Media coverage of climate change during COVID-19

Zia Mehrabi
the nature of food
Published in
2 min readJan 28, 2021

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In the years leading up to the pandemic, the coverage of climate change in the media increased year on year — accompanied by a rise in widespread public protests and climate action. Then, like many other aspects of our lives over the past year, media coverage of climate change was put on hold, overshadowed by the attention afforded to the pandemic. With the new year upon us, efforts are needed to put climate change back on the agenda and in the spotlight in media outlets worldwide.

Trends in global media coverage show just how rapidly mentions of “Covid-19” increased soon after the the first announcement of ‘pneumonia of unknown cause’ in China by the World Health Organization on January 5th 2020. The due media obsession with Covid-19, like infections from the virus itself, showed exponential growth. Yet during the same period, “Climate change” mentions in the media, took a precipitous drop, and at the start of 2021, while rising, have still failed to regain their pre-pandemic coverage levels, let alone reach the levels that would have been seen if they had continued on the trajectory that preceded the start of the pandemic. As of writing, mentions of Covid-19 are still an order of magnitude greater than those of climate change (Figure 1).

Twenty twenty one holds a number of exciting opportunities for putting climate change back in the spotlight, from new leadership in the USA (and re-commitment to The Paris Agreement), green recovery programs in major emitting countries, and renewed climate action around COP26. While Covid-19 dominated the press in 2020, in 2021 climate change must regain its position and occupy its rightful space in our minds. The media and journalists should use this year as a new opportunity to re-engage the public in discourse on, what is perhaps, the most fundamental challenge we face to the future health and well being of our children and the planet.

Figure 1. News coverage of COVID-19 soared globally in 2020 while discussions on climate change dropped by around a half. Media coverage here is an index of news mentions from print, broadcast and web news globally in over 100 languages in every country in the world, updated daily. Data sourced form the The GDLET project (https://www.gdeltproject.org/).

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