Getting the COP21 Word(s) Out

waiting 2Media coverage of climate change jumped in 2015.

EHN reports that since 2000, the University of Colorado, Boulder, has tracked climate coverage in news reports published by five national newspapers—The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and USA Today. Their line graph tells a clear story without words: news stories reached numbers not seen since December 2009, when COP15 took place in Copenhagen.

The UNFCCC’s official attendance stats tell a similar story, with COP21 seeing growth in all categories of attendees.  Out of the total number of 30,372 blue zone credentials, 19,208 or 63% were worn by the 196 Parties; 8,314 or 27% by observers; and 2798 or 9% by the media.  The COP21 total is more than twice the total attendance of COP20, with almost three times as many country delegation attendees and about 2.5 times the number of media.  Given the COP21 agenda, it’s not surprising to see the rapid uptick in country delegates: high government officials attending only for the High Level Segment were badged along side party delegation security and administrative assistants.

But two things struck me when stepping back from the jumble of attendance details to look at larger patterns.  IMG_1166

First, the Boulder research doesn’t look back beyond COP15’s highwater mark for media interest in climate change and so misses the fact that media participants at COP3 numbered 3750, according to the UNFCCC, more than the 2800 who reported on COP21.

Second, looking at the participants listed on several country delegations at COP21 show media people badged on party credentials.  For example, China’s delegation – one of the largest – included several dozen people titled as print and television journalists.  Even Colombia, with a delegation only a quarter the size of China’s, listed a noticeable number of media.  Perhaps this is an artifact of bringing so many heads of state, government, and internal environment, foreign affairs, and energy ministries to the historic Paris meeting?  Or maybe it’s a part of a trend toward having more control over the COP words and images heading back home?  Regardless, this tilt toward party-badged media versus media-badged media raises genuine concern about the independent role of this group of COP participants.  It also likely leaves the UNFCCC Secretariat wondering if the rules that govern who may attend a specific negotiation session (e.g. Party vs. observer vs. media) need fine tuning.