COP26 saw 20x more coverage than COP25

November 17, 2021

Written by NewsWhip

Media coverage from the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference emphasized dissatisfaction with world leaders, criticism of policies, and unmet promises from the Paris Agreement, but engagement data on public interest and media interest shows that COP26 resonated far more than the previous summit had.

The impact of the “Greta effect”

This year’s climate change conference took place from October 31st to November 13th 2021 in Glasgow, and we compared that to the engagement with the previous COP25 conference that took place in Madrid between December 2nd and December 13th 2019.

Before we get to that, a significant piece of context worth noting is the rise of Greta Thunberg as a climate activist and influencer. Thunberg is credited with starting the Fridays For Future climate action protests in the summer of 2018 as a teenager.

A few months before the UN’s climate summit in 2019, Thunberg was a prominent face of the global climate strike in September that inspired collective action from participants of all ages. Business Insider’s piece on Thunberg becoming a world-renowned activist in the span of a year generated more than 750k Facebook likes, shares, and comments, combined with Twitter influencer shares.

In 2019, Thunberg was named TIME’s Person of the Year during the tail end of the United Nations climate conference, COP25.

Graph of engagement with COP25, COP26 & TIME's Person of the Year

The timing was favorable as TIME’s announcement landed two days before the COP25 culminated, making a profound impact on audiences already primed by a series of events designed to increase awareness around the climate crisis. This announcement alone generated a staggering level of engagement, exceeding 12M engagements just between December 11th and 13th 2019. The influence of Thunberg is being studied by social psychology experts as to predict the long term impact the “Greta effect” will have on collective climate action.

More coverage for COP26 than observed for COP25


Public interest - Media interest in COP26 vs. COP25

Overall, there were 8k articles written about COP25 and this year’s conference blew that number out of the water. There were more than 20 times the number of articles written about COP26 in Glasgow, with a tally of 163K.

The leap in engagements was less pronounced but still noteworthy. The 2019 climate change conference had just shy of 2M engagements but 2021’s session demonstrated deeper interest and discussion, recording more than 6.2M engagements.

Activists and delegates in the spotlight at COP26

The top article from COP25 generated just over 91k engagements from CBS’s coverage of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attending the summit despite America withdrawing from the Paris climate deal. There was moderate amount of scrutiny over delegate’s choices of transportation to the summit extending from Pelosi to other recognized leaders from around the globe.

Chart of top stories from COP25

There were also several articles, albeit less engaged, focused on Thunberg’s call for action. Criticism of world leaders’ actions was the central theme of the top article on Thunberg’s comments, as cited in a CNN piece that generated just over 50k engagements.

Chart of the top stories from COP26

In 2021 the engagements with top articles about COP26 surpassed the levels in 2019. Thunberg was the talk of COP26, penning an emergency appeal to world leaders that netted more than 115k engagements. Additionally, the petition has received more than 1.8M signatures to date, and a new wave of young adults have taken notice. The open letter was also co-authored by activists Vanessa Nakate, Dominika Lasota, and Mitzi Tan.

Once again, there were articles highlighting disparities in world leaders’ sustainable policies and prefered methods of transportation to the climate summit. The eighth most engaged article about COP26, by Fox News, called attention to US President Joe Biden’s large motorcade. There were articles of a similar nature examining British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that were discussed on Reddit.

The presence of delegates and other invited speakers from the conference reverberated across social media platforms. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s post on attending a COP26 reception had more than 600k likes and comments on Instagram. Former US president Barack Obama’s Instagram post about his address at COP26 and BBC News’s coverage of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos pledging $2B toward nature conservation each generated upward of 300k engagements.

There was less engagement with individual posts on Facebook but much of it was driven by influencers. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Facebook post about meeting indigenous activist Juma Xipaia had more than 180k likes, shares, and comments. Several posts from Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, had hundreds of thousands of engagements. Modi’s arrival by airplane generated more than 160k engagements. Additionally, Thunberg’s arrival by train in Glasgow had more than 130k engagements.

While COP26 speeches, and who attended, were discussed in great detail, this year’s conference showed that there was also special emphasis on how leaders should consider sustainability beyond policy and underscored young activists voicing the need for more aggressive climate action.

Read more about how brands and governments have been addressing sustainability, both successfully and unsuccessfully, in our report analyzing sustainability news from 2021.

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