Analysis

Does British belief in climate change really go up and down? A look at 14 polls

  • 29 Jul 2014, 15:30
  • Ros Donald

Newspapers love to cover surveys that show  belief in climate change has  risen or fallen. But how much can polls really tell us about what the UK public believes when it comes to climate change? We surveyed 14 polls to try and understand what's happening. 

We looked at polls by the  Guardian, the Sunday Times, the  Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC),  Carbon Brief ( twice), the  UK Energy Research Council (UKERC) and Ipsos Mori.  

The polls were released between 2009 and 2014, but UKERC's poll includes earlier results from surveys in 2005 2010 and  2012

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Typhoon Haiyan, record-breaking CO2 levels, rising seas and more: five measures of the state of the climate in 2013

  • 18 Jul 2014, 17:00
  • Ros Donald

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels broke modern records last year - and 2013 was one of the warmest years on record according to four major datasets. Sea levels continue to rise, and the oceans are getting warmer. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's State of the Climate, 2013 is a reminder of the many changes the world is experiencing. 

The State of the Climate report, published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is a different beast to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report. Both reports assemble multiple datasets to give a picture of the changes the planet is experiencing, but NOAA's annual climate checkup doesn't try to answer why certain events have occurred. Instead, it focuses on building a detailed picture year on year, chronicling the shifting state of the physical climate system. 

NOAA has also created a  summary that pulls out the report's most striking results. We've picked five measures that help form this picture along with NOAA's explanation of why they matter. 

 

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New mega-map details all the ways climate change will affect our everyday lives

  • 18 Jul 2014, 00:00
  • Roz Pidcock

From flood barriers to fish stocks, a new super-graphic from the Met Office and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office shows how climate change is likely to alter human activity.

Looking at where our food comes from and how countries interact through travel and trade, it makes for a stark visualisation of what different regions can expect as climate change kicks in.

Mega-map

The  Human Dynamics of Climate Change project is a huge venture, designed to illustrate the range and complexity of the potential impacts of unmitigated climate change.

It contains a massive amount of information but a good place to start is the map below, which shows how humans interact in today's world.

The colours, arrows, symbols and shading show shipping routes, population density, crop importers and exporters, areas under water stress, busy ports and airports, fishing regions, tropical cyclone regions and melting glaciers.

HDCC_map _present

Present day human dynamics (1981-2010). Source: Human Dynamics of Climate Change  ( HDCC), a joint project from the Met Office and UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

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BBC upholds complaint over Today Programme Nigel Lawson interview

  • 07 Jul 2014, 12:30
  • Roz Pidcock

Earlier this year BBC Radio 4's flagship news programme came under fire after a discussion it hosted about the possible links between severe flooding in the UK and climate change. Now the BBC has agreed the programme gave "an inaccurate and misleading impression of the evidence."

The Today Programme featured climate scientist Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, head of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College, in a head-to-head with Lord Nigel Lawson, founder of climate skeptic lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

Soon after it aired, the programme received a series of listener complaints accusing it of promoting a false balance, and giving the impression Lawson's views carry equal weight to Hoskins' when it comes to explaining the science behind recent storms, heavy rainfall and flooding.

The Today Programme initially defending the interview, saying the lines of questioning "were designed to help listeners judge how to assess the recent bad weather in the context of climate change".

But in a letter seen by Carbon Brief, the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit has upheld the complaints, concluding the programme "gave an inaccurate and misleading impression of the evidence".

Cause for complaint

Back in February, The Today Programme invited Lord Lawson to discuss with Professor Sir Brian Hoskins the role, if any, of climate change in the flooding engulfing parts of the UK.

Hoskins began by explaining how scientists know climate change is linked to heavier bursts of rainfall, but made clear that any link with the frequent storms that hit the UK last winter is far less clear.

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IPCC authors discuss how science meets politics in the latest summary for policymakers

  • 03 Jul 2014, 19:30
  • Roz Pidcock

The science of climate change, as expressed through the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is pretty well-established.

Over the last quarter of a century, the organisation has refined its review of the scientific literature in a series of weighty reports. Producing these reports is a complex affair requiring a huge team of volunteers, a years-long drafting process, and securing the approval of governments worldwide.

So perhaps it's not surprising that the process sometimes gets criticised by some of those involved. This time around, some scientists complained after text about how countries should be categorised in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions got taken out of a summary.

A new issue of the journal Science, published today, features some different perspectives on what happened - and what it can teach us about where science and policy converge.

A summary for policymakers

When the IPCC releases a new report - which happens about every five or six years - it also puts together a summary of the most politically relevant conclusions. This is called the Summary for Policymakers, or SPM.

During a long and painstaking process in the week before the report's launch, every word of the SPM has to approved by all 195 governments under the United Nations banner.

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Overconfident predictions risk damaging trust in climate science, prominent scientists warn

  • 02 Jul 2014, 18:15
  • Roz Pidcock

There's a heated academic tussle going on over climate predictions. A high profile group of scientists has criticised the results of a paper published in Nature last year, which made some very precise forecasts for when different parts of the planet would feel the effects of climate change.

