Met Office Says No Warming Before 2017: How Did The Media Do?
The fact that the UK Met Office had changed its near-term global warming forecast quietly on Christmas Eve was noticed by some Met Office watchers, especially the ever-interesting Tallbloke’s Talkshop website which reported it on January 5th. This piece started a flurry of blog comments. We at the GWPF republished the story the same day on our website.
The next day we internally discussed the Met Offices’ revised forecast. The GWPF published my analysis of the considerable implications of the Met Office revision on the 7th January. The analysis was distributed via CCNet at 11:51 am, including hundreds of journalists.
One and a half hours later, at 1.23pm, Roger Harrabin – the BBC’s Environment Analyst - tweeted that the Met Office had confirmed to him that it had cut its warming projection for the period up to 2017 by 20%. It was retweeted 12 times. This was clearly an important story. But the BBC decided not to cover it at all that day. However, the following morning the BBC reported it.
The first mention I heard was on the 5.30 am BBC Radio 4 news which I though dealt with the story in a clear way – that the Met Office had revised its global temperature predictions downwards and that some sceptics were saying that it shows previous estimates were exaggerated. At 6.00 am the story was repeated but with the significant error saying that the Met Office expected temperatures ‘in Britain’ not to rise by 2017.
Then, at 7.00am Roger Harrabin took up the story. In my opinion he did not do too well. The details of the statistics were presented very poorly. Harrabin also said that natural factors such as the Sun and oceans are an explanation. What he didn’t put over was that the Met Office can’t explain the standstill and are working hard to do so, but they believe that the Sun and the oceans could be a factor.
The story, important enough to be in the news bulletins, was not a part of the Today programme. This is possibly because the news bulletins, although broadcast during the Today programme, are not prepared by the Today team but by the Bulletins Desk. Personally I would have liked to hear John Humphrys get stuck into this story.
The late Brian Redhead used to call the Today Programme “a word in the nation’s ear,” and so it proved. A short time later Tom Chivers, science writer at the Telegraph, tweeted, “Did anyone catch what they were saying about the climate on R4 Today this morning? People on desk discussing it, want to catch up.” Andrew Neil then tweeted, “Other than #bbcr4today amazing lack of coverage in UK media re Met Office new temperature predictions.”
Whilst the newspapers planned their coverage the broadcast versions of the story faded for a while. Neither the BBC TV 1’ o’clock News nor the Radio 4 World at One covered the story.
It is good practice to have a report on the BBC News website about a story dealt with on BBC TV and Radio. The news website can go into more detail, give links etc and is especially valuable for those who may have missed part of, or misunderstood, the broadcast. Remarkably nothing appeared on the BBC Website for hours.
David Shukman’s eventual post was called “Climate model forecast is revised.”
In the second paragraph he claimed the Met Office had said the average temperature was likely to rise by 0.43 deg C by 2017 – as opposed to an earlier forecast that suggested a warming of 0.54 deg C. His misunderstanding gave the false impression as if the global temperature was going to rise by half a degree by 2017. Of course the Met Office never made such a claim. In any case, such numbers are meaningless when not placed in the context of recent years and a graph would have been nice/essential. When discussing the predictions of the new Met Office climate model that had given the new predictions, HadGEM2, he mistakes prediction period and baseline period.
Nevertheless, it was good to see that the important and obvious conclusion from the revised prediction was mentioned, “If the forecast is accurate, the result would be that the global average temperature would have remained relatively static for about two decades.” However, the term relatively static is a poor substitute for unchanging.
But then it says, “An apparent standstill in global temperatures is used by critics of efforts to tackle climate change as evidence that the threat has been exaggerated.”
In reality, it is not an ‘apparent standstill’ but a real warming standstill that has now lasted for 16 years and may last for 20 years if the Met Office is correct. In addition, and this is a vital point, the standstill is of interest to those interested in the science of climate change whether they advocate mitigation or adaption strategies.
The report continues: A Met Office spokesman said “this definitely doesn’t mean any cooling – there’s still a long-term trend of warming compared to the 50s, 60s or 70s.”
This should have been questioned as it is the heart of the story. The recent warming, the mankind-dominated climatically period started in 1980 (according to the IPCC) so what happened in the 50s, when climate was under purely natural control, is irrelevant.
The Met Office were also allowed to say; “Our forecast is still for temperatures that will be close to the record levels of the past few years.”
Again the BBC report failed to make clear that this claim, i.e. temperatures will be close to recent years, is simply another way of saying ‘No further warming trend in the coming years’.
