Analysis: How UK newspapers covered the IPCC’s report on the impacts of climate change

  • 03 Apr 2014, 16:15
  • Mat Hope

Emett Bergin

From food shortages to endangered species, there were plenty of headline-grabbing findings in the UN's latest big climate report. We take a look at how the UK's newspapers covered the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) latest report.

The IPCC's Working Group 2 (WG2) report on the impacts of climate change was released on March 31st. Monday's report was the second in a series of three from the IPCC. The first report - Working Group 1's on climate change's physical science basis - was a  big story when it was released last September, so it's perhaps unsurprising that WG2's report also received quite a lot of attention.

But despite being overseen by the same organisation, the two reports are very different beasts. While journalists generally focused the WG1 report's topline finding that scientists were more certain than ever about humans influence on the climate, WG2's broad focus led newspapers to print stories on a wide variety of issues: from flooding in the UK, to famine in parts of Africa.


We searched the UK's main national newspapers for coverage of the report in the two weeks leading up to its release (a more detailed methodological note can be found at the end of the blog). There were 49 articles in the mainstream press over the 15 days our search covered.

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Daily Briefing | Sea ice decline and coal mine closures

  • 03 Apr 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

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Arctic sea ice falls to fifth lowest level on record 
Arctic sea ice is continuing its 'death spiral', reports the Guardian, with its winter sea ice maximum falling to its fifth lowest on the satellite record. The decline in Arctic sea ice has been particularly noticeable at the end of the summer melt season, - but it's impossible to know exactly what will happen this year, Climate Central reports. 
The Guardian 

Climate and energy news:

UK Coal mines face closures as insolvency threatens 
UK coal needs £10m in investment, from the private sector or the government, to prevent the immediate closure of two of the three remaining deep coal mines in the country. Kellingley in Yorkshire and Thoresby in Nottinghamshire will both be closed within 18 months whatever happens, but a cash investment would be used to create a smoother transition. 
BBC News 

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Risk, resilience and honeybees: Scientists' views on the new IPCC report

  • 02 Apr 2014, 14:55
  • Roz Pidcock

Hundreds of scientists from more than 70 countries helped pull together the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Now it's published, here's what a few of them have to say about the report's messages, and what should happen now.

"No question" the risks are real ...

The IPCC report defines what the research community knows and doesn't know about climate change. Chris Field, co-chair of the group that produced the report, told journalists on Sunday:

"Our job is to represent the full range of scientific and technical views on this critically important issues. When the IPCC does a report, what you get is the community's position."

And the report is unequivocal on the fact that human interference with the climate system is already occurring. Field adds:

"We see impacts from the equator to the poles and from the coast to the mountains. There's no question we already live in a world that altered by climate change"

We're already seeing more frequent extreme weather, food and water shortages, shrinking glaciers and species migrations, the report says. And as climate economist, professor Nicholas Stern, points out:

"These are all happening after less than one degree centigrade of global warming."

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How much flooding is in the UK’s future? A look at the IPCC report

  • 02 Apr 2014, 13:00
  • Roz Pidcock

From posing a threat to natural ecosystems to damaging business, property and livelihoods, a report out this week from the UN's official climate body reviews the wide-ranging damages extreme flooding can cause.

With the UK currently dealing with the impact of widespread flooding, we look at what the report has to say about how serious a risk it could be in the future as the climate changes further.

Getting wetter

Last September, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a bumper assessment of how and why the climate is changing, including projections for how everything from rainfall to arctic sea ice is likely to change in the coming decades.

Scientists expect a warming world to lead to more extreme rainfall. The image below shows the UK receiving about 10 per cent more rainfall on average per year by 2100 (right) compared to 1986-2005 (left).


The UK is set to see about a 10 per cent rise in annual average rainfall by 2100 (right) compared to the period 1985-2005 (left). Source: IPCC 5th Assessment Report  Sumary for Policymakers (p20).

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Daily Briefing | Accusations of 'false balance' in climate change reporting

  • 02 Apr 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Credit: Roland Unger

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Government accuses BBC of creating 'false balance' on climate change with unqualified sceptics 
A new parliamentary report has criticised programmes across the BBC of attributing the same weight to opinions and scientific fact when covering climate science. The Science and Technology Committee said it was "disappointing" that the broadcaster does not "reflect the actual state of climate science in its output."  The Financial Times has the story and an Independent editorial lends strong support to the committee's conclusions. "Ministers who question the majority view among scientists should "shut up" and instead repeat the Government line on the issue", is the Times's take on the report's findings. The BBC has responded by saying, "We don't believe in erasing wider viewpoints even if the select committee doesn't agree with them." The Today Programme featured a discussion between chair of the cross-party committee Andrew Miller and BBC director of editorial policy David Jordan (listen from 8:35am). 
The Independent 

Climate and energy news:

Lib Dems 'block Conservative plan to halt new wind farms' 
Nick Clegg has blocked a proposal by David Cameron to restrict the construction of onshore windfarms. The Prime MInister is coming under increasing pressure from some within his party to make a manifesto commitment on wind energy, through a cap on the onshore turbines' output, lower subsidies or tighter planning restrictions, reports Rowena Mason for The Guardian. But capping the number of onshore wind turbines would mean resorting to more expensive alternatives, says the Guardian's Damian Carrington. The BBC's Today Programme featured a short discussion on the Tory party stance on renewable energy ahead of the 2015 general election. 
BBC News 

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BBC climate coverage singled out for criticism by cross-party parliamentary committee

  • 02 Apr 2014, 00:00
  • Ros Donald

The government, the media - particularly the BBC-  must up their game in communicating the science of climate change to the public. That's the conclusion of a report by a Parliamentary select committee, out today. 

