Apartment buildings in Hong Kong.

How to boost social media engagement for climate-change action

17 November 2022

The article at a glance

Public sentiment on social media (including fear, sadness and anger) is highly reactive to global policy actions, finds study co-authored at Cambridge Judge Business School based on more than 250,000 tweets over a 13-year period. 

Ramit Debnath.
Dr Ramit Debnath

Public sentiment on social media is highly reactive to global climate policy actions, finds a study published today (17 November) by a team that includes academics at the Energy Policy Research Group based at Cambridge Judge Business School. 

The study published in Nature Scientific Reports focused on social media activity about emissions reduction in the building and construction sector, which accounts for around 39% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Researchers at 5 universities including the University of Cambridge looked at 256,717 English-language tweets across a 13-year time frame (2009-2021) using natural language processing and network analysis. 

The study’s lead author is Ramit Debnath, Cambridge Zero Fellow at the University of Cambridge and Research Associate at the Energy Policy Research Group, and co-authors include Kamiar Mohaddes, Associate Professor in Economics and Policy at Cambridge Judge Business School and an Associate Researcher at the Energy Policy Research Group. 

Building sector is a focus at COP27 

Kamiar Mohaddes.
Dr Kamiar Mohaddes

The findings appear as the COP27 climate-change summit in Egypt is focused on the building sector through the tagline “Build4Tomorrow”. 

“People are reactive to high-level climate actions on social media, as measured through the dynamic sentiment analysis over 13 years and the expansion of user communication networks,” the study concludes. “This salient finding implies that policy actions are no longer isolated events in this digital age and demand two-way communication.” 

The findings showed that discussions around green building-led emission reduction efforts were highly influential in shaping the online public perceptions of climate action and helped shape the online discourse. However, the study found a rise in negative sentiment by 30% to 40% following popular policy events like Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report launches, the Paris Agreement and the EU Green Deal. 

Expression of emotions on social media is linked to events 

Specifically, the study found that expressions of “fear” in Twitter dialogue increased by around 60% following the launch of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change in 2015; “sadness” increased by around 30% following the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming 1.5 °C in November 2019; and debate in November 2020 over lobbying of builders and utility companies over non-compliance with new building codes in the US triggered a spike in “anger”. 

“Building sector decarbonisation is challenging, and it is an urgent global call for the scientific and policy community,” the paper concludes. “Our study shows that greater social media engagement can steer the online discourse on emissions reduction in this sector from demand-side techno-solutionism to focus on environmental justice while expanding the climate action network.” 

The study

The study in Nature Scientific Reports – entitled “Social media enables people-centric climate action in the hard-to-decarbonise building sector” – is co-authored by Ramit Debnath of the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology; Ronita Bardhan, Darshil Shah, Kamiar Mohaddes and Michael Ramage of the University of Cambridge; Michael Alvarez of the California Institute of Technology; and Benjamin Sovacool of Boston University, University of Sussex and Aarhus University.

A longer version of this article can be found on the University of Cambridge website.

This article was published on

17 November 2022.