The momentum generated during the last few years of climate negotiations finally culminated in Paris during COP21 with a historic agreement that aims to maintain global temperature levels below a warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. The agreement marks a very important step, setting the pace for the redirection of the global economic development model—however, the path ahead is still long. The implementation of the Accord at the national level will largely depend on the continuing and active participation of civil society, which needs to be well informed on what was achieved in Paris, the challenges ahead, and the relevance of the accord at the national level. In this context, the role that the media plays as an informer and catalyzing agent for civil society engagement is—and will be—key.
Nivela studied the coverage of COP21 in online newspapers in five Latin American countries, Peru, Colombia, Chile, and Costa Rica—Members of the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean—and Mexico. For each country, articles were collected that were published in two leading online newspapers during the span of COP21 (from November 30th to December 12th). The content and the focus of said articles was also analyzed, as well as over-arching trends during the two weeks.
What was the coverage trend during COP21?
Over the course of COP21, the greatest number of articles in the countries studied came on November 30th, the opening day of the conference. This is the case for each individual country, the only exception being Costa Rica, which had a higher coverage on December 12th. The coverage during the first day of COP21 was focused on the speeches of political leaders and presidents during the opening ceremony, as well as those of internationally recognized figures such as Ban Ki Moon and Pope Francis. The opinions of politicians regarding the advances of the negotiations was a clear focus of the press throughout COP21, which indicates the interest of the media in recognized personalities that could generate interest in the readers.
After November 30th the total number of articles decreased progressively during the first week of the conference, with a noticeable decrease between the first and second days of the COP. At the start of the second week of negotiations, on November 7th, a slight increase in the number of articles was observed, but without a doubt the most consistent increment for all the countries was seen only from December 11th with the impeding end of the conference, and finally on December 12th, with the adoption of the accord (see previous graph).
A comparison between the publication of COP21-related articles amongst the five countries studied also shows important differences in coverage. Regarding the number of articles published, Mexico had a much higher coverage than the other four—almost double that of Chile and Costa Rica, and 30% more than Colombia, which comes second after Mexico.
But beyond the numbers, the content of the articles is key for a complete evaluation of the coverage of COP21, and this varied in each case and in each newspaper. Up next is a more detailed analysis of the reporting on COP21 in each country.
In Chile’s case, the newspapers La Tercera and El Mercurio Online (better known as Emol) were compared. La Tercera published 22% more articles than Emol, and also had more consistent reporting regarding the progress of the negotiations in particular. This includes the advances of draft texts, explanations of the importance of the agreement and the 2-degree Celsius goal, as well as the positions of key players such as China and the United States. However, the coverage of the COP21 in regards to its importance to Chile was meager, with only 8.7% of articles (from both sources) having a local focus. The majority of these articles were focused on speeches by President Michelle Bachelet, and only one video (published by Emol) focused on Chile’s contribution to the climate summit. An important difference in coverage was also observed between the first and second weeks of the conference in both newspapers. From the 6th to the 10th of December coverage was lower, with a maximum of two articles published per day. It is also worth noting that 20% of all the Chilean articles analyzed were blogs or opinion pieces (published in opinion sections of the newspapers).
The analysis of the coverage of COP21 in Costa Rica focused on the newspapers La Nación and El Financiero. Of the five countries studied, Costa Rica presents the most unequal coverage between its national newspapers. La Nación published nine times as many articles as El Financiero, which had very low coverage of COP21. Indeed, El Financiero did not publish any articles regarding the Conference for seven of the 13 days of the negotiations. It is also worth noting that two of the eight articles in El Financiero (25%) were blog posts. On the other hand, La Nación regularly published articles focused specifically on the negotiating process—including contributions made by Costa Rica and other negotiating blocs, progress on the draft text, and key points of the agreement. La Nación also stood out amongst the newspapers studied for its use of multimedia, publishing a variety of videos regarding the negotiations. On the other hand, 17% of Costa Rican articles, from both sources, had a local focus, and 14.6% were blog and opinion pieces.
For Peru, the coverage of El Comercio and La República was compared, showing a significant difference. El Comercio published almost twice the amount of articles than La República did, and offered more in-depth coverage on the state of negotiations and the agreement itself. 23 of the 85 COP21-related articles published in the two Peruvian newspapers focused on the status of the negotiations, including key points to understand the negotiations, and the progress made with the drafts (the majority of these were published in El Comercio). However, neither of these two newspapers covered the role played by Peru in the negotiations, nor the positions of other Latin American or developing countries—and only 8.2% of the articles had a local focus. On the other hand, only 7% were opinion pieces or blog posts.
In Colombia’s case, the coverage of El Colombiano and El Espectador were analyzed. The difference in coverage between these two newspapers was marked, in both quantity and quality of articles published. El Espectador covered the conference in greater depth and in a more consistent manner over the two weeks of negotiations—publishing almost triple the amount of articles than El Colombiano. El Espectador published articles focused specifically on explaining the negotiating process. This included positions and demands of negotiating blocs, “complicated” issues at the COP21, key points, advances in the accord (drafts), and parallel announcements regarding key themes such as finance. 19.8% of the total articles in Colombia had a local or national focus, and 24% were blogs or opinion pieces.
For Mexico, coverage of the newspapers El Universal and
Milenio were compared. Mexico showed the most equal coverage between the two
selected newspapers, with a difference of published articles coming in at only
12%. It should be emphasized that in addition, Mexico was the country that had
the greatest total number of articles published of the five countries studied,
which could be due to the more equal contribution by both newspapers. Also,
Mexico showed a significant number of articles that dealt with national issues,
with 22% focused on the country. This is the highest percentage of articles
with a local focus out of the five countries studied. Both newspapers
consistently published articles that dealt with the negotiating process,
including the draft’s progress and announcements during the summit such as the
covenant of mayors, finance pledges, and a pact of 90 countries to protect
water resources. On the other hand, 17.4% of all articles were blogs or opinion
pieces, many of which were written by a Danish guest columnist, Bjorn Lomborg,
The coverage of COP21 in the countries studied was concentrated mainly on the first and last day of the conference for all cases. Nevertheless, the differences between the countries and newspapers were more pronounced over the course of the two weeks of negotiations. The reports of the Mexican newspapers El Universal and Milenio, as well as Colombia’s El Espectador, stand out for their consistent publication of articles focused on the negotiation process, and for the significant number of articles that had a national focus (18.9% for Colombia and 22% for Mexico). It is key that the achievements in the international climate negotiations are communicated to civil society, highlighting the national and local importance of these as well as for the improvement of citizens’ quality of life.
The work done by authors of opinion articles and blogs should also be highlighted, as they represent 17% of all the articles published in these five countries regarding COP21. This indicates the importance of opinion pieces, whose content is independent from the newspapers, to supplement the coverage of the advances of climate politics and their local relevance in national newspapers.