COP27 on Twitter: Forest restoration issues and narratives through hashtags

By Rina Tsubaki

Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has prompted confusion among its users and concerns about the platform’s future. Musk’s tweets are gathering daily attention due to large-scale layoffs and safety concerns around the new paid blue verification mark. To make things worse, as its engineers are on their way out of the door, users are also experiencing various technical glitches on the platform. Millions of users – including journalists, researchers and organisations – are already signing up on alternative platforms to be prepared for the platform’s deterioration and demise.  

While no one can predict Twitter’s future, it remains widely used by politicians, scientists, companies, NGOs and influencers who are still busy posting on the platform. This includes COP27 in Egypt, where Twitter was one of the main platforms to report on the event. #cop27 has been tweeted over 2.85 million times since 5 November 2022.  

Social media platforms can give us additional insights into how broader publics make connections between forest restoration and other social, economic and environmental issues. To see which issues and narratives around forest restoration have been brought up on Twitter in the lead-up to the event, we’ve carried out a series of small explorations based on the digital methods recipes developed by our colleagues at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London and the Public Data Lab, who are part of the SUPERB consortium led by EFI. This has been a good way to see if we could use these methods independently to understand international events as they unfold. 

We usually see a spike in hashtag usage a few days before global events like the COPs. Using #cop27we collected 217,189 tweets between 5 and 7 November 2022. We then examined the top 1000 hashtags to see which kinds of forest-related issues are present.  

To provide a way to explore some of the other themes and concerns, here are the most frequently used 1000 hashtags shown as a tag cloud, with those related to forests highlighted in green:

You can find an interactive visual here.

We also ranked issue-related hashtags in the top 1000 list. 

You can find an interactive visual here.

As can be seen in these visuals, we saw quite some forest and restoration-related hashtags amongst the most common hashtags, the most visible being #greenlegacy (1333 tweets), a hashtag referring to Ethiopia’s forest restoration initiative to plant 20 billion trees by the end of 2022. Notably, one also sees #ethiopia (5023 tweets), #ethiopiaprevails (2580 tweets), and #ethiopiaraising (1404 tweets), along with #plantyourprint (53 tweets), a campaign hashtag associated with #greenlegacy. While further exploration is needed, it indicates that Ethiopia’s green commitments, including its forest restoration actions, have gathered some attention on COP27 Twitter.  

While other policy initiatives were rarely addressed through hashtags, #eugreendeal (43 tweets) was also found in the top hashtag list. 

Tropical forest issues also came up, however, in smaller numbers, including #deforestation (34 tweets), #rainforest (14 tweets), along with the Amazon-related hashtags, calling to ‘save’ the Amazon through tags like #savetheamazon (52 tweets) and #salvemoslaamazonía (29 tweets) in Portuguese.  

The only hashtag immediately related to ‘forest restoration’ as such was #treeplantation (191 tweets). No hashtags referring to the word ‘restoration’ or ‘restore’ could be found in the top list. 

Apart from restoration, other associated issues could be seen in the set. For example, several hashtags referring to soil emerged, including #savesoil (216 tweets), a global movement launched by Sadhguru, to address the soil crisis, along with #drought (142 tweets). #biodiversity (92 tweets) and #landrights (34 tweets).  

Some forest-focused organisations’ hashtags also came up, including #onecgiar (23 tweets), a hashtag referring to CGIAR’s transition to strengthen its partnerships, #glfclimate (20 tweets) by the Global Landscape Forum, and #trees4resilience (17 tweets), a hashtag used for the CIFOR and ICRAF’s COP27 session on “Trees and forests: An investment in climate resilience”. 

While exploring the top hashtags tells us which forest and restoration-related issues surfaced in hashtags in COP27 Twitter, it does not tell us the relations between different hashtags associated with COP27 and forests (for those interested, check out Marres (2015), which discusses frequency-based and co-occurrence measures). By querying #cop27 AND forest (without brackets to collect tweets that mention, for example, ‘deforestation’), we’ve collected 3000 tweets from 30 days ahead of the COP27 and visualised the hashtag relations based on this recipe

An interactive visualisation here.

