The BBC and The IPCC working group 2 report on Climate Change

The BBC and The IPCC working group 2 report on Climate Change.  30th March 2014.


As part of its periodical Assessment Reports, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just published working group 2’s (WGII): Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’. Before I get onto the content, the spin, has inevitably begun but sadly on the BBC radio 4 today programme. The chair of WGII was interviewed by Justin Webb who is gaining a reputation as a climate change sceptic. As part of the interview Webb focused on the economist Dr. Richard Tol’s withdrawal of his name from the report on the grounds that the report was not positive enough on the benefits of extra carbon dioxide. The report, Tol said, was too alarmist. His disagreement is how science actually works, but Webb’s focus on this point supports those who think the science is not settled enough.  The report itself was a result of a team of 70 scientists working on revisions so it is not surprising that at least one will disagree with the final report and will wish to remove their own name.

Tol’s argument appears to centre on farmer’s ability to adapt to new circumstances and that carbon dioxide is actually good for plants, a point accepted by WGII. The IPCC, in their video,  state that yields would not have improved without climate change which is neither alarmist or underplayed. It is a fact.  Adaptation is now clearly on the stage as well as mitigation, they are complimentary according to WGII. Adaption will bring benefits to some sectors and populations, but clearly mitigation (reducing emissions) has to run alongside adaptive responses. If we don’t try to mitigate, we run the risk of the climate overpowering adaptive systems. Low probability but high impacts events like the melting of the Greenland Ice sheets should lead us to consider insuring against that risk and trying to prevent it.

We might ask if the media is responsible for supporting scepticism on climate science; Does the media, in the interests of ‘balance’ give too much time to climate change sceptics?

Alistair Burnett , editor of the World tonight argued in 2009 “From the BBC’s perspective, the answer to this question is that our journalistic role is not to campaign for anything. Impartiality means not taking sides in a debate, while accurately representing the balance of argument. So, in the case of climate change we need proportionately to reflect the sceptical view but also, for example, reflect the debate among climate scientists about the most effective way of dealing with global warming”.

The word here is ‘proportionate’.  So 1 scientist in 70 wants his name removed from the final report. Perhaps Webb could have mentioned this and moved on the explore the more substantial discussion regarding adaption and mitigation.

More recently, February 2014, the BBC responded to complaints regarding the inclusion of Lord Lawson on the Today programme: “We believe there has to be space in the BBC’s coverage where scientific consensus meets reasonable argument about the policy implications of that consensus view. That said we do accept that we could have offered a clearer description of the sceptical position taken by Lord Lawson and the Global Warming Policy Foundation in the introduction. That would have clarified in the audience’s minds the ideological background to the arguments”.


There are very real debates to be had on this issue and the adaptation and mitigation angle is very pertinent. The good news is that, at last apart from a very few,  most accept the fact of climate change. It is what we do about it that is causing the heat. The BBC can help by reflecting the science, and ensuring we know what the ideological positions of prominent, and financially supported, sceptics are.


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