Civil Society Actors in the #Climatechange Debate

Blog by Stefanie Walter

During the past two weeks of the UN summit, we have read about the problems that civil society actors have faced in making their voices heard.

Following on from the November 13 Paris terror attacks protests and other public events were banned in the city. Under these circumstances, social media represent a means through which civil society organisations can stand up for what they believe in and receive public attention.

In this blog post, I want to take a look at the climate change debate taking place on twitter, and the actors participating in it. During the conference, I have collected tweets using Google Tags based on the hashtag #climatechange. The following preliminary analyses are based on tweets collected between 30th of November and 8th of December 2015.

The ten most active twitter users in the sample were: MercianRockyRex, BLUEdotRegister, ClimateWise2015, Denovo777, PlantsLoveCO2, NiliMajumder, ArBolivia1, neils_rt, EcoFashion2015, CircularEco. Among the most active users, the traditional big NGOs are not to be found. They nevertheless play an important role, when it comes to online conversations, i.e. being directly addressed, mentioned, and re-tweeted by other users. For the visual analyses below, I have taken a random sample of 10,000 tweets.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 1 visualises the actor network of the #climatechange debate, highlighting the most central actors in the network. As can be seen, civil society actors have indeed been very central in the online climate change debate. Among the most central actors are UNICEF, Greenpeace, and the World Economic Forum. But it also evident there are many isolated users expressing themselves without engaging into discussions with any of the central actors.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 2 shows the most popular hashtags used by the users in the network above. Of course, since the data was collected based on the #climatechange, it is the predominant hashtag. Yet, hashtags calling for action, such as #climateaction, #actionday, and #climatemarch also play an important role in the debate.

Of course, it remains to be seen to what extent the social media activity of civil society actors has an impact on the outcome of the UN summit. However, during these last days of the conference, it has been civil society organisations, voicing the view, that the current options are insufficient.

As of last night Paris time, a deal was struck by nearly all nations represented at COP21 to limit warming to under 2C from preindustrial levels.