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Is it too late to speak for the planet?

#ParisAgreement was trending on the day Joe Biden was sworn in as President, as environmentalists welcomed the US back to the agreement they walked away from in Bonn.

It was in early November 2017 that the United States pulled out of COP23. Three years and two months later, they are back at the table. The UNFCCC, climate and political scientists in the US and across the globe are furiously tweeting and welcoming them back, but as media coverage of climate change increases, can the US legislature keep track of this surge, stick to the narrative and try to reshape public policy?

Looking back at that day in 2017, the media coverage of this fiasco led to far-reaching implications for nations committed to the agreement.

Revisiting COP23

Climate change communication is a diplomatic exercise involving more than 150 nations and organizations. In a COP23 summit, the role of digital media as an advocate and channel for diplomacy becomes amplified. Conferences as massive in scale as the Global Environment Summit have special dedicated social media measurement matrices and analytical tools to map and measure engagement and drive discussions. Special search parameters such as hashtags, mention@ and keywords are used to pool in all the data. In the COP23 conference, #COP23 and #climatechange were the two top trends generated by 893,450 tweets.

In Figure 1, the coverage of COP23 in US media is depicted through this word cloud. The absence of US government from COP23 is particularly covered by the US media.

Figure 1: This word cloud shows the frequency of words (4 letters or more) invoked in media coverage of climate change or global warming in in the Los Angeles TimesThe New York TimesUSA TodayThe Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal in the US in 2017. Source:

Figure 2: Starting on 5 November 2017, the UNFCCC Twitter account gave interesting insights


The COP23 summit began on 6 November 2017.  Previous studies focusing on this type of research finds it necessary to be careful about setting the time range of the search parameters. It is not sufficient to collect data on the day of the campaign; data must be collected on the days before and after to track possible changing trends. Take the examples of studying the Arab Spring movement and the People’s Climate March. The former was a social movement with a longer duration, researchers examined the Twitter data for several months to capture the big picture; while in the case of the People’s Climate March, a one-day event in New York City, it was sufficient that researchers only looked at the tweets the day before, the day and the day after for analysis. In a word, the time range we choose for search parameters should be consistent with our research goal (Social Media Analytics for Digital Advocacy Campaigns: Five Common Challenges, 2016, p.5).

Since this study relied on official UNFCCC social media measurement tool, the hashtags #COP23, #climatechange, and #climate were used. This resulted in a total of 893,450 tweets (see Figure 3). On the first day of COP 23, the number of tweets generated were 32, 453 (see Figure 2). It is also interesting to note that in a matter of 24 hours, the number of tweets surged to 220,582.

Figure 3: Total number of tweets generated on 18 November 2017

Another interesting phenomenon was the surge in tweets on 8 November especially from the US region. This shows that government leaders were more likely to give the discussion prominence, before and during their speeches at the summit, tweeting actively about it and the interest died down after they left the summit.

Figure 4: Word cloud generated on 8 November 2017, showing #climatechange generated 53, 392 tweets

The United States was leading (20%) the conversation surrounding President Trump’s withdrawal from COP23 while European nations were lagging behind in discussing about the summit on Twitter. This indicates that US media publications were cued into the happenings at COP23 and were reporting about the talks, while allocating substantial space in their coverage.

Figure 5: An overview of the sentiment analysis, gender and influence reach on day 5 of COP23

The analytics from the UNFCCC’s official measurement website, had segregated the elite actors on Twitter under “Participants” profile. These included media accounts, journalists, influential environmental activists, communities working for the environment, government leaders and officials of United Nations. The analytics here shows how each tweet, retweet or reply by these elite actors on Twitter in turn reached to their millions of followers.

If this was the case of 2017, the signal strength and influence of digital media in 2021 is far more robust and de-centralised. Will mainstream media coverage overshadow the policy debate around this topic or will political leaders use their own Twitter accounts and social media platforms to reshape the narrative. The world is eagerly watching the messaging unfold as POTUS on Twitter gets reinstated with a distinctive voice and image. 



Social Media Analytics for Digital Advocacy Campaigns: Five Common Challenges (Publication). (2016). USC Centre on Public Diplomacy.



The author received funding from the University Grants Commission for a project “Media representation of climate change communication in the UNESCO World Heritage Site”.



Deepti Ganapathy, PhD is faculty of communication at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. She is a Rotary Group Study Exchange Fellow, CNN Young Journalist finalist, Creative Writing awardee by Royal Commonwealth Society, London and recognized by the International Journalists’ Network as ‘Journalist of the Month’. She holds a PhD from the Department of Studies in Communication and Journalism, University of Mysore and was a Visiting Fellow at UC San Diego. She blogs at and tweets @GanapathyDeepti   



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