A network visualisation of hashtags found in tweets mentioning both #cop27 and the word ‘forest’ give other insights into associations between different issues.  

For example, we’ve detected a cluster of various risks facing global forests, including #desertification#wildfire#forestfire#degradation#drought and #deforestation (see the following screenshot).

The role of forests in removing and capturing carbon (e.g. #carboncapture, #carbonremoval, #carbonsink) can be observed close to #rainforest and #amazonrainforest

Global trade issues were raised through hashtags like #supplychains, #commodities, and #deforestationfree. 

Brazilian political issues emerged through hashtags like #lulapresidente2022 and #bolsonaropresidente2022, appearing closely with #amazon and #amazonia, making links between the Amazon rainforests and Lula’s comeback after almost four years of Bolsonaro presidency. One may imagine that this event may have contributed to the prominence of Amazon-related hashtags.  

While #treeplantation was the only hashtag with an obvious link to both ‘forest’ and ‘restoration’, we identified other associated terms, such as: #rewild

#afforestation, 

#fragmentation, #permaculture, #forestmanagement, 

#conservation, #preservation#agroforestry, and #restoration, which appeared closely with two campaign hashtags, namely #trees4resilience and #letstalktrees by CIFOR and ICRAF and #thinklandscape by the Global Landscape Forum. However, these hashtags were found far from the centre, indicating that they were not used frequently with other hashtags.

The word “restore” also came up in hashtags #restoremothernature, and #generationrestoration, a UN campaign hashtag for ecosystem restoration. 

Another forest-related campaign hashtag is #teamingup4forests, an initiative between IUFRO and Mondi Group. It appears closely with #sdg17 or “Partnerships for the Goals”. #forestsector can also be observed here along with #lettreesgrow.

Finally, there is a large cluster of biomass-related hashtags around the International Day of Action on Big Biomass (#internationaldayofactiononbigbiomass). Quite a few hashtags in this cluster criticised the use of forests as fuel, including #forestsarenotfuel and #stopburningtrees. These hashtags imply that the voices opposing the economic use of forests emerged in the Twitter conversation around COP27.

As part of this small Twitter exploration, we’ve also collected a handful of tweets that mentioned the word ‘forest’ and #cop27 from the period of 5-7 November 2022 to get some examples of narratives that circulated on Twitter. 

For example, the top tweets from this period included those posted by the ministers from Mexico and Colombia addressing reforestation and deforestation issues as their governments’ priorities. 

The UN-REDD Programme also called for the need for corporate investment to protect tropical forests and to reach below 1.5 degrees.

While Climate Council, an Australian non-profit, pointed out that restoration activities are not enough to reduce CO2, 

Dr Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist, argued that preventing deforestation could help establish “efficiency” in reducing CO2 emissions.

The last example is Alexander Verbeek, an independent advisor on climate issues with more than 304K Twitter followers. He referred to Lula’s re-election as a “sign of relief” for Amazonia.

We’re sharing this work in progress to give an indication of how hashtag analysis can be used not only for academic research but also to help organisations, journalists, campaign groups, and others to trace social media practices and issue composition around events as they unfold. 

Building on collaborations with our colleagues at King’s College London and the Public Data Lab, over the coming years, we will be continuing to explore the use of arts and humanities-based digital methods to explore forest issues as part of the SUPERB project. This includes exploring forest restoration issues, situating forest restoration practices and mapping broader societal engagements with restoration efforts across the project’s demo sites and beyond. We’ll continue sharing work in progress and hope that some of the techniques and approaches we’re developing can be used by others working on environmental issues. 

Interested in this type of exploration? Read another post on our previous analysis of the Amazon rainforest fires.

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