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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Misinformation as a critical barrier to sustainable development

Although the reality and dangers of global warming have been known for years, climate action has been dangerously slow. Simultaneously, misinformation poses an increasing threat as we find ourselves in what is being called the “Post-Truth Era”. Could these two phenomena - insufficient progress towards climate goals and the abundance of misinformation - be related? Research on climate responses has investigated public perceptions of climate change, climate denialism and the climate counter-movement. In recent years, misinformation on climate change has gained increased attention, and researchers have gained an increased understanding of how climate misinformation is generated, how it propagates through society, and why people believe this misinformation. However, research analyzing the effects of climate change misinformation on climate action is lacking.

This dissertation explores these potential effects by elucidating climate change misinformation’s origins, its effects on individuals and institutions, and the subsequent implications of these effects on pro-environmental behaviors which contribute to climate action. This study qualitatively analyzes data collected via a literature review as well as nine interviews with key informants from the fields of climate science, climate responses, misinformation, and/or political science. By analyzing the impacts of misinformation in the general public, in the private domain, and in the public sector (e.g. legislative contexts), this dissertation provides a conceptual framework for how misinformation can inhibit climate action by discouraging pro-environmental behaviors in each of these three contexts. In summary, this report finds that misinformation is a critical barrier that must be overcome to meet the climate goals set in international treaties such as the Paris Agreement.

Furthermore, this dissertation concludes that misinformation is both a disease in itself and a symptom of larger systemic issues spanning education, science communication, legislative structure, media, habits of mind, and commonly held ideologies. These issues have grave implications for all of the Sustainable Development Goals defined by the United Nations, and they will likely need to be addressed in order to build the capacity necessary to mitigate and adapt to anticipated global challenges.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.