The front page of The Australian today featured an article headlined, “We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC”, referring to the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment report, which is yet to be released.
The assessment report will be the organisation’s fifth such report since being set up over two decades ago with the task of collating and presenting the most up to date analysis of climate science worldwide.
Part of it is due to be released later this month, but a summary of its content has already been leaked out.
The author of the story was the paper’s environmental editor, Graham Lloyd.
Using “reports in British and US media” as his sources, Lloyd wrote that “the draft report appears to suggest global temperatures were less sensitive to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide than was previously thought”.
“The 2007 assessment report said the planet was warming at a rate of 0.2C every decade, but according to Britain’s The Daily Mail the draft update report says the true figure since 1951 has been 0.12C,” Lloyd said.
For what it’s worth, The Daily Mail has a history of biased coverage of global warming. So when you write an article challenging the accepted science behind climate change using the information obtained by The Daily Mail, it immediately rings alarm bells from the offset.
Even more concerning is the fact that Lloyd didn’t even bother to check the facts of the original Daily Mail article.
The 2007 assessment report claimed that global average surface temperatures were rising at a linear trend of 0.13°C (or within the range of 0.10 and 0.16°C) every decade, not 0.2°C. This is consistent with the 0.12°C per-decade rise the new assessment report will reportedly announce.
According to Steven Sherwood, Professor of Physical Meteorology and Atmospheric Climate Dynamics at the University of New South Wales and a lead-author of one of the chapters of the new assessment report, the story is riddled with errors.
“The IPCC does not do climate forecasts on its own “computer,” as stated in the lead paragraph of the article, but analyses forecasts submitted to them by two dozen or so research organisations worldwide, including NASA and CSIRO,” Professor Sherwood claimed.
“The lead paragraph also claims that the rate of observed surface warming over the previous 60 years is half that reported in 2007, when the real difference is much smaller and, according to several published studies, is balanced by stronger than expected recent warming below the ocean surface.”
The article also quoted Matt Ridley, a British scientist who wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal, another anti-climate change publication, claiming the new report would “dial back the alarm on climate change” and pointed to “the real possibility that … the overall effect of climate change will be positive for humankind and the planet”.
Professor Sherwood flatly rejected this position.
“The quote from Matt Ridley, that most experts believe warming of under 2°C will be beneficial, may have been stated by Mr Ridley, but is also incorrect,” said Professor Sherwood.
“Instead, 2°C is often taken to be the maximum “safe” warming before which dangerous thresholds, such as the warming needed to guarantee the eventual melting of the Greenland ice sheet, may be crossed.”
“Past assessments have projected that business-as-usual warming must almost certainly exceed 2°C (IPCC 2007 set a range of about 3-6°C above preindustrial by 2100), and no new results have emerged that could cause a significant revision to that assessment.”
According to Dr John Cook, a Research Fellow in Climate Communication at the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, the article “demonstrates the inherent dangers in sourcing scientific information from a UK tabloid rather than climate scientists”.
“The Australian discusses a slowdown in surface temperature but fails to consider that the planet as a whole continues to build up heat at an accelerating rate, currently at a rate of 4 Hiroshima bombs-worth of heat every second,” Dr Cook said.
“The Australian also fails to report the growing body of research indicating that the slowdown in surface temperature is due to more heat accumulating in the ocean, indicated by direct ocean heat measurements. Discussion of ocean heat up-take is expected to be included in the upcoming IPCC report.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time The Australian has gotten it completely wrong when it comes to its climate change coverage.
In fact, it follows a long-standing and unashamed pattern of climate denialism coming from the publication in recent years.
Earlier this year, Jonathan Holmes criticised the editors of The Australian in his penultimate episode of MediaWatch for omitting a major climate change story from their daily news, while criticising the ABC for its prejudiced global warming coverage on the same day.
In it, the experienced media commentator quipped, “month after month, to put it no higher, The Australian gives prominence to the small number of scientists who dissent from the view that global warming is being caused by human activity; and downplay or ignore the publications – and the warnings – of the scientists who do.”
“Quite simply, The Australian is misreporting the true scientific debate.”
That trend has appeared to continue.