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illuminem analysis: China overtakes Europe in climate optimism

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By illuminem

· 8 min read


In today's media landscape, news presentation significantly influences public perception. Our recent analysis of 10,000 articles published in Q1 of 2024 across the top 20 news outlets captured by the illuminem proprietary algorithm reveals stark differences in how topics related to sustainability and climate change are framed. These differences are not just anecdotal but statistically significant, indicating a more profound, systemic variation in editorial tones and perspectives.


Key findings reveal a distinct pattern in the tone of reporting on climate change and sustainability based on geographic location. Chinese newspapers consistently exhibit a more optimistic stance, followed by outlets in the USA, which also show a generally positive outlook but with more balanced reporting. In contrast, European media tend to adopt a more cautious and critical tone, often emphasizing the challenges and complexities associated with sustainable initiatives. 

illuminem_analysis of media optimism

Asian media

Media outlets in Asia, including the South China Morning Post as well as various regional publications, blend optimism with a practical approach to coverage of renewable energy:

  • Government initiatives: Government policies regarding renewable energy are often covered with a positive tone. For instance, China's aggressive targets for solar and wind energy capacity are frequently covered with an optimistic tone about meeting these goals.

  • Rapid adoption and scale: Asian media focus on the speed and scale at which renewable technologies are being adopted, reflecting the region's dynamic approach to infrastructure changes.

  • Challenges of scale: While there is optimism, there is also recognition of the challenges posed by rapid expansion, such as resource scarcity, technological limitations, and the need for substantial investments in grid infrastructure.

North American media

Outlets in North America, including major players like Bloomberg, The New York Times, and Forbes, portray renewable energy in a relatively optimistic light. Several factors drive this optimism:

  • Innovation and technology: There is a strong focus on the advancements in green technology, particularly on how they can lead to economic growth and leadership in global markets. For instance, coverage of new developments in solar and wind technology often highlights how these innovations position the U.S. as a leader in green technology.

  • Market opportunities: Business-oriented media in North America frequently discuss renewable energy in the context of investment opportunities and the financial benefits of early adoption of green technologies.

  • Political support: With increasing governmental support for green initiatives, such as subsidies for solar panels or tax incentives for electric vehicles, the media coverage often reflects a positive outlook toward policy directions.

European media

European outlets, such as The Guardian, Financial Times, and Politico, present a more cautious and balanced view of renewable energy. This approach reflects Europe's complex regulatory environment and its leading role in global climate policy:

  • Regulatory focus: There is significant emphasis on how regulatory frameworks shape the adoption of renewable energies. Articles often discuss the challenges and opportunities created by these regulations.

  • Sustainability and responsibility: European media tends to place a strong emphasis on sustainability as a moral imperative. Coverage critiques insufficient measures or highlights the social responsibilities of corporations and governments.

  • Economic and practical challenges: Discussions around the cost implications of transitioning to renewable energy are prevalent, reflecting concerns about the impact on industries and consumers.

Examples of diverse editorial choices

To illustrate the above findings, consider the coverage below:

Coverage of UN Climate Change Conference

  • South China Morning Post: The article "Asia's Green Ambitions: Pioneering Sustainability at UN Climate Talks" presented a highly optimistic view of the conferenc. It focusedg on the ambitious targets set by Asian countries to cut emissions.The articlet described these goals as "groundbreaking" and emphasised the region's role as a leader in global efforts to combat climate change.

  • Financial Times: On the other hand, the piece "UN Climate Targets: A Road to Nowhere?" adopted a more skeptical stance. It highlighted doubts among several environmental experts and economists about the feasibility and practicality of the emission targets discussed at the conference. The tone was cautious, questioning whether the proposed measures could realistically be achieved.

Discussion of electric vehicles (EVs)

  • The New York Times: In "Electric Dreams: How EVs Are Driving the Future," the article discussed the rapid adoption of electric vehicles in the U.S. and their potential to transform the automotive industry. It highlighted the enthusiastic consumer reception and supportive government policies, painting a picture of optimism and progress.

  • The Guardian: Their article "Electric Vehicles: Are We Ready?" took a more measured approach, focusing on the challenges of transitioning to electric vehicles, such as the need for more robust charging infrastructure and the slow pace of battery technology improvements. The piece was informative but highlighted several hurdles, thus tempering its optimism with a dose of realism.

