- The Bonn Conference’s most discussed topics in 2022 well predicted the hot topics later at COP27
- Peak engagement on Twitter surrounding the Bonn Climate Conference occurs before the conference’s first day
- The keyword “women” was one of the five most engaged terms on Twitter around the 2022 Conference, reflecting an increased awareness of and dialogue on gender imbalances and injustices made worse by climate change
Since its beginning thirty years ago, the UNFCCC’s Climate Conference, aka Conference Of the Parties (COP), has become a massive event, bringing together state leaders, policymakers, activists, and international media every year in a whirlwind of activity, negotiations, and international fanfare. Planning such a summit requires a lot of work, and months before negotiators hammer out the details of what will become that year’s COP Agreement, a separate agenda-setting conference takes place in Bonn, Germany, the UNFCCC’s host city. The Bonn Climate Change Conference, held every June, is COP’s preamble, yet unlike COP, the Bonn Conference attracts relatively little attention from national media and the climate concerned public.
Arboretica’s team of data scientists examined Twitter media and popular articles around the Bonn Conference, and, looking at data going back to 2017, we uncover trends in the topics discussed, highlight patterns of public engagement, and perform network analyses on the organisations, media, and topics driving conversations. We find that discussions around the Bonn Conference are prescient, in many instances predicting the most salient topics of the same year’s COP. Our findings and analytical tools can help those looking to join the conversation, get their message in popular media, and spur public engagement.
From "Climate Change" to "Loss and Damage", Bonn sets the table for COP agenda
From 2015 through 2021, the most discussed topics at the Bonn Conference remained fairly static: “Climate Change” and “Negotiation” were perennially at the top of the agenda, with other key terms, such as “Transportation” and “Fossil Fuel” rounding out the most prevalent topics. Yet in 2022 the agenda’s key topics shifted: “Crisis” became the most prevalent topic of discussion and “Finance & Private Sector” was second (see plot). What precipitated this change?
Taking a deeper dive into the Twitter data, we find that the “Crisis” and “Finance” topics became popular and engaging in 2022 as the Bonn Conference’s agenda shifted to focus more on “Loss and Damage,” a general term used in UN climate negotiations to refer to climate change’s harmful consequences for the most vulnerable communities, an issue centrally related to climate justice. The topic of “Loss and Damage” is associated with “Crisis” in our dictionary, and both of these key terms garnered considerable attention around the 2022 Conference, where negotiators agreed to include a “Loss and Damage Fund” on the official COP27 agenda.
This Fund is now a critical tool used to finance climate adaptation and recovery, drawing capital from rich countries to support poor countries that are most vulnerable to climate change’s harmful effects. At the Bonn Conference, some countries opposed including the Fund on the COP27 agenda, which spurred additional discussion and engagement about the topic. Tweets that mentioned “Loss and Damage” were not only associated with “Crisis,” but also “Finance.” So the rise in salience of the Loss and Damage Fund in 2022 elevated “Finance’s” prevalence as well. We observe this topical thread tying the Bonn Conference together with COP27: the Loss and Damage deal was agreed upon by the end of COP27, five months after the Bonn Conference. Since we clearly discern that the 2022 Bonn Conference set the table for COP27’s agenda, it is reasonable to conclude that the hot topics around this year’s Bonn Conference would predict the hot topics at COP28.
Popularity does not mean engagement
Our Twitter analysis shows that the topics with the greatest volume do not necessarily draw the most engagement. The term “net zero,” for instance, was the Bonn conference’s most engaged topic on twitter in 2017 and again in 2022. Yet in both those years, “net zero” was not a particularly common topic on twitter. This means that a relatively few accounts were generating a lot of engagement with tweets pertaining to “net zero.”
As we observed with tweets around COP, peak engagement around the Bonn Climate Conference occurs before the conference’s first day (see plot). This finding underscores a definitive takeaway for any group or individual messaging about the conference: start messaging early.
Our analysis of the tweets with the highest engagement shows that the most engaging tweets are generally from official sources or government officials. The Bonn Conference, which draws relatively little attention from the media and general public, needs more outreach and organic tweets from conference attendees and other individuals if it is going to gain traction and influence in a broader arena.
The rise of “women” as a key term
We performed text analysis on the keywords, key terms, and key hashtags in tweets pertaining to the Bonn Conference since 2017 (excluding 2020 and 2021, when there was no in-person conference), and we examined the average engagement and occurrence of these key terms. Considering only those with at least five occurrences, we determined that the top five most engaging keywords were:
Top 5 Engaging Keywords
women + girls
women + men
women + hardest
youth + women
women + human
women + leaders
women + farmers
women + role
women + recyclers
This table could be the starting point for many avenues of inquiry. The fact that “women” was one of the most engaging keywords in 2022 is a point of particular interest to us. “Women” is not a term that directly relates to “climate change” or “conference.” Delving deeper in the twitter text data, we find the most engaging terms that involve women in 2022.
These coupled terms show the connections drawn between women and climate crises. Women and girls are most affected by climate change impacts, which exacerbate gender inequalities. Across the world, women depend more on, yet have less access to, natural resources. Agriculture is the most important employment sector for women in low- and lower-middle-income countries, and during periods of drought and erratic rainfall women are forced to work harder to secure income and resources for their families. (Source).
For each year in our sample, we examined the content of the Bonn Conference’s most engaging tweets that mention the term “women.” In 2017, the Bonn Conference was one and the same as COP23, and at this dual conference, the Fiji President Frank Bainimarama announced the Gender Action Plan, highlighting the role of women in climate action. Over the next two years, the term “women” was not used much except when referring to the Gender Action Plan from COP23 and Bonn Conference of 2017. Then at the 2022 Bonn Conference, UNFCC released a report on how climate change affects men and women differently. Twitter went ablaze with many tweets about this report. Additionally, projects pertaining to women empowerment were often mentioned at the 2022 Conference.
The dialogue regarding women and girls and climate change explains the rise of “women” as a highly engaged key term around the Bonn Climate Conference. Our text analysis’s findings also reflect the increased awareness of gender imbalances and injustices made worse by climate change. This elevated understanding of the need to address gender injustice in climate policy can be observed at Bonn, COP, and in discussions among the broader public.
Network analysis: Organisations, Media, and Topics
Analysing the news media pertaining to the Bonn Conference, we generated a network plot showing the connections between Organisations, Media and Topics discussed.