How We Gave the World a Seat at the Paris Climate Talks

Governments of the world, global non-profits and business communities come together once a year to focus on climate change. This event, run by the United Nations, is known as a ‘COP’ or ‘conference of the parties’. COP 21 was held in Paris, France in December and I was there helping the UN share stories from COP with the world! The conference resulted in the Paris Agreement, an unprecedented global commitment by 195 countries to reduce greenhouse emissions to well below 2°C. The Paris Agreement represents a critical step in making a climate-neutral future a reality for quickly-warming world.

Two distinct conversations happen simultaneously during COP: 

  1. The on-site formal negotiations between governments.
  2. Global conversation stoked by media, NGOs, celebrities and online influencers about what's happening at the event. Much of the global conversation takes place on social media channels, like Twitter.

The UN wanted a way to broadcast and share data and stories from both negotiations and global conversations, plus highlight the increasingly important role social media plays in the global climate change conversation.

So, we created Climate Talks Live. This microsite presented a snapshot of daily data, content and stories from COP. You may be thinking... hey, that looks a lot like my social media monitoring dashboard. Typically, organizations use social listening tools internally to track brand mentions, gather private business intelligence and gain a competitive advantage. At the UN, we flipped that on its head and shared all the Twitter data we collected with the world.

For the two-week period of the COP, Climate Talks Live gathered real-time data from the Twitter firehose, sorting it and visualizing it for a global audience. Users could peruse the site and identify trending tweets, topics and top Twitter accounts. They could view content from a small slice of COP attendees, such as media or NGOs, or check out the global conversation. Users could access the site in English, Spanish and French. Not only did the site have a desktop and mobile version, but it was also broadcast in a large-screen format on displays around the COP venue so negotiators could also keep an eye on the global conversation.  

The site proved particularly useful to the thousands of media observing the climate talks, as well as the digital teams of companies and organizations concerned with their progress.

What lessons did we take from Climate Talks Live?

  1. Walk before you run: We launched the first version of Climate Talks Live at COP 20 in Lima, Peru. It was a much smaller event than COP 21 in Paris, with just a fraction of the media attention the Paris conference received. This allowed us to test drive the site in a somewhat lower stakes environment, and to discover which features needed to be added for Paris. If possible, it’s always a good idea to test your idea and then beta test the campaign on trusted early adopters.
  2. Don’t underestimate people power: We faced the problem of having to identify the correct Twitter accounts of thousand of COP attendees. We could partially solve this problem programmatically, using the attendees’ contact details. However, we eventually needed to deploy some judicious interns to scour the attendee lists to ensure that we captured as many accounts as possible. Even when it’s digital, sometimes you have to throw handwork at a problem. 
  3. Bake the sharing in: Climate Talks Live features a sophisticated widget builder, enabling other organizations to embed it on their site like a YouTube video. Publishers could choose the size, language and format of the widget. Several major media outlets such as Forbes and El País embedded Climate Talks Live during COP 21, driving hundreds of thousands of visitors to the site.

Many of the Remarkables--creative, shareable digital campaigns--that Capulet develops arise from turning a concept inside out. We ask questions like 'what if instead of one message, there were ten thousand?' or 'what is the smallest act of goodness an organization can do?' Remarkables are born when the conventional wisdom gets bucked. 

This was the case with Climate Talks Live. Instead of greedily hoarding the precious Twitter data collected during COP 21, we shared it with the world.