What’s driving the conversation around COP26?
The 2021 UN Climate Change Conference, better known as COP26, is around the corner. The big question around the event is whether it will actually lead to meaningful action in slowing down the climate emergency, or whether it will turn into yet another climate deadline, threshold or opportunity missed – like the IPCC report just a few months ago.
In this study, we analyzed over a month of public conversations on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Blogs, Forums and News, mapping mentions of COP26 in order to understand how different audiences are talking about the summit, the dominant attitudes and concerns among the public, as well as which leaders, movements and countries are most talked about in relation with the event.
Let’s start with climate leadership, a topic recently brought to the fore on the Guardian by the most influential voice in the climate conversation over the past years, Greta Thunberg.
Greta Thunberg accuses world leaders of being in denial over climate crisis https://t.co/yYjNolCjxr
— The Guardian (@guardian) October 21, 2021
In the period observed, the most talked-about public figures in this conversations predictably turned out to be COP26 hosts Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon, in first and fourth place respectively.
But number of mentions does not a leader make. With the exception of Greta, UN chief Antonio Guterres and Pope Francis, most of the conversation around each of the above leaders was related to internal political matters, or optics relating to COP26: BoJo and Sturgeon were mostly linked to the politics of hosting the summit, Vladimir Putin & Xi Jinping in the context of whether or not they would be present at the summit, while Scott Morrison (and Australia as a whole) was mostly talked about as a villain in this conversation, with criticism hitting him from the left and from the right.
Dear world, Scott Morrison’s going to ride his imaginary stallion into Glasgow, pat a few people on the back, have 40 photo ops (with his customary thumbs-up) and declare; “I’m on the team.”
— Michael Taylor (@AusIndiMedia) October 25, 2021
Overall, the conversation is one that is heavily focused on the Anglosphere, with UK and US hogging over half of all mentions. Notably, the European Union and its leaders are rarely mentioned for now, with no heads of state or EU figures showing up among the most talked about personalities, and none of its countries exceeding 3% in global share of voice.
But while certain countries and heads of state barely register, other non-state actors are able to generate significant buzz around their advocacy agenda. Greenpeace for instance, clocks in more mentions in this conversation than countries like Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands or Sweden. The now half-a-century old group even managed to edge out (for now) younger and more networked groups like Fridays For Future and Extinction Rebellion in terms of share of voice.
Of course other political actors outside of government are also using this opportunity to spotlight their views around the summit.
The COP26 gathering of climate alarmists will be the height of hypocrisy – the 30,000 people flying across the world on jet planes to tell everyone else to eat bugs and ride a bicycle can stick their New World Order where the Sun doesn't shine.
— David Kurten (@davidkurten) October 15, 2021
Other highly engaged posts in this conversation shine the light on extra-governmental initiatives, such as the appeals of Pope Francis and other religious leaders.
Yet another actor vying for attention in the lead-up to the Summit have been corporate sponsors – some of them complaining publicly about the event organization. Among these sponsors, energy companies are some of the most mentioned in association with the conference, with Scottish Power and National Grid sitting alongside Microsoft, Unilever and Hitachi.
Attitudes: Optimism vs Pessimisms vs Indifference
But even in the face of little climate leadership and much criticism, the general tone of the conversation in the lead up to the event are swaying positive: for now, optimistic posts outnumber pessimistic ones by more than two to one.
We zoomed in on those expressing pessimism by leveraging Communities, the Pulsar TRAC feature allowing you to seamlessly segment any part of the public conversation you’re analyzing.
Greta Thunberg has already expressed pessimism as to the outcome of the conference – and she’s far from alone. When we isolate the conversation rooted in pessimism, however, we see that there is no one reason for negativity.
Young Climate Activists, who naturally have a high affinity for Greta, share their leader’s pessimism. This, for instance, is the COP26-related post the group has engaged with most:
104 days after been fined £90m for dumping sewage into the environment and less than 12 hours after Gov voted to protect water companies and not our rivers, @SouthernWater were dumping sewage at 60, yes 60, different locations along the south coast of England.#COP26 hypocrisy pic.twitter.com/y1KCVPYoTP
— Feargal Sharkey (@Feargal_Sharkey) October 21, 2021
Brexit Brits, on the other hand, are more likely to view the imminent Conference as yet another example of woke-ism damaging Britain’s interests.
So china-russia are not coming to the cop26 and also India is doubtful so the three main polluters and not even coming and yet were being bashed for every greenenergy out there and costing billions what a wind up
— Build Back Better (@GlobalBritain21) October 20, 2021
One topic that’s been emerging both within the COP26 conversation as well as among broader audiences has been that of Greenwashing.
And while the topic is largely associated with corporations, Greta has put the spotlight again on governments’ and leaders’ attempts to ‘brand’ their efforts in her now famous “blah blah blah” Milan speech.
‘Thirty years of blah, blah, blah,’ @GretaThunberg told the opening session of a Youth4Climate event, striking a skeptical tone for this week’s climate talks in Italy https://t.co/mskHfSsG9c pic.twitter.com/qWFcqjTAVs
— Reuters (@Reuters) September 28, 2021
These are all common slogans but two of them “net zero” and “climate finance” take the top spot as most talked-about in the COP26 conversation.
The News Outlets Driving the COP26 Conversation
Although the participants – and issues – are global, the conference itself is taking place in Glasgow. This has led to the British media dominating the conversation on COP26 so far, although just how absent other countries’ media are from this topic is quite surprising.
Even as the nation finds itself in the eyes of the world, the UK press have positioned the conference as a test of Britain’s, and its Prime Minister’s, status on the global stage.
COP26 – the outlook of audiences from the Global South
While many of the conversation’s loudest voices emanate from the US, UK and other northern nations, it’s the discourse taking place further south that will, in many ways, condition the global response.
Not only are many of these nations’ economies tightly bound with fossil fuels and polluting industries, they also find themselves increasingly on the frontlines of the unfolding climate crisis.
Given the politically charged nature of the conversation, it’s unsurprising to see this audience segment itself along largely geopolitical lines.
Despite these sitting across the political spectrum, however, the general consensus is one of support for the Conference, and for global unilateralism.
Often, this is cast as the opportunity for a particular nation to globally take the need.
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COP26 stands as a decisive moment in the global struggle with the climate crisis. If talk is not perceived to result in action, governments may find themselves at a disconnect with a global population desperate for strong leadership.
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