Last year's paper predicted to within a year or two when different regions would consistently see temperatures exceeding the bounds of natural variability. Writing in Nature today, the paper's critics say that's a level of confidence that can't be supported by our current understanding of climate science.

What may sound like a fairly technical dispute raises some tricky questions about the limits of science, and the way journals choose what to publish.

"Unprecedented" climate change

In October last year a Nature  paper got quite a bit of attention from the media with some bold statements about when different regions of the world can expect to enter the realms of "unprecedented" climate change. We covered it, here.

Reuters talked about a "shift to a new climate", while the  Daily Mail opted for the punchier ''Apocalypse Now: Unstoppable man-made climate change will become reality by the end of the decade'.

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Government defends its climate science communication, but sets out a new strategy to improve it anyway

  • 01 Jul 2014, 13:40
  • Ros Donald

Is the government doing a good enough job of communicating climate science? In a response to a critical report by MPs on Parliament's Science and Technology Committee, the government has defended the way it communicates climate change, but it has also set out how it plans to improve. 

In April, the committee told the government it must  up its game in communicating the science of climate change. Its  report   'Communicating climate science', followed months of evidence sessions with experts and government and media representatives. Now the government has  responded to the committee's recommendations.

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Academics urge scientists to do more to engage the public on climate change

  • 24 Jun 2014, 14:30
  • Roz Pidcock

David Adamec, ABC News

There's something amiss with the public's understanding of climate change - and it's got a lot to do with scientists' inability, ill-preparedness or unwillingness to take on the role of communicators. Those are the conclusions of a new report out today that may just ruffle a few feathers in the science community.

A call to arms

The  new report from the UCL Policy Commission on the Communication of Climate Science examines the role of climate scientists in public engagement, society and policy making.

Entitled 'Time for change? Climate science reconsidered', the report makes several recommendations for how scientists can up their game on all these fronts.

Top priorities, according to the report, are increasing the transparency of the scientific process and matching up what scientists do to what society needs to better appreciate the scale and urgency of climate change.

The challenge

Climate science finds itself "mismatched to societal needs", the report claims. The information society needs to get a handle on the climate challenge is not getting through, say the authors:

"There is widespread public acceptance of the reality of climate change, but not of the urgency and scale of the challenges that the science indicates it represents".

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Dispelling myths and silently shaping progress: What consensus means to climate scientists

  • 23 Jun 2014, 10:45
  • Roz Pidcock

In the 2000s, the question of how strong agreement is among climate scientists that climate change is happening and that it's human-caused began to gain prominence.

few papers sought to  answer the question using various different approaches, ultimately pinning the level of consensus at around 97 or 98 per cent.

Last year, a study by University of Queensland climate scientist and founder of the Skeptical Science website, John Cook, revisited consensus on climate change within the scientific literature.

The researchers examined 12,000 studies. Similar to other studies, Cook et al.  concluded that 97 per cent of the papers that expressed a position on the causes of climate change pointed to human activity as the main driver.

The study received a lot of media coverage at the time, ranking 11th among new science papers receiving the most attention online in 2012, and even earning a mention from the US president. But it's alsoprompted some heated discussion.

Most recently, economics professor Richard Tol published a  critique of the paper in the journal Energy Policy. Tol takes no issue with the paper's conclusion about an overwhelming scientific consensus in the literature. Instead, the crux of his argument is with specifics of the methodology.

Consensus is complicated. And reducing a complex question to a simple number is going to be fraught. So why do it? We asked climate scientists what consensus means to them, if it can be measured and how they use consensus in their own work.

Why measure consensus?

Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that recent warming is being driven by human activity rather than by naturally occurring processes. That's typically what people mean when they talk about a 'scientific consensus' on climate change.

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Rain-obsessed: Brits concerned about climate change likely to think weather has got worse

  • 13 Jun 2014, 12:15
  • Mat Hope

CC: Oasty40

Does the weather affect people's views on climate change? A  new paper looks at how people link the two, and finds the British public focus on wet weather rather than rising temperatures when worrying about climate change.

But working out whether people revise their concern about climate change based on the weather is a more complicated task.

Existing attitudes

The researchers from Leeds University asked people whether they thought the weather had become more changeable and, if so, in what way. They then asked the same people about the seriousness of climate change in order to compare their responses.

They found that people who were already concerned about climate change tended to think the weather had become more changeable. This was true regardless of the respondents age, gender, or educational background. Co-author Dr Andrea Taylor tells Carbon Brief:

"We observed an association between perceptions of changes in weather and beliefs about climate change, which may indicate that experience of recent weather does impact on people's concerns about climate change."

That finding led the BBC to report that the research shows extreme weather changes people's perception of climate change.

But that conclusion is slightly premature. The people who thought the weather had become more changeable already had strong views on climate change. 

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