Detrimental to trust

"A lack of clear, consistent messages on the science has a detrimental impact on the public's trust in climate science."

So says the cross-party Science and Technology Committee's report, 'Communicating climate science', compiled following evidence sessions with a range of experts and representatives of government and the media.  It calls on the government to implement a strategy for communicating climate change "as a matter of urgency" and has harsh words for media outlets that it says have been guilty of confusing scientific evidence with opinion. 

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Calculating damages: How much will climate change cost?

  • 01 Apr 2014, 16:30
  • Roz Pidcock & Mat Hope

Today's Financial Times features professor Richard Tol's take on what a new UN report says about how much climate change could cost the world. But examining the report's summary reveals a list of reasons why the IPCC believes the costs are likely to be a lot higher.

With the launch of the latest IPCC report, a fair amount of attention has focused on what it says about how much climate change could cost in terms of GDP as temperatures rise.

In part, that's because a lead author of the economics chapter became quite vocal in his opinion that the IPCC's Summary for Policymakers (SPM) is too "alarmist".

In interviews for BBC and Sky News yesterday, Richard Tol - an economics professor at Sussex University - argued the SPM takes too much of a "four horseman of the apocalypse" tone.

Today, Tol has an  opinion piece in the Financial Times, headlined "Bogus prophecies of doom will not fix the climate".

Tol's take is that while climate change requires a response, reducing emissions has been over-prioritised. To make his case, he refers to a figure from the IPCC report for the cost of two degrees warming:

"According to Monday's report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a further warming of two degrees could cause losses equivalent to 0.2 to two per cent of world gross domestic product."

In other words, Tol says,

"[H]alf a century of climate change is about as bad as losing one year of economic growth."

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Trees at risk, poverty pockets and the risk of tipping: five hidden stories about the impacts of climate change

  • 01 Apr 2014, 12:00
  • Robin Webster

The UN's much anticipated landmark report into the future impacts of climate change was finally  launched yesterday - covering everything from  fisheries to flooding. We've dug out five hidden stories you may have missed. 

Hundreds of scientists have collated all the available research investigating climate change's effect on natural systems and human societies around the world and put them together in a  summary report. Food prices will rise, security risks increase and the weather will get more extreme, the report  predicts. But not all the stories have made it onto the front pages

1. Don't be a tree   

A large fraction of both land-based and freshwater species face extinction risks as a result of temperature rise this century, according to yesterday's report - especially as climate change interacts with other stresses like  habitat destruction or over-exploitation, pollution and invasive species. 

The survival of many plant and animal species is already under  threat as a result of human activity. 

Only a few species have gone extinct so far as a result of the changing climate, the IPCC says - but as temperatures rise, this could soon change. 

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‘Climate change poses risks for human and natural systems’: Key quotes from the IPCC’s Working Group 2 report

  • 01 Apr 2014, 11:55
  • Roz Pidcock & Mat Hope

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a big report on the impacts of climate change yesterday. The report looked at everything from how climate change puts species and societies at risk, to what rising emissions may mean for marine life and extreme weather events.

We pick out some key quotes from the IPCC's Working Group 2 Summary for Policymakers.

Impacts of climate change

"Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems"

"In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans."

"Some risks of climate change are considerable at 1 or 2°C above preindustrial level. Global climate change risks are high to very high with global mean temperature increase of 4°C or more ... and include severe and widespread impacts on unique and threatened systems, substantial species extinction, large risks to global and regional food security"

"Climate-change impacts are expected to exacerbate poverty in most developing countries and create new poverty pockets in countries with increasing inequality, in both developed and developing countries."

Food production & security

"All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilization, and price stability (high confidence)."

"Based on many studies covering a wide range of regions and crops, negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts (high confidence)."

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Daily Briefing | Reflecting on the impacts of climate change

  • 01 Apr 2014, 09:45
  • Carbon Brief staff

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Climate catastrophes in other countries will hit UK's food security, experts say 
Consultancy PWC says with nearly 40% of all UK food imported to feed a population of about 63m and overseas assets worth trillions of dollars, the UK is particularly exposed to climate change. Britain is also vulnerable because its population is expected to add more than 10m people in the next 40 years, it says. The comments come in response to the IPCC"s latest big climate report, released yesterday.

Climate and energy news:

UK seen saving 1 bln pounds/year if imports more European power 
The UK could save around £1 billion a year by importing more electricity from the continent, grid operator National Grid claims. Doing so would involve improving interconnectors which allow the UK to get electricity from mainland Europe quickly and efficiently, it says. Britain now has around 4 gigawatts of capacity available on interconnectors, cables that allow electricity to flow between countries, with France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Northern Ireland. Doubling this figure by 2020 could help bring down energy costs, a report by National Grid says. 

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