Arnie and the floods

How the media were going to react to COP21 was almost harder to predict than the details of the talks themselves. Even for the environment correspondents, their view of these summits was tarnished by the 2009 talks in Copenhagen, which was seen as a failure by most. Most media were expecting the same this time round. Those close to the talks had their work cut out briefing the media that this time was different, but it paid off, and by the time COP21 started, the media were equally enthused and up to scratch on the details.

As expected, there was much hype at the beginning of the two weeks following enigmatic speeches from the likes of Obama and Xi Jinping who promised great commitments from their countries at this crucial time. Household names like Arnold Schwarzenegger also drew the headlines for calling on the world to act now. As we got into the nitty gritty of the negotiations, the media tailed off and focused their column inches elsewhere. However, as the rain fell on the UK and the flood levels rose, people looked for answers. The papers jumped on comments from Environment Secretary Liz Truss who said that the floods were in line with climate change and attention was once again focused on Paris and how the summit was planning on avoiding further disasters. This was heightened by Beijing announcing its first ‘red alert’ for dangerous levels of smog, framing the narrative that China is planning on investing a significant amount in low-carbon infrastructure over the coming decades. The striking smog pictures brought the talks to the front pages for the first time.

However, there was bound to be a certain amount of scepticism and commentators in several publications used these two weeks to announce their discontent over the science behind climate change, calling on Governments to focus their energies on flood defences and immigration crises which appear more imminent issues. Luckily, the balance was positive on the whole and optimism towards a strong and ambitious agreement was felt throughout.

The nature of the talks themselves, which are extremely complicated and full of jargon, mean that explaining the situation to an interested journalist is hard enough, let alone summarising the details to the wider public. However, through careful messaging and daily press conferences, the publications were able to project the positive feeling from Le Bourget to the papers. Now it remains to be seen if this momentum can continue to drive interest and understanding around climate change, giving it the media presence it deserves. 

Metin Parlak

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search