COMMUNICATING CHANGE AT COP22 International Development Research Centre | Marrakech, Morocco | November 2016

The 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP22) to the UNFCCC took place in Marrakech from Monday, November 7 to Friday, November 18, 2016.

Referred to as “the COP of Action,” the Marrakech Conference focused on developing plans for "how” to realise the Paris Agreement.

As an official UNFCCC observer agency, Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) was there.


COP22 drew approximately 30,000 participants.

These included:

  • 12,000 representatives from the 196 Parties to the Convention
  • 14,000 observers from civil society (NGOs, private sector, research orgs, etc.)
  • 4,000 journalists and members of the media

IDRC has been very active in past conferences–including the historic COP21 in Paris.

Program staff, together with partners, grantees, and our colleagues in counterpart agencies, have shared evidence-based insights, research findings, and climate adaptation solutions.

At last year's COP21, IDRC took part in four events.


This included the two-day "unconference" Development and Climate Days ("D&C Days"), as well as IDRC's official UNFCCC side event on resilient development.

It was a busy two weeks.

Digital flyer listing IDRC-hosted and co-hosted events at COP22

IDRC was represented by a delegation of six:

  • Robert Hofstede, Associate Director, Climate Change
  • Bernard Cantin, Program Lead, Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA)
  • Edith Ofwona, Senior Program Specialist, Climate Change
  • Michele Leone, Senior Program Officer, CARIAA
  • Heidi Braun, Program Officer, Climate Change
  • Daniel Goldberg, Senior Public Affairs Advisor, Agriculture and Environment

Robert and Bernard travelled as part of the official Canadian delegation. Daniel, Heidi, Michele and Edith participated as IDRC observer-delegates.

Digital flyer for D&C Days
Twitter card for IDRC's official UNFCCC side event

Heidi, Michele and Edith planned, coordinated and were each responsible for several high-level panels and events at the conference. As communications lead, Daniel Goldberg managed the Centre's strategic engagement activities and participated in daily briefings for the Canadian delegation.

COP22 occupied a pivotal space: with the Paris Agreement ratified and set to take effect the day before the conference opened, media attention and public interest were expected to be significant.

IDRC has over a decade's experience as a proven funder of climate change and adaptation research. Its challenge at COP?

How to communicate that in a crowded public sphere.


Building on IDRC's successes at last year's COP21, core communications goals for this year's conference were:

1. To raise awareness of, and support for, IDRC’s climate change programming by promoting the Centre as an innovative provider of climate solutions, showcasing current and future leaders and celebrating the results of key partnerships.

2. To increase visibility and recognition among key audiences, particularly at the international level, of the Centre’s development impacts by disseminating engaging content about the climate change program area’s achievements.

3. To position the Centre as a key partner in Canada’s international development goals by demonstrating the climate change program’s unique contributions to global development priorities.

We aimed to do this through an integrated blend of unified messaging, significant promotion via social media (corporate account supported by regional Twitter accounts and live tweeting by delegation members), and highlighting the Centre's COP22 activities on a dedicated landing page:

This translated to a four-part approach:

  1. Clearly articulate IDRC's role in Canada’s climate change response
  2. Publicize IDRC-hosted and co-hosted events
  3. Profile partners and grantees participating in other sessions
  4. Connect with COP attendees, partners and industry leaders

For the "paperless" COP22, our strategy focused on digital communications, building on what worked last year and informed by the lessons learned at COP21.

In short, we wanted to:

  • Maximize use of existing platforms (event/landing pages, social media accounts, etc.);
  • Create a standalone campaign with strong, unified branding; and
  • Encourage delegation members to use personal social media to capture key moments, promote IDRC activities, and engage with the wider community.

Tactics to achieve these goals included sponsoring three journalists (from Colombia, South Africa and Bangladesh) to attend COP22.

This is in line with IDRC's interest in building capacity for Southern reporters to cover events of this scale.

IDRC also engaged the International Institute for Sustainable Development's (IISD) Reporting Services team to cover specific events:

IISD-RS also produced a video on IDRC's official UNFCCC side event:

IDRC's web and social media campaign for COP21 remains among its most successful.

That campaign leveraged a dedicated landing page, strong imagery, infographics and relevant content on the corporate site, and was tied to separate campaigns being run in parallel.

In terms of social media, our focus this year was simple:

  • Engage regional offices
  • Make strategic use of corporate account
  • Emphasize live, on-the-ground (and relevant!) coverage.


Live tweets from on-site IDRC staff proved key to driving greater audience reach and user engagement.

Breaking that down:

The COP22 EVENT page received over 60% more traffic than the LANDING PAGE, despite being (initially) a top-tier priority.

Average number of tweets/day (from corporate accounts): 8

Average number of followers per engaged user: 7,716 (vs. 1,640 last year)

The decrease in engagement is interesting when considered:

a) proportionally, against the overall increase in audience size (we would expect to see a greater "watering down" of engagement with a jump in audience size so large)


b) in comparison with last year, given COP21's higher profile (new federal government, much larger Canadian delegation, IDRC president Jean Lebel's presence and appearance with Minister McKenna, etc.)


This year's social media campaign attracted and engaged with key community influencers, whose large personal followings greatly amplified our audience and reach–both within and beyond Twitter.

Major influencers included:

Our success was supported by moments of connection and dialogue with peers, partners, and potential allies.

Preparation was key, as was vital support from both regional and Ottawa-based staff.

These are lessons we'll bring to COP23.



Daniel Goldberg

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