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The Road from COP26

New Brunswick research on what the public took away from the historic climate conference.

Wall-to-Wall News Coverage

That COP26 attracted media attention comes as no surprise, but Brunswick analysis revealed the extent to which the climate conference increased coverage not only about climate change, but also a host of related subjects: deforestation, global warming, renewable energy, net zero. Our analysis of media coverage in the UK (see right) revealed a pattern that was repeated across other countries, including the US and India—themes that offer clues about where expectations are likely to intensify in 2022.  

Twitter saw a similar spike on climate-related content. One group we tracked on the platform during COP26 were politicians in the US, UK and Europe. Unsurprisingly, the Twitter reaction was strongest among politicians in the UK, where the event took place—420 UK MPs collectively posted around 5,000 tweets during the conference. Businesses were mentioned in only a small number of political tweets, with some praising corporate efforts and others singling out businesses—most often oil and gas—for criticism. 

Notably, both news coverage and social media focused not only on the conference but also events around it. Climate-focused protests attracted a significant amount of column inches, while unofficial voices such as Greta Thunberg made a significant media impact. 


What Did the Public Take Away From COP26?

After the two-week conference, Brunswick conducted a poll of media-engaged members of the public in China, the UK and US. We found they were as concerned about climate change as COVID-19—and were more concerned about climate change than they were about their own personal finances or international terrorism. Yet that level of climate concern was higher in the UK and US than in China—only half of respondents in China (51%) ranked climate change as an issue of high concern, compared to over six in 10 in the UK (67%) and US (66%). 

Our findings aligned with other research conducted in the wake of COP26. The Ipsos MORI Issues Index for November 2021 showed that pollution and climate change had, for the first time ever, become Britain’s biggest concern. In the month before the conference, Ipsos MORI found that slightly more than one-quarter of Britons were concerned about those two issues; after the conference, that concern had recorded its highest-ever jump (16%) in a single month, with four in 10 Britons registering their concern.

Corporates Are Getting a Fair Hearing

Our research found that the public looked favorably upon the companies that engaged at COP26—more than eight in 10 had a positive perception. Forty-two percent described their perception of engaged companies as being “significantly” more positive, while 38% said they were “somewhat” more positive. However, cynicism was highest in the UK, where nearly one in five (18%) said that companies’ engagement had “no impact” on their views.  


Promises to Keep

Roughly four in 10 are “very confident” that governments and large domestic companies are doing enough to tackle climate change, with around seven in 10 having some level of confidence. While businesses (and governments) still need to persuade a majority of the public that their actions will be sufficient, those that engage are getting a fair hearing—though it’s clear there’s more work to be done.    

“Collectively, we have acknowledged that a gulf remains between short-term targets, and what is needed to meet the Paris temperature goal,” COP26 President Alok Sharma said at the conference’s closing plenary. Our findings showed that many agreed with him. Forty-three percent believe the commitments made by businesses at COP26 do not go far enough and a sizeable minority (16%) believe they will contribute little to tackling climate change. 

What Does This Mean For Business?

The data reveals that the conversation about climate change is not only intensifying but also expanding, interweaving with a growing number of issues.   

In separate research—one of the largest studies of its kind—Brunswick surveyed 24,000 people across eight major economies collectively responsible for about two-thirds of global GDP and half of the world’s emissions. Over seven in 10 believed business should tackle climate change by acting within their own company, and also by working with suppliers and governments. In other words, the expectations are clear: businesses need to act, and do so beyond their own operations. 

These findings suggest people aren’t confident that action from business has been sufficient thus far, but the public’s expectations remain high. The challenge—and opportunity—is finding credible ways to meet them.

Additional reporting by Barney Southin (Director), Isabel Pereira (Account Director) and Laura Akroyd (Executive), all members of Brunswick Insight, the firm’s public opinion, market research and analytics function.

The Authors

Katharine Peacock
Katharine Peacock

Partner, London

Katharine is Brunswick Insight's Global Lead with principal expertise in public affairs, corporate reputation management and message development.

James Hallam
James Hallam

Director, London

James is a Director in Brunswick’s Insight practice, using his expertise in opinion research and stakeholder engagement to help companies develop effective campaigns, understand stakeholder perceptions, and navigate complex reputational issues.