The Fight Against Climate Change Goes Social

The recent UN Conference of the Parties COP 21 held in Paris has shown once more the power of social media and other social technologies to engage citizens and leaders from business, civil society and other realms in a global discussion and – more importantly – dialogue about the pitfalls of inaction regarding climate change.

The “social” numbers are staggering: according to the data available at the official UN website Climate Talks Live, more than 3.5 million tweets, retweets and replies were posted using the hashtags #COP21 during the conference held between November 30 and December 12. With an average of 200,000 daily posts on Twitter, the most “social” day was the initial one (November 30) with a peak of 611,000 messages with an overall “positive sentiment” in their tone (never below 80 per cent of the messages) during the whole event. More than 900 tweets per minute were sent at the moment of the positive outcome of the conference on December 12 using the previous hashtag and more than 450 tweets per minute using the second most popular hashtag #ParisAgreement (see here).

These numbers show the scale, volume and pace at which people from all around the globe joined the COP 21 conversation. In this regard, two key factors were effective in creating momentum to arrive at such a positive outcome as the adoption of the Paris Agreement: “social” business leaders and “social” events.

On the one hand, it is worth mentioning the role played by business leaders committed to the cause of climate change who critically helped in raising the tone and profile of the discussions undergoing in Paris through the use of their personal and corporate social media accounts through multiple platforms. In this regard, the examples of Richard Branson (Virgin), Mike Bloomberg (Bloomberg) and Paul Polman (Unilever) are remarkable. The three of them posted messages on their social media accounts on a daily basis during each day of the conference, sharing information about their companies’ different commitments and specific goals set in order to reduce emissions, foster renewable energies, etc., and communicating different industry-wide initiatives and pledges that were launched during these days with the aim of bringing about change by way of acting through collective action. They also constantly retweeted, favorited and replied to messages posted by other colleagues from business, the public sector, civil society, etc. They even coordinated the publication of an op-ed series led by Bloomberg which were published by digital news outlet The Huffington Post: each day one of them posted a column about climate change and its challenges; these pieces were later reciprocally shared on their social media accounts by the three of them together with Arianna Huffington.

On the other hand, several parallel events held those days along the main UN COP 21 conference opted for using the “digital activation” mode: both in its origin and purpose, they were designed to have an impact in the social media world. They even took as conference titles hashtags themselves. Events such as #Cities4Climate (held on December 4) and #EarthtoParis (December 7 and 8) were main examples of this trend. In particular, #EarthtoParis – which was organized by the UN Foundation, Mashable and the City of Paris, among others – was conceived from its beginning not only as a face-to-face encounter to be held both at the Petit Palais and UNESCO headquarters in Paris but primordially as a “social” conversation among different actors and stakeholders around the globe who were all able to participate through questions, suggestions, and comments using social media tools. Its hashtag was used in more than 38,000 tweets from 19,000 unique users, reaching a potential audience of 50 million people.

Business leaders and diverse conference organizers were able then through the use of social media and their far-fetched impact to “socialize” the climate change conversation in a way that decisively influenced the development and final outcome of the main UN conference, taking discussions to a higher level of participation and engagement, and ending with an agreement of universal value.

Gabriel Cecchini

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