Shukman also failed to mention that the forecasts made by the Met Office a few years ago have been proven wrong. All we get is an unnamed Met Office spokesman and nobody else. In the interests of balance and given that the story broke on sceptic websites and via the GWPF, a critic should have been quoted and the BBC should have insisted on a named spokesperson from the Met Office.
Channel 4 News
Channel 4 News’ report starts off well. “The Met Office announces the world is not going to warm up as much as previously thought. Surprising news, as last week it said UK rainfall could keep breaking records because of global warming.”
“Those critical of the idea of man-made global warming have seized upon the announcement. To them, it reveals a problem with the fact that the Met Office and journalists continue to report about run-away global warming while global average temperature records have not increased significantly (statistically speaking) since 1997.”
“Their 2011 estimate (taking the most likely average temperature difference from the 1971 to 2000) was an increase of 0.54 degrees centigrade. The inherent uncertainties in the forecasting model meant that number might be as low as 0.36 and could be as high as 0.72 degrees C. The new estimate puts the figure at 0.43 degrees (with an error of 0.28 to 0.59). Slightly more than 0.1 of a degree is hardly a shocking down-revision of the numbers.”
But it is! 0.1 deg is a big deal, it’s the average size of the errors and more than enough to contradict previous estimates of global temperature rise and continue the standstill. Later in their report Channel 4 calls it a “vague stabilization” – nonsense.
Channel 4 asks: “So does this mean global warming has stopped or does not exist? Definitely not. If you had any doubts the graph below shows how global temperatures have gone up over a longer timescale than since 1997 (this graph is based on three independent temperature records which all agree fairly well).”
Actually the three temperature records are not independent. There are not many weather stations labeled Nasa, Noaa and Met Office only.
“What is more, fairly short term snapshots of global average temperatures ignore the ups and downs in temperatures that are just as significant.”
This is a confusing statement. In the 32 years or so of the recent global rise in temperature 16 years is not a short-term snapshot!
Then we come to expert comment. “I despair of the way data such as this is translated as ‘global warming has stopped’. Global mean temperatures – whether measured or predicted – are not the issue. What matters is the energy balance of the planet and the changes that an energy imbalance will drive in the climate system – as well as the consequences for humans,” said Chris Rapley, a climate scientist at University College London.
Firstly nobody is saying global warming has stopped for good, just that the world has not warmed at all for 16 years. There has been no global warming for 16 years – fact. What happens in the future, whether the warming will resume, is the big question.
The same point is also missed by Channel 4’s second expert: “As Myles Allen, a climate modeller at the University of Oxford put it: “While every new year brings in welcome new data to help us rule out the more extreme (good and bad) scenarios for the future, it would be equally silly to interpret what has happened since the early-2000s as evidence that the warming has stopped.”
It is a good job nobody is doing that.
BBC Local weather presenter Paul Hudson’s blog is much better, as was the Telegraphs. But at the end it quotes Dr Peter Stott, Head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution at the Met Office, who said at the time that the past decade had been the warmest on record. But he pointed out that warming has slowed down since 2000, in comparison to the rapid warming of the world since the 1970s.
“Although the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record, warming has not been as rapid since 2000 as over the longer period since the 1970s,” he said. “This variability in global temperatures is not unusual, with several periods lasting a decade or more with little or no warming since the instrumental record began.
Once again comparing apples and oranges – eras when nature and mankind dominates climate change. The standstill in global temperatures seen since 1997 is highly unusual.
Back To The BBC
On the BBC TV 6’o’clock News the story was dealt with using what is called a ‘two-way’ which entailed David Shukman answering a couple of questions put to him by the newsreader. It is the easiest and simplest way to report a story, especially if there are no graphics or recorded interviews to cue in during the two-way.
Unfortunately things did not get off to a good start. In the cue the newsreader said that ‘Today’ the Met Office had published its prediction. This is plain wrong (it appeared on the Met Office website on Christmas Eve although later in the day of the 8th January it did publish a clarification.) The only reason why the BBC was doing the story that day was because my article had been picked up by the BBC Newsdesk.
It is not good enough for the BBC to get the basic facts of a story that wrong, e.g. journalism 101 details such as who, when and where.
It didn’t get much better. Shukman said that the Met Office had predicted what might happen in the next 5 – 10 years. Actually it was only the next 5 years. He introduced numbers without context in a way that would have confused the viewer and never said what the ‘long-term average’ was. It would be a surprise to many viewers to discover that this long-term average is actually for a far shorter period that David Bowie’s career (another story doing the rounds on that day.) Shukman said, referring to 2017, “there won’t have been much global warming for the past 20 years.” Actually there won’t have been any global warming.