Renewable energy subsidies

  • Bloomberg: "The Surge of Solar: Subsidies Fueling New Growth" focused on how government subsidies in the U.S. are bolstering the solar energy sector, leading to significant growth in installations and job creation. The coverage was positive, emphasising economic benefits and environmental impact.

  • Le Monde (European perspective): "Subsidising the Sun: Sustainable Investment or Sinking Funds?" offered a critical review of similar subsidies in Europe, questioning the long-term sustainability of such financial supports and their actual benefit to the economy and environment. This article highlighted concerns about subsidy dependence and potential market distortions.

Methodological approach

Data collection

The dataset for this study was sourced from illuminem, a comprehensive database of global news articles on climate change and sustainability. Articles published by the top 20 news outlets in the English language in terms of volume during Q1-2024 were extracted.

Textual analysis

Each article was subjected to textual analysis to identify key themes related to sustainability, climate change, and renewable energy. The titles and abstracts were specifically analysed using natural language processing (NLP) techniques to extract relevant topics and sentiments.

Sentiment analysis

To quantify the tone of the coverage, sentiment analysis was conducted on both the titles and abstracts of the articles. The sentiment polarity, which suggests the positivity or negativity of the text, was calculated using TextBlob, a popular Python library for processing textual data. This allowed for an objective measurement of how optimistic, neutral, or pessimistic the articles were regarding renewable energy.

Average Sentiment Polarity by Media analysed from Most to Least Optimistic

  • South China Morning Post: 0.093 (Most optimistic)
  • Earth.Org: 0.089
  • CleanTechnica: 0.089
  • The Conversation: 0.087
  • Forbes: 0.081
  • Carbon Herald: 0.073
  • The Washington Post: 0.072
  • Bloomberg: 0.069
  • The New York Times: 0.066
  • Reuters: 0.063
  • ESG Today: 0.060
  • The Wall Street Journal: 0.057
  • Wired: 0.053BBC: 0.053
  • Euronews: 0.046
  • The Guardian: 0.045
  • Politico: 0.044
  • Oil Price: 0.041
  • Financial Times: 0.038
  • Euractiv: 0.036 (Least optimistic)

Statistical validation

To ensure that observed differences in tone were statistically significant and not due to random variation, an Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was performed. This tested the null hypothesis that there are no differences in the average sentiment polarity among the groups of news outlets (P-value = 0.0023).

Percentage derivation

After grouping the results by geographical areas, we normalized the differences between China, the USA, and Europe, factoring in that approximately 70% of all words are neutral by definition (e.g., pronouns) to obtain the percentage of “optimism” reported in the table at the top of the article.


While the analysis provides valuable insights into the geographical and editorial biases in media coverage of sustainability and renewable energy, it is important to acknowledge several limitations:

  1. Selection bias: The study focused only on the top 20 news outlets by volume, which may only partially represent the broader media landscape. Smaller, regional, and niche publications, which can offer different perspectives, were not included in this analysis.

  2. Linguistic and cultural nuances: The analysis primarily involved English-language articles and may need to fully capture the subtleties and nuances present in non-English media coverage, which could be significant in regions like Asia and parts of Europe.

  3. Temporal constraints: The data was drawn from articles published in the first quarter of 2024, limiting the findings to a specific time frame. Media coverage and editorial stances can evolve, mainly as new developments in sustainability and renewable energy occur.

  4. Subjectivity in sentiment analysis: While efforts were made to assess the tone of articles quantitatively through sentiment analysis, this method has inherent limitations and may need to be revised to capture the complexities and subtleties of human emotions and biases in journalistic writing.

  5. These limitations suggest that the findings should be interpreted as indicative rather than definitive. They highlight the need for ongoing research to monitor and analyse media coverage in this dynamically changing field continuously.


The analysis of media coverage conducted by illuminem on sustainability and climate change provides initial pointers to significant geographical variations in editorial tones. Asian outlets adopt a more optimistic standpoint, focusing on government initiatives and the rapid adoption of renewable technologies. North American outlets portray a positive outlook, though emphasising innovation and market opportunities instead. On the other hand, European media use cautious language, discussing regulatory challenges and economic implications in more depth. 

While our study provides valuable initial insights, its limitations in both scope and depth make the findings vulnerable to selection bias, linguistic nuances, and other challenges. Further research is crucial to establish causation and determine which factors drive geographical differences in media coverage. It's essential to delve deeper into whether the abovementioned variations stem from political ideologies, societal norms, coercive influences, or structural differences among regions. Such research would offer valuable insights into how information is disseminated and molded regarding existential issues like climate change.

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