The Keys to COP27: the Conference’s Most Influential People, Topics, and Terms


Arboretica’s team of data analysts examined popular articles and Twitter media around COP27, performing network analyses on the main topics discussed, the most influential people, and the most engaging content driving conversations.  We assembled unique datasets and produced interactive visualizations that show the relationships between COP’s most salient topics and messaging as well as the connections among the important actors deciding the international climate agenda.  These visualizations are tools that anyone can use to observe relationships between key subjects and key people – linkages otherwise obscured in a noisy ocean of information –  and uncover the pressure points driving engagement and sentiment in the international climate arena.

Our suite of analyses and interactive visual tools can help users prepare their messaging and campaign strategies in the lead up to COP28.  To maximize engagement, for instance, a clear take-away from our analysis is to get started early.  Overall engagement with COP27-related media peaked up to two weeks before the Conference began, with political topics and country leaders getting a large share of the attention early and other domain-specific issues and negotiators gaining more traction as COP got underway.  With insights like these, users can build a package of information regarding COP27’s most influential people, topics, organizations, and terminology curated specifically to meet their campaign goals, helping them to maximize engagement and reach the broadest possible audience.

COP27 Knowledge map

Politics, Money, and the Private Sector Dominate the Discussion

Examining news media and Twitter, we uncovered which topics were discussed the most and stirred the most engagement throughout COP27.  In news articles, the three most featured topics are: (1) the “Conference”,  (2) Leaders and Governments”, and (3) Climate Change”.

These findings are unsurprising, as they are COP’s defining themes.  COP is, after all, a high-level, government-focused conference on climate change.  The topic distribution on Twitter is similar to that of the news media, with a few exceptions.  For one, “Finance and Private Sector”, which is the 4th most discussed topic in news articles, ranks 2nd on Twitter, higher than any topic other than the “Conference” itself. 

Why, at a Climate Conference, is “Finance and Private Sector” such a hot topic?  It is more discussed than “GHG & Emissions”, “Fossil Fuels”, and “Carbon & Carbon Markets”.  Perhaps this finding reflects a bias toward business and finance in popular media.  Or does it reveal something essential about COP27: a focus on financial mechanisms and private actors in the actual Conference negotiations and events?

In news articles and on Twitter domain-specific topics, such as “Net Zero”, “Adaptation”, “Forest”, “Sustainability”, and “Nature”, are discussed relatively infrequently.  News media and Twitter users tend to focus on the Conference itself and the politics surrounding it, rather than the topics that directly pertain to climate change phenomena. These less discussed subjects are treated more as niche topics relating to COP.  “Human Rights” and “Activist” topics, for instance, which are typically popular discussion areas on Twitter, accounted for only a small fraction of COP27 tweets. These results show that news media frames COP as a political and financial policy negotiation more than one of environmental diplomacy, a framing that is echoed and amplified on Twitter.  


Get the Message Out Early: Engagement Peaks Weeks Before COP Begins

Adding a dynamic factor to our topic analysis, we examined the distribution of topics discussed on each day of the conference.  Some topics, such as “Conference”, “Climate Change”, “Carbon and Carbon Market”, “Global South”, and “Transportation” are most prevalent in news articles at the beginning of the Conference and then their salience diminishes as COP proceeds.  Others, including “Leaders & Government”, “Negotiation”, “Finance & Private Sector”, “Crisis”, “Emission”, and “Global Warming” are discussed in greater frequency in articles published closer to the Conference’s end than they are at the outset. Many of the topics most prevalent at the Conference’s closing directly relate to the negotiated agreement reached on the final day.

On Twitter, most topics had their peak engagement around 10 days before the Conference.  We found this anticipatory excitement across the board: the time period when the news media and Twitter using public were most engaged with COP27 news does not coincide with the Conference itself, but occurs up to two weeks before the Conference begins.  The “Sustainability” topic bucks this trend, exhibiting its peak engagement on Nov 20th, meaning its engagement generally picked up during the conference.  “Youth”, “Global South”, “Adaptation”, and “Transportation”  also maintained their level of engagement over time, while engagement with most other topics diminished as the Conference proceeded.