Shukman said that natural factors such as the Sun and oceans are bound to be at work as an explanation. But how does he know? Not even the Met Office can explain the standstill. Shukman left the viewer with the impression that the situation regarding the standstill was less important than it is.
Shukman also referred to ‘leading climate scientists.’ Mentioning experts this way always worries me and I think in general such sources of authority should be named so that we can see if they actually are leading climate scientists. This is a sensitive point after the so-called 28gate scandal when the BBC held a secret seminar in 2006 with what it said were leading scientific experts in climate change. When the guest list was revealed it was shown that they were nothing of the sort.
The same format was repeated on the BBC TV 10’o’clock News along with a graphic that in my view did not add anything. Again I say, a graph would have been nice.
The Times today carried an opinion piece by environment campaigner Mark Lynas. Remember it was he who, when presented in 2007 in the New Statesman with the first evidence that the world had not warmed in recent years, said that the suggestion was “wrong, completely wrong,” and accused the person who made that suggestion, which was me, of “deliberately or otherwise” setting out to mislead the public. The words egg and face come to mind, if not custard pie.
Bearing in mind his poor track record and numerous U-turns his doomsday prediction that before long temperatures are likely to be higher than for 50 million years should not be taken too seriously. He states that, “Probabilistic forecasts emphasise that we are loading the climate dice in a warming direction — you can still get a cool year, but they become less and less likely as time passes.”
But it still hasn’t got warmer for the past 16 years!
The Mail summarises the story quite well in its first few sentences: The Met Office has admitted that global warming has stalled. Officials say that by 2017, temperatures will not have risen significantly for nearly 20 years.
They concede that previous forecasts were inaccurate – and have come under fire for attempting to ‘bury bad news’ by publishing the revised data on Christmas Eve.
Its expert comment is Dr Richard Allan of the University of Reading who said: ‘Global warming is not “at a standstill” but does seem to have slowed down since 2000, in comparison to the rapid warming of the world since the 1970s.
‘In fact, consistent with rising greenhouse gases, heat is continuing to build up beneath the ocean surface.’
Again we have the ‘slowed down since 2000’ even though there has been no warming since 1997 and the ‘rapid warming’ since the 70s is not as straightforward as many think. As for heat building up beneath the ocean surface, the data on that is quite contentious.
Professor Myles Allen of the University of Oxford pops up again and says: ‘A lot of people were claiming, in the run-up to the Copenhagen 2009 conference, that warming was accelerating and it is all worse than we thought…What has happened since then has demonstrated that it is foolish to extrapolate short-term climate trends.’
So what is the ‘short-term trend’ from which it is foolish to extrapolate? Is it the warming between 1980 – 1997, or the standstill between 1997 – 2012 (and possibly to at least 2017)?
The Daily Express
“The great global warming debate was blown wide open again yesterday when the Met Office predicted cooler than expected temperatures for the next five years. The Met Office, one of the top cheerleaders for the man-made climate change camp, said global temperatures are likely to be lower than it forecast in December 2011. It blamed this on the “natural variability of the climate system”, notably changes in ocean surface temperatures.”
“Oxford University Professor Myles Allen said comparing the forecast for 2013-17 with one exceptionally warm year – 1998 – “is just daft”.
I repeat. It’s a good job nobody is doing that.
Leo Hickman of the Guardian was unimpressed with the Daily Express and has tweeted, “Daily Express top loads its report on Met Office decadal forecast w/ 2x GWPFers… then, er, some climate scientists.”
That is called playing the man and not the ball. After all, the articles on the global warming standstill the GWPF has published over the years have now been proven correct. One should not judge a comment by its source. A good journalist should know that.
And finally, you will have noticed that the climate scientists Myles Allen, Chris Rapley and Richard Allen crop up frequently in the coverage. Could it be due to an ‘expert reaction’ advice note sent out to journalists by the UK Science Media Centre pressure group?
Indeed, the now familiar quotes used by most news outlets originated here. It would appear that in covering this important story very few journalists actually spoke to sceptics and many journalists had their experts cherry-picked for them by a pressure group who also selected the actual quotes to be used! However, no journalist using those quotes mentioned that these experts “told the UK Science Media Centre that…” Instead they gave the impression they had spoken to them themselves.