The COP27 climate summit hosted by the Egyptian government was scheduled to run from November 6 to November 18. The conference was held over until Sunday, November 20, in order to reach a final landmark agreement on “loss and damage” financing, considered a step forward in both acknowledging and addressing global climate injustices. But even with this small victory no progress was made toward commitments to hold rising temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Whether deemed a success or failure, the annual international climate negotiations offer a two-week period to raise awareness and elevate discourse around an issue that too often gets sidelined by national TV news. Yet over the two-week event, TV news did not take this opportunity to center the climate crisis in its coverage or make its viewers more conversant on the current stakes and global dynamics of climate action. And for its part, Fox News has used the conference as an opportunity to push climate delay and denial.
National TV news backslides on coverage of annual climate negotiations
Last year, the three big U.S. cable TV news networks -- CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- aired just over four hours of combined coverage on the opening day of COP26. Morning and evening news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a whopping 48 segments on climate change during the first week of the climate conference in Glasgow, and 28 were about COP26.
This year, the highest volume of coverage by cable news networks came on day 6 of COP27 (November 11), when President Joe Biden addressed the conference to announce a plan to cut methane emissions and a new pledge “to help African nations adapt to the climate emergency.” CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC aired 84 minutes, which is roughly a 65% decrease from the four hours of coverage devoted to day 1 of last year’s conference. In total, from November 6 through November 20, cable news networks spent just under 3.5 hours reporting on COP27.
Meanwhile, corporate broadcast TV news shows aired a mere 10 segments for a total of 18 minutes from November 6 through November 20, the entirety of the two weeks of COP27 — falling far short of the commitment the networks made last year to climate coverage during this annual event.
CNN aired the most coverage of COP27 and MSNBC aired the least
CNN covered COP27 for more than an hour and a half. For at least the second year in a row, CNN significantly outpaced its cable news counterparts Fox News and MSNBC, covering the conference more than the two other networks combined. CNN’s coverage included interviews with climate scientists Katharine Hayhoe, who appeared on the November 6 edition of Fareed Zakaria GPS the day the conference began, and Dr. Kim Cobb, who appeared on the November 12 edition of CNN This Morning Weekend.
Hayhoe in her interview stressed that while we are still on a path to dangerous warming, through climate action we will avoid the worst warming predictions, where “30% of the world’s species would go extinct” and we would “not be able to function.”
She also covered the issue of climate equity and “loss and damage”: “When we look at which countries are responsible for all of the heat-trapping gases … and we look at the countries that are most vulnerable to the impact, it's almost completely the opposite. The 50% poorest people in the world … have produced 7% of the heat-trapping gas emissions that are causing climate to change,” Hayhoe said.
“Yet when you look at a list of which countries are most exposed to the stronger storms, the more intense droughts, the stronger heatwaves and floods that are happening as a result of climate change, right at the top of that list are countries like Malawi, Mozambique, Bangladesh, Pakistan. Not the countries like the United States, Canada, the EU, UK, and others who have done the most to contribute to the problem historically.”
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.
MSNBC aired a mere 29 minutes of COP27 coverage. The network’s most substantive segment aired on the November 11 edition of Andrea Mitchell Reports, where the anchor interviewed former Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, now administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, about how the Inflation Reduction Act’s “$368 billion investment in combating climate change” will impact the global community by bringing down the price of renewable energy and making it “more access to renewables at a cheaper price in places that are also contributing significantly to emissions.”
Notably, MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin was the only cable news journalist to report extensively on the imprisoned Egyptian journalist and activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s hunger strike in the context of COP27, discussing it on the November 13 edition of his show. The activist stopped consuming even water as COP27 got underway, putting his life on the line in an attempt to center Egypt’s human rights abuses while international attention was on the country.
Fox News aired over an hour of mostly mockery and false narratives related to COP27
Fox News aired just over an hour of coverage on COP27 — 34% of cable coverage of the conference. Like on the other cable networks, most of the coverage was concentrated around Biden’s trip to Egypt on November 11. Notably, Fox was the only network still covering COP27 on November 17. On The Faulkner Focus Harris Faulkner and Sean Hannity discussed the menu at the conference, including the supposed hypocrisy of serving meat.
