Abstract: This article provides an empirical study of public engagement with climate change discourse in China by analysing how Chinese publics participate in the public discussion around two Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and how individual users interact with state and elite actors on the pre-eminent Chinese microblogging platform Weibo. Using social network analysis methods and a temporal comparison, we examine the structure of climate communication networks, the direction of information flows among multiple types of Weibo users, and the changes in information diffusion patterns between the pre- and post-Paris periods. Our results show there is an increasing yet constrained form of public engagement in climate communication on Weibo alongside China’s pro-environmental transition in recent years. We find an expansion of public engagement as shown by individual users’ increasing influence in communication networks and the diversification of frames associated with climate change discourse. However, we also find three restrictive interaction tendencies that limit Weibo’s potential to facilitate multi-directional communication and open public deliberation of climate change, including the decline of mutually balanced dialogic interactions, the lack of bottom-up information flows, and the reinforcement of homophily tendencies amongst eco-insiders and governmental users. These findings highlight the coexistence of both opportunities and constraints of Weibo being a venue for public engagement with climate communication and as a forum for a new climate politics and citizen participation in China.
Keywords: climate change communication; China; public engagement; social media; social network analysis