proposal as part of the application. The successful candidate will further develop their proposal in close consultation with the supervisory team.


The primary discipline supervisor takes the lead responsibility for supervising the project. For further detail relating to supervision see the Guidance for Applicants (.pdf) document.

Additional background information

The term "infodemic" has become increasingly pertinent in today's society, signifying a pervasive and overwhelming flood of information that engulfs both digital and physical spaces. This phenomenon has led to many challenges, including confusion among the public and the unintentional dissemination of false or misleading information. Its significance has been acknowledged by esteemed institutions such as the World Health Organization, which has embarked on initiatives to curb its detrimental effects. In exploring the dynamics of an infodemic, it becomes evident that specific fields and subject areas are more susceptible to the spread of misinformation. These vulnerabilities often stem from the inherent nature of the topics themselves. Fields that rely heavily on specialised scientific knowledge and are characterised by contentious and conflicting viewpoints tend to be at greater risk. One prominent example of such a field is climate change.

Climate change is a prime illustration of a subject area particularly susceptible to the challenges posed by an infodemic. This vulnerability arises not only from the complex scientific expertise required to comprehend the nuances of climate science fully but also from the ongoing and heated debate surrounding the causes of climate change. This debate revolves around the critical question of whether climate change is primarily a natural occurrence or predominantly driven by human activities, and the tension between scientific and market-based solutions. The intricacies of climate science, combined with the multifaceted debate on its origins, make it fertile ground for spreading misinformation. In this context, an infodemic can manifest itself in various ways, from distorting scientific findings to amplifying conflicting viewpoints. The questions raised here are who are the actors who are involved in climate misinformation? What is the respective role of public and private institutions? What is the role of the media in climate misinformation? Under what circumstances are such actors presenting climate misinformation, and what are the consequences for ambitious climate policy implementation and effectiveness? As a result, it becomes imperative to adopt rigorous measures to distinguish accurate information from misinformation in climate change, given its profound implications for global policy, society, and the environment.

Supervisory team references

  1. Bakaki, Zorzeta & Thomas Bernauer. 2017. Do global climate summits influence public awareness and policy preferences concerning climate change?, Environmental Politics, 26:1, 1-26, DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2016.1244964
  2. Bakaki, Zorzeta & Thomas Bernauer. 2016. Measuring and explaining the willingness to pay for forest conservation: evidence from a survey experiment in Brazil. Environmental Research Letters, 11(11), p.114001.
  3. B. Upadhyaya, C. Wijethilake and P. Adhikari and Thankom Arun (2023) Peoples participation is a must in climate programmes, World Bank Blogs on Governance for Development.
  4. B. Upadhyaya, C. Wijethilake and P. Adhikari, K. Jayasinghe and Thankom Arun (2022) "Integrating Climate Change and livelihood within Public Investment Policies: A Cross Country Assessment in South Asia (India, Sri Lanka and Nepal)", PEFA, World Bank.