COP28 coverage

Media Matters / Molly Butler

Research/Study Research/Study

National TV news coverage of COP28 was sparse and inconsistent

While improved from last year, national TV news coverage of the UN climate summit still fell short of the comprehensive reporting needed to help address climate change

A new Media Matters study has found that corporate broadcast and major cable news networks dedicated relatively little coverage to the recent COP28 summit, the world’s highest decision-making process on climate issues — though the data does show an improvement on networks’ inadequate coverage of last year’s COP summit. 

From November 30 through December 13, representatives from nearly 200 countries met in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for COP28, the United Nations’ annual climate summit, to negotiate goals and agree on steps aimed at mitigating human-induced climate change. This year’s conference sought to address numerous important issues, including a “climate damage fund to help countries that have already suffered irreparable damage from climate change impacts” and plans for polluting countries around the world to rapidly phase out of using fossil fuels. There was also controversy surrounding the outsized role that oil and gas companies played at the summit.

Given the significance of COP28 in shaping global climate policies, comprehensive national TV news coverage on the yearly summit is crucial for fostering public awareness and guiding policy discourse. Although there was a noticeable improvement in the coverage from last year (including greater focus on the fossil fuel industry’s role in driving the climate crisis and scrutiny of its place in the development of climate policy), overall coverage was sparse and inconsistent, which highlights an ongoing issue: TV news outlets often fail to prioritize climate coverage. 

A previous Media Matters analysis looked at the first four days of coverage. This analysis, from November 30 through December 13, looked at coverage of the whole event and found:

  • Corporate broadcast outlets and major cable news networks aired 5 hours and 42 minutes of combined coverage across 102 segments about COP28. This represents a bump compared to coverage of COP27, which was covered for a combined 3 hours and 48 minutes. 
  • Major cable news networks — CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News — aired just under 8 minutes of coverage on November 30, the first day of the summit. This represents an approximately 97% drop from opening day coverage of COP26 in 2021, when CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News aired just over 4 hours of combined coverage
  • CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News aired 5 hours and 25 minutes of coverage across 91 segments about the summit. CNN led with 2 hours and 43 minutes of coverage, followed by Fox News with 1 hour and 38 minutes, and MSNBC with 1 hour and 5 minutes. Fox News’ coverage, however, was rife with mockery, explicit climate change denial, and calls to delay climate action. 
  • Corporate broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, and NBC — aired only 16 minutes of coverage across 11 segments about COP28 during the study period. CBS led with 10 minutes of coverage, followed by ABC with 4 minutes, and NBC with 2 minutes.
  • National TV news provided notable and improved COP28 segments compared to last year, but the total time devoted to coverage was still inadequate

  • COP28 was widely followed because there were numerous important issues at stake. Despite the overall lack of major cable news and corporate broadcast coverage, many of the segments that did make it to air contained substantive reporting on key policy issues, such as the new climate loss and damage fund, which was a major aspect of recent negotiations. Additional segments highlighted the controversy surrounding the fossil fuel industry's involvement in COP28, raising important questions about conflicts of interest and the challenges in balancing industry interests with the interests of the planet and its inhabitants. The coverage also consistently touched on the broader implications of continued fossil fuel dependency, underlining the urgent need for a transition toward sustainable energy sources. 

    The summit ended a day late on December 13, with an announcement of member nation’s intention to transition away from fossil fuels. As The Guardian wrote about the agreement:

  • Despite the urging of more than 130 countries and scientists and civil society groups, the agreement did not include an explicit commitment to phase out or even phase down fossil fuels.

    Instead, it reached a compromise that called on countries to contribute to global efforts to transition “away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”.

  • Some of the better COP28 segments aired on December 13, on the heels of this announcement, offering critical analyses and perspectives on the agreement's impact and the challenges ahead in the journey towards meaningful climate action.

    During the December 13 episode of CNN News Central, chief climate correspondent Bill Weir noted the historic nature of the COP28 fossil fuel agreement but emphasized its shortcomings, including voluntary commitments and “loopholes.” Weir stressed the urgency for stronger, more concrete global actions to effectively address the climate crisis.

  • Video file

    Citation From the December 13, 2023, episode of CNN News Central

  • During the December 13 episode of MSNBC's Katy Tur Reports, climate scientist Michael Mann discussed the COP28 agreement to transition away from fossil fuels. He expressed that while the agreement is a step forward, it lacks the urgency and specificity needed for a rapid and total phase-out of fossil fuels.

  • Video file

    Citation From the December 13, 2023, episode of MSNBC's Katy Tur Reports

  • Finally, the December 13 episode of MSNBC's Alex Wagner Tonight featured journalist David Wallace-Wells, who analyzed the COP28 outcomes, highlighting the symbolic progress in addressing fossil fuels but critiquing the lack of binding commitments and the slow pace of the transition towards renewable energy. He emphasized the challenges in fully phasing out fossil fuels, especially in sectors like agriculture.

  • Video file

    Citation From the December 13, 2023, episode of MSNBC's Alex Wagner Tonight

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on cable news networks CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC as well as all original episodes of ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, CBS’ Mornings and Evening News, and NBC’s Today and Nightly News for any of the terms “COP 28,” “COP28,” or “Conference of the Parties” or the term “climate” within close proximity of any of the terms “talk,” “summit,” or “conference” or any variation of the term “negotiate” from November 30, 2023, the first day of COP28, through December 13, 2023.

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances when COP28 was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the summit. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed COP28 with one another.

    We did not include passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker discussed the summit without another speaker engaging with the comment, or teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the summit scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

    We rounded all times to the nearest minute.