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Front page coverage of COP26 around the world at various points of the two-week negotiations.

Recent data from The Weather Channel shows that the United States’ coverage of climate change hit an all-time high in November and October. Media and Climate Change Observatory(MeCCO), an international collaboration of multi-university institutions based at University of Colorado Boulder.

Monitoring stories around the globe from 127 newspapers, radio and television stations in 59 countries and 13 languages, MeCCO found that during these two months—which coincided with the 2021 United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland—U.S. media coverage was the highest it’s been since November and December 2009, when the same annual conference took place in Copenhagen, Denmark. 

“Climate change is no longer just a science story. It’s now a political, economic, societal and cultural story,” said Max BoykoffMeCCO lead project investigator, chair of the Department of Environmental Studies. 

Both OctoberAnd NovemberThere were significant increases in coverage of global climate change from the previous year. October 2021 saw more than doubling of newspaper coverage (a 114% increase from October 2020). This coverage in October 2021 was much more extensive than the previous month. Newspaper coverage increased 22%, while radio coverage rose 29% over September. Although newspaper coverage slowed in November 2021 due to a lack of interest, it had increased 81% over the previous year and global radio coverage on climate change had increased by a staggering 45% between October 2021 and November 2021. 

Out of the U.N. conference stories on social movements were also covered. In October 2021, new scientific reports were published. LancetCountdown reportAbout climate change impacts upon human health (to whom MeCCO team members Olivia Pearman & Lucy McAllister contributed); as well as a paper ScienceThe study showed how land dispossession by native Americans in the U.S. has made them more vulnerable to climate change. 

Front page coverage of COP26 around the world at various points of the two-week negotiations.

At various points during the two-week-long negotiations, COP26 was featured on the front page of the newspapers around the globe. (Credit: Media and Climate Change Observatory) 

A changing language for a changing climate 

The language of climate change is also changing, with more intense words and phrases being used in the news to describe the phenomenon, such as “climate catastrophe” and “climate emergency,” according to data collected by MeCCO and language learning platform Babbel from 2006 to 2021. 

MeCCO’s work depends on identifying new terms being used in the news and then incorporating them into their tracking algorithms. Eight search terms were chosen by MeCCO to track the appearance of these search terms in recent years. 

Between 2020 and 2021 alone, the use of “climate catastrophe” in U.S. news outlets increased by half; in the UK, use of the term tripled. 

“Our language helps describe the realities of our world,” said Boykoff, who is also FellowIn the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).

Meanwhile, the terms “global warming” and “greenhouse effect” have been invoked less frequently. At least one outlet. The GuardianEven the style guide itself was updated by the company in 2019, preferring the terms “global heating” and “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” over “global warming” and “climate change,” respectively. 

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The term “climate change” however, is not disappearing—it’s just that other terms are increasing, said Boykoff.

He notes that it’s difficult to draw a straight line between more media coverage and increased action on climate change. But the news is a key way we understand the world around our eyes, and political actors use media attention to gauge public pressures, he said. 

“Increased media attention is part of a story of increased engagement and action,” said Boykoff.  

MeCCO will release its fifth annual summary/explainer on climate change in 2021, which covers a year. MeCCO’s data used to compile its reports is made available through CU Boulder Libraries as open-source databases. They are free for anyone: journalists, academics and the general public.

Members of MeCCO also contributed to a paper. The Lancet in January of 2021, “COVID-19 media coverage decreasing despite deepening crisis,” which uses the same methods to analyze media coverage of COVID-19. With More funding and resourcesMeCCO could draw on their existing network to get valuable insights on media coverage about the pandemic. This is similar to how they have been following and analysing news related to climate change. 

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