Health care and the UN climate talks

Some 50 nations committed at the recently closed UN climate talks to clean up the healthcare sector, but the most viral stories from the conference may surprise you.


A search of the LexisNexis media database found more than 52,600 stories about the two-week conference published by the world's media outlets.

Predictably, most focused on extreme weather, speeches from President Joe Biden and other heads of state, and various emission-cutting initiatives and commitments.

One of those agreements was a promise by 50 nations to decarbonize their healthcare sectors in the next 10 to 20 years.

Our AI-assisted content analysis of a subset of 1300 of those stories found 13 stories, or 1 percent of the total volume of reporting, covering that aspect of the talks.

Our media analysis this week focuses more broadly on the climate talks, which have taken place more or less every fall since 1995 ("COP26," media shorthand for the UN talks, is the 26th annual "Conference of Parties" to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).

Media analysis of the UN climate talks

The graphic above shows the those representative 1300 stories, colored and grouped by general theme, and plotted by the number of mainstream media mentions (the X-axis) versus the number of social media mentions (Y-axis; note the logarithmic scale). The size of the dot represents the number of individual stories in the cluster.

You can divide the graphic into quadrants: Stories in the upper left quadrant were largely ignored by mainstream media but found a ready audience on social media. Stories in the lower right, on the other hand, were deemed important – and thus widely published – by mainstream media but never went viral. Stories in the lower right were ignored both by social media users and mainstream news, while the upper left got the attention of both online users and the press.

So a story about activists on the ship "Rainbow Warrior" blowing past barricades and steaming upstream to the climate conference attracted the attention of both the world's media AND social media users, who shared it repeatedly. Meanwhile the media somehow largely passed over stories about extreme weather – yet that proved to be the second-most viral cluster of stories related to the talks.

Stories about the healthcare sector – which accounts for about 4.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions – disappeared into the large blue "sustainability" dot in the center of the graphic. But they are there!

Climate goals not part of the conversation

What's surprising, or perhaps depressing, is the extent to which the "meat" of the climate conference – sustainability efforts, climate goals, world leaders' talks, details about the actual climate deal – found no purchase in the world's newsrooms and our social media accounts alike.

What grabbed the world's attention were the noisy events, the stunts and the outrage that, in the end, are largely foam and froth: Irish Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan attending the conference after first testing positive, then negative, for COVID. The Rainbow Warrior. A tree falling during a – yes – extreme weather event and knocking out power to a train line used by delegates to get to the conference.

Healthcare emissions

In the United States, healthcare accounts 8.5 percent of the nation's greenhouse gasses, almost double the global average. And the US represents 27 percent of the global sector's emissions, according to a report on Eco-Business, a Singapore-based news outlet focused on sustainable development.

Unlike 14 other countries, the U.S. didn't commit to a particular date to decarbonize healthcare. But the agreement is still a landmark, Health Care Without Harm's Josh Karliner told the New York Times. "What it implies is that the way health care is provided is going to be fundamentally transformed."

Fifty nations promised to clean up the healthcare sector, but the most viral news coming out of the recently concluded UN climate talks in Glasgow will surprise you.

Another city is drowning, and we can’t look away

In Bangkok and around the world, live updates about hurricanes and floods are turning us into climate voyeurs.
Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

Environment sector has failed to become more inclusive, study suggests
Photo by Steve Sharp on Unsplash

Environment sector has failed to become more inclusive, study suggests

Out of 44 charities, only 4% said they had a consistently implemented action plan to increase ethnic diversity.

‘This is part of our world now’: can TV shows adequately reflect the climate crisis?
Photo by Gaspar Uhas on Unsplash

‘This is part of our world now’: can TV shows adequately reflect the climate crisis?

Only around 2.8% of TV shows and films between 2016 and 2020 mentioned climate issues. But a new run of writers is looking to increase that.

King Charles should attend climate summit, COP26 president says

Alok Sharma says the King has been a champion of the environment and other countries want him to attend COP27.

Is nuclear energy poised for an ESG-fueled comeback?

Supporters say there's enough momentum for a nuclear renaissance that would catapult the industry into a greater role in the world's clean energy future.

Joe Biden’s disaster presidency

Hurricanes are suddenly dominating Biden’s agenda in the final sprint toward the November midterms.

Canada: More federal funding required to hit net-zero by 2050, report finds

Chamber of Commerce says Canada risks falling behind the U.S. on low-carbon initiatives.
From our Newsroom
Chemical recycling grows  along with concerns of its impacts

Chemical recycling grows — along with concerns about its environmental impacts

Industry says chemical recycling could solve the plastic waste crisis, but environmental advocates and some lawmakers are skeptical.

Failure of the universities: The culture gap is now near lethal

Universities are failing us

Our educational systems are failing to prepare people for existential environmental threats

Shell's new petrochemical complex in southwestern Pennsylvania

The Titans of Plastic

Pennsylvania becomes the newest sacrifice zone for America’s plastic addiction.

Ruth Greenspan Bell: Wealth and the climate dilemma

Ruth Greenspan Bell: Wealth and the climate dilemma

Developing countries that increase their fossil fuel production are at a crossroads: securing their own long-term well-being or earning revenue to finance programs to support immediate economic growth.

Solving the climate crisis will help both ‘sacrifice zones’ and ‘cute’ puffins

Solving the climate crisis will help both ‘sacrifice zones’ and ‘cute’ puffins

Curbing pollution for families in Chicago calms the climatic conditions that drive fish away from puffins half a continent away.

puffin tern recovery climate change

Good news: A good year for puffins and terns, despite climate change

A visit to a remote Maine island finds puffins and terns rebounding despite climate change

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.