The network’s coverage, rampant with mockery and fearmongering, mirrored its reporting on last year’s COP26 while advancing key right-wing media narratives related to climate and energy that have been staples on Fox since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Among Fox’s longest segments on the international climate negotiations was a panel discussion on the November 11 edition of The Five, where co-host Dana Perino introduced the discussion by noting that Biden was “switching gears post-midterm with a trip overseas to tout his record on climate change and to spend a lot more of your money.” Throughout the discussion, Fox News personalities suggested that attending the conference was about the perks (“It's free meals, it’s free beds to breakfast and hookers and God knows what else.”); mocked the Climate Gender Equity Fund; and insinuated that global climate action is really about controlling “all manner of our lives.”
The November 11 edition of Outnumbered also focused on the network’s obsession with private air travel, using the real issue to push the false claim that the use of private jets is proof that climate advocates don’t actually care about the climate. And Fox News contributor Lara Trump raised another longtime right-wing media narrative related to global climate action, suggesting that the U.S. should not act on climate because India and China are not doing enough to curb emissions: “That's why, unless you're talking about China and India, who make up 35% of the greenhouse gases that are emitted into our atmosphere every year, we’re not talking about anything. So why are the rest of us being forced into electric vehicles by Joe Biden and the Democrats and going out of our way for all of this whenever these people are just letting the pollution run? It makes no sense.”
Fox News also featured climate denier Marc Morano on back-to-back days to push conspiracy theories around the “Great Reset,” which posit that global elites are using climate change policies to crush individual freedoms and install a global dictatorial government.
As the conference concluded on Sunday, with negotiators agreeing to a global fund to compensate poor countries suffering from climate disasters, Fox News turned its attention to attacking climate reparations. On the November 20 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday, co-host Pete Hegseth described the fund as a “sin tax,” saying, “Ultimately, it's self-loathing. It’s the belief that the West's success was premised on pollution, so now it's our turn to pay developing countries because we built the world based on their backs.” On The Big Sunday Show, Fox contributor Sean Duffy bizarrely criticized the fund because it doesn’t allow recipients to use the allocations to invest in fossil fuels.
With some exceptions, corporate broadcast TV news’ COP27 coverage was lackluster
Morning and evening news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC came nowhere near the bar they set for coverage of the annual climate conference last year, when, in the first week alone, they aired a combined 28 segments on COP26.
CBS was the best performer in terms of volume and substance, airing 4 of corporate broadcasts TV news’ 10 segments on COP27. CBS’ coverage included an interview with Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate on the November 8 edition of CBS Mornings. In addition to highlighting Nakate’s activism, the interview outlined the issues associated with “loss and damage,” pointing out, “Africa accounts for the smallest share of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, a fraction of what China, the U.S., and the European Union emit. But climate change is punishing the African continent all the same. Rising sea levels, record flooding, and extreme heat waves and drought are intensifying famine and displacing entire communities.”
Parts of the interview were aired again during a segment on the November 10 edition of the network’s evening news program CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell.
ABC, which aired the most segments during the first week of the annual climate conference last year, on the heels of launching a specialized climate reporting unit just days before COP26 got underway, aired 4 segments over the span of the 2022 conference.
NBC aired a mere 2 segments on COP27, one on its Sunday morning news program, Sunday Today with Willie Geist, and one on its nightly program. On the November 11 edition of Nightly News with Lester Holt, correspondent Kelly Cobiella reported on Biden’s COP27 speech and U.S. climate action while also touching on “loss and damage” by concluding, “And tonight developing countries devastated by climate disasters like floods and drought are demanding that big polluters like the U.S. help foot the bill.”
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database on ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ Mornings, Evening News, and Face the Nation; NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press, as well as all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for the terms “climate” and “global warming” within close proximity of any of the terms “COP27,” “COP 27,” “conference,” “summit,” “meeting,” “egypt,” and “sharm” from November 6, 2022, through November 20, 2022.
We timed segments, which we defined as instances when COP27 was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of COP27. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed COP27 with one another. We counted meteorologist and weather reports as segments.
We also timed passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned COP27 without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about COP27 scheduled to air later in the broadcast. We rounded all times to the nearest minute.