COP28 coverage

Media Matters / Molly Butler

Research/Study Research/Study

National TV news' coverage of UN annual climate summit's opening days fell far short again

Corporate broadcast networks aired just 11 minutes on COP28's first four days

From November 30 through December 12, representatives from nearly 200 countries are meeting in Dubai for COP28, the United Nations’ annual climate summit to negotiate goals and steps related to the mitigation of human-induced climate change. This year’s conference seeks to address numerous important issues, including a “climate damage fund to help countries that have already suffered irreparable damage from climate change impacts,” demands for polluting countries around the world to rapidly phase out of using fossil fuels, and controversy surrounding the outsized role that oil and gas companies are playing at the summit.

Given the significance of COP28 in shaping global climate policies, comprehensive national TV news coverage is crucial for fostering public awareness and guiding policy discourse. However, the sparse overall coverage during the opening days of the summit, combined with airing the most substantive segments over the weekend, highlights an ongoing issue among TV news outlets failing to prioritize climate coverage. 

A Media Matters analysis from November 30 through December 3 found:

  • Corporate broadcast outlets and major cable news networks aired just 2 hours and 4 minutes of combined coverage across 39 segments about COP28. The majority of this coverage aired Saturday and Sunday, with broadcast and major cable news networks airing a combined 1 hour and 25 minutes of coverage across 30 segments during December 2-3.
  • Major cable news networks — CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News — aired just 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 nearly 4 hours of combined coverage
  • Major cable news networks — CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News — aired just 1 hour and 54 minutes of coverage across 34 segments about the summit, with 1 hour and 17 minutes of coverage across 26 segments aired over the weekend. Fox News’ coverage, however, was rife with climate change denial and calls to delay climate action. 
  • Corporate broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, and NBC — aired only 11 minutes across 5 segments about COP28, with the majority of coverage, 9 minutes across 4 segments, airing over the weekend.
  • How national TV news outlets covered COP28

  • From November 30 through December 3, national TV news networks covered COP28 for a total of 2 hours and 4 minutes, with the bulk of that coverage — 1 hour and 25 minutes — airing over the weekend from December 2-3. 

    Major cable news networks, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, covered the summit for 1 hour and 54 minutes, with a significant portion of their coverage (1 hour and 17 minutes) airing during the weekend. 

    For at least the third year in a row, CNN again outpaced its competitors’ coverage of the annual U.N. climate meeting during the studied time period, with 1 hour and 10 minutes of coverage across 18 segments, followed by Fox News with 31 minutes across 8 segments, and MSNBC with 13 minutes across 8 segments. Much of CNN’s coverage included live reporting from the conference by correspondent David McKenzie and in-studio commentary from network chief climate correspondent Bill Weir. Fox News' coverage, meanwhile, predominantly featured climate denial and delay narratives.

    Corporate broadcast networks ABC, CBS, and NBC aired only 11 minutes of COP28 coverage during the summit’s first four days, with 9 minutes aired over the weekend. CBS led with 7 minutes across 2 segments, followed by ABC with 2 minutes across 2 segments, and NBC with 2 minutes in 1 segment. 

    National TV news coverage is important to informing the public about complex issues like those discussed at COP28. Unfortunately, most of the in-depth climate discussions were predominantly aired during early morning shows and over the weekend. This likely limited their reach and impact, as these periods generally attract fewer viewers compared to prime-time slots. 

    This approach is emblematic of the lower priority given to climate change by TV news outlets, contributing to the public being under-informed about essential climate issues. By relegating these pivotal segments on COP28 to less-viewed time slots, cable networks downplay the public discourse on climate change at a time when informed and widespread engagement is crucial for driving collective action and policy change.

    Despite this overall lack of attention to the conference’s early days, many of the segments that did make it to air contained substantive reporting on key policy issues. These segments foregrounded important issues such as the new climate “loss and damage” fund, a major aspect of recent negotiations. Additional segments highlighted the controversy surrounding the fossil fuel industry's involvement in hosting COP28, raising important questions about conflicts of interest and the challenges in balancing industry interests with climate goals. 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. 

    A segment that aired during the November 30 episode of CBS’ Mornings featured an interview with climate scientist Michael Mann, who detailed the Biden administration’s contradictory record on climate action and what that could mean for COP28 negotiations on providing climate reparations to at-risk countries and continued fossil fuel usage.

  • Video file

    Citation From the November 30, 2023, episode of CBS' Mornings

  • The December 1 episode of CNN Newsroom Live featured McKenzie, the network’s senior international correspondent, who detailed the progress on funding the loss and damage fund and included an interview with Seve Paeniu, Tuvalu’s minister of finance and climate change, who detailed what the loss and damage fund would mean to low-lying nations like his. McKenzie also described efforts at the summit to secure commitments from polluting nations to phase out the use of fossil fuels.

  • Video file

    Citation From the December 1, 2023, episode of CNN Newsroom Live

  • During the December 2 episode of CNN Newsroom with Jim Acosta, CNN chief climate correspondent Bill Weir discussed the importance of the Biden administration’s new methane rule announced at COP28, as well as the need for more aggressive reductions in the use of fossil fuels. He also discussed the importance of the United States announcing a commitment of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund.

  • Video file

    Citation From the December 2, 2023, episode of CNN Newsroom with Jim Acosta

  • During the December 2 episode of his eponymous show, MSNBC host Ali Velshi delivered a monologue about COP28 that touched on the historic extreme weather events of 2023 juxtaposed with the need for the world to rapidly phase out its use of fossil fuels. He also detailed the absurdity of having an oil industry executive, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, “lead the world’s best effort at combating the climate crisis.”

  • Video file

    Citation From the December 2, 2023, episode of MSNBC's Velshi

  • Why substantive coverage of COP28 matters

  • In another year of record-breaking extreme weather events, the role of national TV news in covering COP28 takes on heightened importance. The contrasting approaches to media coverage of past U.N. climate summits, such as the heightened focus on COP26 in 2021 compared to the more limited attention given to COP27 last year, illustrate the fluctuating commitment of corporate broadcast outlets and major cable news networks to substantive climate reporting. 

    As COP28 progresses, it is vital for media outlets to not only emphasize the urgency of climate action but also to feature these crucial discussions during prime time in order to reach a broader audience. Effective coverage should also prioritize holding the fossil fuel industry accountable, as evinced by notable, impactful segments in recent COP coverage. 

    National TV news’ committed engagement to substantively reporting on COP28 could play a pivotal role in driving the narrative toward urgent and accountable climate action, as the window for meaningful change is rapidly closing.

  • 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 3, 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.