On certain days of the Conference, distinct one-time events lead to a spike in mentions of particular topics. The topic of “human rights,” for instance, peaked in frequency on November 12th, in the middle of the Conference. This peak corresponds with a notable protest held at the COP venue, a demonstration for human rights featuring the key phrase “loss and damage”, which arose in our analysis as a top keyword largely because of the same event. 


“Ambitious” is COP27’s Most Engaging Keyword

This method of network analysis yields predictive evidence on what language is associated with the greatest public engagement, a valuable insight for any group aiming to extend their message far and wide.

Examining keywords and key phrases used on Twitter and in news articles around COP27, we found that the term “ambitious” was COP27’s top keyword, driving engagement and sustaining healthy volume throughout the Conference.  Other terms with good volume that also spur engagement include “young people”, “air pollution”, “loss and damage”, “climate mitigation”, and “temperature rise”. 


Meanwhile the most engaging two-word phrase was “world elite”, largely found in tweets that criticize world leaders for flying in private jets to Egypt. Other top engaging keywords and phrases include phrases about plastic pollution, oil and gas, and other fossil fuels-related terms.

Game changer”, a term used in many project launches and announcements, showed below average engagement on Twitter, as did other common campaign terms, including “Nature Positive”, “financial support”, and other carbon-related keywords. These phrases fall within the domain-specific bucket of keywords that attracted limited engagement compared with umbrella terms relating to the Conference and certain political leaders.  


Rishi Sunak is Popular on Climate Twitter, But Not in a Good Way

Our network analyses of Twitter users and news articles revealed COP27’s Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), among whom U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak generated more engagement than anyone else.  Mr. Sunak garnered impressively high levels of engagement with only one tweet.  In fact, almost all of the most engaged Twitter users each tweeted fewer than three times.  Engagement followed users with the most followers and especially tweets that went viral.  These results show that, on Twitter, volume does not mean engagement.  The best way to have a message seen is for it to come from a very popular account – a KOL.  

The U.S. and Chinese leaders were also near the top of the most discussed KOLs rankings, showing that even in a year with lower expectations and fewer controversies, the major powers still dominate the news and Twitter discussions.  Mr. Sunak’s prominence is a bit surprising, in part a result of controversy over his initial decision to not attend COP, and then his last-minute about-face.  Public and media engagement regarding Mr. Sunak may also reflect his newness to the scene as well as his distinct background.  

Beyond showing who draws the most engagement, our KOL network analysis often reveals “hidden” figures: people who have key roles in climate discussions yet are not necessarily household names.  

Vanessa Nakete, for example, is a Ugandan activist who is strongly connected with John Kerry (U.S. climate envoy), Antonio Guterres (U.N. Secretary-General), and Frans Timmermans (EU’s environment chief). This means that Ms. Nakete is frequently mentioned in news articles and tweets featuring these high-level figures and related to these important organizations (U.S., UN, EU).  If one aims to develop influential environmental messaging and draw attention to these politicians, Ms. Nakete would be an influential person of interest.  These sorts of “hidden” connections are among the distinctive advantages of our network analysis methods compared with the results of traditional content analysis.

Vanessa Nakate
51miz P1257795 5XIRKMG4 e1675029979577

More Interactive Tools to Explore COP27 Media Insights

We performed multiple network analyses on our new articles and Twitter datasets, producing interactive visualizations that serve as tools for users to navigate our findings and draw insights from the information.  By adjusting the visual tools’ settings and simple features, users can identify signals and relationships from large-scale datasets to determine the most important, engaging, and popular people, organizations, and talking points related to COP27.  The visuals reveal key insight on the substance and context of COP, helping those aiming to compose an engaging article, influence the conversation, or start a viral discussion thread of their own.

The COP27 Knowledge Map

We examined more than 3,000 articles, published in news media across the globe from November 1 – 21, 2022, performing network analysis on keywords, people, and organizations discussed in these pieces to produce an interactive “Knowledge Map”: