Responses to the Ruling from
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Dr RK Pachauri / Sir John Houghton (FRS) / Professor Carl Wunsch / Professor Martin Parry (OBE) / Professor James McCarthy / Professor Robert Watson / Professor John Shepherd (FRS) / Professor Tony McMichael / Dr Benjamin Santer / Dr Kevin Trenberth / Dr Robert Marsh / Professor Alistair Woodward / Dr Jonathan Köhler / Monica Samec / Dr Jim Watson / Dr Julie Doyle / Dr Joe Smith / Nathan Rive
Chair of the IPCC during the Fourth Assessment
Dr Pachauri co-authorised our Fairness complaint on behalf of the IPCC.
We are pleased to note that Ofcom’s Fairness ruling has vindicated the IPCC’s claim against Channel 4 in spirit and in substance, and upheld most of the formal complaints made by those who respect the IPCC process. It is heartening to see that the review process of the IPCC, and the credibility of the publications of the IPCC were upheld, as was the claim that Channel 4 did not give the Panel adequate time to respond to most of their allegations. The IPCC is an organization that brings together the best experts from all over the world committed to working on an objective assessment of all aspects of climate change. The relevance and integrity of its work cannot be belittled by misleading or irresponsible reporting. We express our appreciation of the Fairness Committee at Ofcom, and are satisfied with their rulings on this matter.
Chair or Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I during the First, Second and Third Assessments
Sir John Houghton provided information that was used in the sections of this complaint relating to IPCC WG I. He also co-authorised our Fairness complaint on behalf of the IPCC.
The Fairness ruling from Ofcom regarding the Great Global Warming Swindle programme has exposed the misleading and false information regarding the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that was contained in that programme and that has been widely disseminated by the climate denying community.
The integrity of the IPCC’s reports has therefore been confirmed as has their value as a source of accurate and reliable information about climate change.
The IPCC latest report of 2007 states clearly that global warming is happening and explains the urgent action needed to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases (especially CO2), if the most serious consequences of climate change are to be avoided, due for example to sea level rise and to increased frequency and/or intensity of heat waves, floods, droughts and storms.
It's very disappointing that Ofcom hasn't come up with a stronger statement about being misled, I know hundreds of people, literally hundreds, who were misled by it - they saw it, it was a well-produced programme and they imagined it had some truth behind it, so they were misled and it seems Ofcom didn't care about that.
Professor of Physical Oceanography, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor Wunsch provided documentary evidence that was used by the authors in the sections of the complaint covering his interviews in the film.
Anyone who wants to understand why much of the scientific community reacted so furiously to The Great Global Warming Swindle should read the Rive, Jackson, Rado et al. complaint to Ofcom. This document lays out in detail the large number of apparently deliberate distortions contained in the film, distortions that no credible scientist would accept as part of normal scientific debate. Channel 4 broadcast a political propaganda film masquerading as a science documentary. As Rive et al. make clear, the film exaggerates the credentials of its purported “experts”, changed published data to suit its own ends, and in general took a complicated scientific problem, over-simplified and changed the evidence, while suppressing all contrary views from the true experts. In real science, practitioners work in good faith, honestly describing contrary points of view, weighing the evidence, and discussing what is more and less certain. The Great Global Warming Swindle did none of these things.
Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II for the Fourth Assessment, and Visiting Professor at the Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College, University of London
Professor Parry peer reviewed our submission to Ofcom (which is referred to in the Fairness Ruling), in response to Channel 4’s reply to our Fairness complaint. He also co-authorised our Fairness complaint on behalf of the IPCC.
People and policymakers need to have confidence in the science of climate change. The reputation of the IPCC as the source of dependable and high quality information has been fully upheld by Ofcom’s Fairness ruling. Channel 4’s Great Global Warming Swindle was itself a disreputable attempt to swindle the public of the confidence it needs in scientific advice.
Co-chair of the IPCC Working Group II (2001); Lead Author for the recently completed Arctic Climate Impact Assessment; and Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University.
Professor McCarthy peer reviewed those sections of this complaint that relate to IPCC Working Group II and to the epidemiology and entomology content of the IPCC WG2 reports. He also co-authored some sections, and peer reviewed others, of our submission to Ofcom (which is referred to in the Fairness Ruling) in response to Channel 4’s reply to our Fairness complaint.
The fundamental science that underpins this understanding of climate has been vetted by pre-eminent professional societies of geophysicists, meteorologists, oceanographers, and academies of science worldwide, in addition to the IPCC. All of their summary statements are similar. A good example is that of the American Metrological Association: “Despite uncertainties, there is adequate evidence from observations and interpretations of climate simulations to conclude that the atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; that humans have significantly contributed to this change; and that further climate change will continue to have important impacts on human societies, on economies, on ecosystems and on wildlife through the 21st century and beyond”.
By analogy, think of the official position statements of the academies of medicine as well as associations and societies of scientists and physicians who devote their lives to the study, prevention, and treatment of lung and heart disease, that cite the evidence that strongly links tobacco smoking to these diseases. Can one find the odd physician or researcher who says that he is not yet convinced of this cause and effect relationship? Of course. After all, some people smoke tobacco all their lives, and die of other causes at advanced age. Think of a film that interviews a group of people who hold this position – a position that flies in the face of an enormous body of good science – that states, as a fact, that this group of interviewees represents the only honest scientists, and claims, moreover, that “you are being lied to” by every scientist who holds the mainstream position. Such a production would be analogous to what Martin Durkin has done on Channel 4.
While condemning crass distortions of Durkin and Channel 4, we must also encourage public media efforts that truly help the non-scientist understand climate science and the consequences of inaction. The public deserves to know about the true uncertainties in climate science, and as importantly, the range of options that will enable us to dramatically reduce both our dependence on fossil fuel combustion for energy production and other greenhouse gas producing activities.
See also Professor McCarthy’s detailed response (on the About menu).
Co-Chair of Working Group II of the IPCC during the Second Assessment, and Chair of the IPCC during the Third Assessment; now DEFRA’s Chief Scientific Adviser
Professor Watson co-authorised our Fairness complaint on behalf of the IPCC.
I welcome Ofcom’s ruling which demonstrates that The Great Global Warming Swindle was unbalanced and totally misrepresented the scientific consensus on the role of human activities in causing the global warming. The program inaccurately portrayed the scientific evidence, was not impartial, which a documentary should be, and was unfair in its treatment of the IPCC and leading scientists such as Sir David King.
Human-induced climate change is an environmental, development and security issue. Attempts to undermine the clear scientific consensus on this issue are misleading and detract from the urgent challenge that the world is facing – namely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently and rapidly enough to avoid dangerous levels of climate change in the future. The Great Global Warming Swindle did a major disservice to the public at large and tried to undermine the scientific basis upon which governments and the private sector are using to cost-effectively address one of the greatest challenges the human race has ever faced.
The IPCC, which was established by the United Nations in the late 1980s, is the world’s authoritative voice on the scientific and technical knowledge regarding climate change. The IPCC engages thousands of the world’s best experts to prepare and critically peer-review the scientific and technical evidence and is a non-political body addressing a very political issue. It is used by governments to inform policy and by the private sector to inform investment decisions.
The bottom line is that there is no doubt that human activities are responsible for the observed changes in climate over the past 50 years and that we need to act urgently to avoid dangerous climate change. We need to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases and adapt to the changing climate.
I am pleased that Ofcom recognized the serious inaccuracies in the Global Warming Swindle and has helped set the record straight.
Professor of Marine Sciences, National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, and Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Professor Shepherd peer reviewed our entire complaint
This Ofcom ruling is very strange indeed. It upholds most of the complaints relating to fairness to individuals and organisations, and some of those relating to impartiality and mis-representation of the facts. Nevertheless, it concludes that this did not lead to the audience being materially misled so as to cause harm or offence! This is extraordinary, because this programme was essentially propoganda, and a travesty of what a science documentary should be. It was extremely biased, and misrepresented the facts on almost every issue that it raised. It also distorted or misrepresented the work of the IPCC, and the views of several serious scientists who were interviewed. It presented a very confused and misleading message, especially by mixing up some true and uncontroversial statements with many false or misleading implications drawn from them (see my critique posted at http://tinyurl.com/2jwx82).
As one of the many people who complained about this programme, I am very pleased that Ofcom have now upheld many of these complaints, but astonished that it did not find C4 and the programme makers guilty of misleading the public. Public policy on climate change depends crucially on its scientific basis, and this is far too serious and important for it to be mis-represented as it was by this programme. I hope that the ruling will prove to be sufficiently adverse that the programme will now fade away into well-deserved obscurity.
Convening Lead Author for the IPCC Working Group II chapter on Health, in the Second and Third Assessments, and Review Editor for that chapter in the Fourth Assessment. Director of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, in The Australian National University
Professor McMichael peer reviewed those sections of this complaint that relate to IPCC Working Group II and to the epidemiology and entomology content of the IPCC WG2 reports
The Great Global Warming Swindle contained many flagrantly inaccurate and distorted claims regarding the IPCC, and was an attack on the diligent work that thousands of scientists perform to accurately assess the current state of scientific knowledge. It is crucial that policy makers have access to such an accurate assessment and that the public has confidence in the impartiality and honesty of the work that mainstream scientists do. The film therefore represented an extreme low point in irresponsible journalism, and I am pleased that most of the Fairness complaints on behalf of the IPCC were upheld by Ofcom.
Convening Lead Author in the IPCC’s Second Assessment and an Atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Dr Santer co-authored a sections of our submission to Ofcom (which is referred to in the Fairness Ruling) in response to Channel 4’s reply to our Fairness complaint.
Anyone who has children has an investment in the future – an investment in the kind of world we leave behind for our descendants. In order to take informed decisions on “what to do” about the problem of human-induced climate change, and hence on our climatic legacy, we need an informed electorate. The media play a crucial role in this process of disseminating information to the general public. They are a trusted source of information. Given their privileged position, they have a responsibility to “get the science right”, and to get the facts right, particularly on matters of significant national and international concern.
Unfortunately, Channel 4 abdicated their journalistic responsibility to give a fair and balanced picture of the current state of climate science. They presented a completely false picture of a community of climate scientists actively engaged in duping the rest of the world. Channel 4’s Great Global Warming Swindle focused on selling a bizarre conspiracy theory to the British public, rather than on doing the diligent, painstaking reporting that would have been necessary in order to improve public understanding of a complex scientific issue.
Together with many of my scientific colleagues, I have spent most of my career trying to understand the nature and causes of climate change. It is a difficult job. There will always be significant uncertainties in our work, since we are performing a planetary-scale experiment without a control. Nevertheless, we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that human activities have affected the Earth’s climate. By burning fossil fuels, we have changed the chemical composition of the atmosphere. These human-caused changes in atmospheric chemistry explain most of the surface warming we have observed over the 20th and early 21st centuries. We are no longer passive observers of the physical changes in the land, ocean, and atmosphere, as we were for millions of years. Humanity is now an active agent of change in Earth’s climate. This is the story that Channel 4 should have told the British public.
On a personal note, I am extremely gratified by Ofcom’s decision on the Fairness complaint. Channel 4 failed to provide an accurate account of the role I fulfilled 13 years ago as Convening Lead Author of a key chapter of the IPCC’s Second Assessment Report. Channel 4 cited erroneous criticism of that chapter by a prominent anti-climate change lobbyist (Fred Seitz), without discussing the detailed responses to Seitz’s criticism that were supplied by myself, the IPCC, and numerous others. The Ofcom ruling sets the record straight by noting that Channel 4’s account of this incident was one-sided and misleading.
Convening Lead Author in the IPCC’s Second Assessment, a Lead Author in the Third Assessment and a Coordinating Lead Author in the Fourth Assessment. Head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado
Dr Trenberth peer reviewed parts of our submission to Ofcom (which are referred to in the Fairness Ruling) in response to Channel 4’s reply to our Fairness complaint.
Global warming does not mean that it steadily warms everywhere. With all the complexity in the climate system, and all the natural variability related to weather and El Niño, it is easy to point to things that might appear to be at odds with the warming of the planet. Uncertainties abound as to how climate change will play out, but the fact that global warming will continue is not one of them. Responsible journalism should recognize the comprehensive, thorough, open process of the IPCC and its state-of-the-art reports, which by their very nature are inherently conservative. To do otherwise, as Channel 4 did in its The Great Global Warming Swindle on 8 March 2007, is irresponsible.
The signs of human-induced warming abound, and at times, such as in the 2003 summer heat waves in Europe, they can be devastating. The reason this is a crisis is not so much because of the current climate, but rather the climate changes that are guaranteed to continue for decades, at least, and there is no coherent concerted global action to slow these changes down or prevent them, let alone plan for the consequences. The crisis is one of inaction. Informing and educating the public about these aspects should be a part of the role of the media, and playing up views of a few individuals who often have vested interests is simply not responsible at best and reprehensible at worst.
Research Scientist at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton and IPCC Contributing Author
Dr Marsh co-authored those sections of this complaint that relate to IPCC Working Group I and to oceanography, and peer reviewed those section of the complaint that he did not write himself.
An area of particular controversy is the attribution of severe storms to global warming. While individual storms cannot be thus attributed, the increasing frequency and/or average intensity of some types of storm may be linked to climate change. This possibility is clearly denied by Professor Richard Lindzen, who points out that “… the main source of weather disturbances is the temperature difference between the tropics and the poles …”, and argues that warming will lead to “less storminess”. While broadly true, this statement refers to the source of extra-tropical “cyclogenesis” – e.g., the formation of large depressions that track eastwards towards to UK, most often in autumn and spring. The truly catastrophic storms are the hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons that occur in the tropics, and the remnants of such storms that sometimes reach the extratropics, with further adverse impacts. The formation and sustenance of such storms is strongly linked to the state of the regional ocean and atmosphere – winds, humidity, ocean warmth – each of which may change with climate, either naturally or under anthropogenic influence. Summer precipitation in the mid-latitudes is further affected by other critical local factors, such as the position of the jet stream. It is not yet clear how the jet streams will respond to global warming.
The history of the IPCC as recounted by the Narrator is inaccurate and intentionally misleading. Following remarks of Nigel Lawson, the impression is given that Mrs. Thatcher provided the impetus for the IPCC around 1988, with political motives. In fact, the IPCC was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme. These organizations, together with the International Council for Science, had individually and collectively organized conferences in 1979 and 1985, which expressed concern about the human impact on the climate. They subsequently established the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases to “ensure periodic assessments of the state of scientific on climate change and its implications.” This process culminated in the IPCC, which was proposed in the 10th Congress of the WMO in May 1987, before its establishment in 1988. These international developments long pre-date Mrs. Thatcher’s growing concern about climate change, which was first made public in a speech to the Royal Society in September 1988.
Head of the School of Population Health, Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland. Lead Author for the 3rd and 4th Assessment Reports of IPCC Working Group II.
Professor Woodward co-authored those sections of this complaint that relate to IPCC Working Group II and to the epidemiology and entomology content of the IPCC WG2 reports.
As part of its attack on the integrity of the IPCC, Swindle argued that the link between global warming and malaria had been greatly over-stated. The programme also claimed that the IPCC did not include the “truly scientific literature” on the topic, and that one particular scientist, Professor Paul Reiter, who was interviewed on Swindle, had needed to threaten legal action in order to resign from the IPCC.
The case made by Swindle is based on selective and inaccurate quotes from the IPCC reports. The programme simply omitted critical phrases from key statements in an effort to make the conclusions of the IPCC appear more extreme than they truly are. The programme included no explanation of what it meant by the “truly scientific” literature, nor could it point to any particular relevant scientific publication that the IPCC had failed to include. And the claims about resigning from the IPCC had no documentary evidence, and betrayed a serious lack of knowledge of how the IPCC actually works.
Ofcom has found that the IPCC was treated unfairly by the makers of the programme. Global warming is the biggest environmental issue of this century, and it demands a more comprehensive and carefully constructed analysis than Swindle. In my view, Channel 4 has failed to meet the standard one would expect of a socially responsible broadcaster, and it is most heartening to see that Ofcom is of a similar mind.
Economist, and a Senior Research Associate with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Dr Köhler co-authored the development economics and renewable energy sections of the complaint.
The Great Global Warming Swindle programme claimed that environmentalists want to stop economic development in Africa and that “Western governments have now embraced the need for international agreements to restrain industrial production in the developing and developed world.”
There is no-one in the environmental movement who says that the poorest countries of the world should have their access to energy restricted. The reason for this is that the poorest countries have very low emissions. Even if they do develop using coal power, they will not contribute significantly to climate change. It is the OECD nations, EU, US Canada, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Russia; and the newly industrialising countries China, India, Brazil and Mexico, which have large greenhouse gas emissions and which will have to reduce their emissions (but not their economic growth by any significant amount).
There are no international agreements, either in place, or being considered, to restrain industrial production, either in the developing or the developed world.
In economic debates about climate change, it is now understood that economic development and climate policy complement each other: there is no trade off between them. On the contrary, the Stern Review demonstrates that
…an upper bound for the expected annual cost of emissions reductions consistent with a trajectory leading to stabilisation at 550ppm CO2e is likely to be around 1% of (World) GDP by 2050 … (1% of World GDP)…… is significant, but is fully consistent with continued growth and development, in contrast with unabated climate change, which will eventually pose significant threats to growth.
(Stern Review, Executive Summary, page xiii).
Renewable energy consultant and Advisor for the Council for Renewable Energy in Nigeria
Ms Samec co-authored the renewable energy and development economics sections of the complaint.
For these filmmakers to dismiss renewable energy’s utility to developing nations based the simplified claim that it is too expensive for the world’s poor and to justify that claim with one improperly designed solar system makes a mockery out of the concept of a documentary. The costs of renewable energy and the price of energy for the world’s poor vary greatly. There is a growing overlap of situations in which renewable energy can provide cost-effective energy solutions for developing nations. I hope, in the future, people will take time to understand the complexities of these topics before issuing ill-informed generalizations.
It is unbalanced and damaging that the film’s position ignores growing evidence that poor populations will experience disproportionate negative impacts from climate change. We now have a first generation of practical policies, informed by decades of science, to assist developing nations with climate change adaptation and sustainable energy implementation. For example, the Clean Development Mechanism allows industrialized countries to assist in making clean energy affordable to developing nations as a way of meeting emission reduction targets. Climate change policies that are being debated right now have the potential to further accelerate the financing of clean energy in ways that benefit the world’s poor. It is in their interest that we learn about and support such policies rather than trivialize them.
Co-Deputy Leader of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research’s Energy Programme and Senior Lecturer in the Science and Technology Policy Research Unit at Sussex University
Dr Watson peer reviewed the development economics and renewable energy sections of the complaint
The assertion in The Great Global Warming Swindle that rich countries expect poor people in developing countries to only use inefficient, expensive energy sources is absurd. Furthermore, the claim that developed countries wish to ‘restrain industrial production’ in developing countries – or that they are likely to in the near future – is plain wrong. As many of those involved in negotiating international agreements to tackle climate change recognise, these agreements must include the legitimate wish of the world’s poorer countries to develop.
Principal Lecturer in Media Studies, University of Brighton, UK
Dr Julie Doyle co-authored the sections of the complaint relating to media coverage of climate change and peer reviewed the section of the complaint related to the representation of environmental groups.
In light of the Ofcom ruling regarding The Great Global Warming Swindle, I would encourage the public to read our complaint to see for themselves the wealth of evidence we have compiled to support our criticisms of the programme.
We disputed the claim made in The Great Global Warming Swindle that the media regard climate change as “an undisputed fact”. Whilst it is certainly true that there has been an increase in news media coverage of climate change in the UK in recent years, we argued that it has taken a very long time for this issue to be covered by the media. This has been in stark contrast to the scientific consensus on climate change since the mid 1990s. We pointed out that the journalistic norm of ‘for and against’ has actually led to a biased representation of climate change in the media, where climate sceptics have historically been given an equal weighting and voice with climate scientists. We also disputed the claim made in The Great Global Warming Swindle that media coverage of climate change has been “fantastically apocalyptic” and “hysterical”. We argued that the media are now exploring the many ways that climate change is currently being lived with, or adapted to, through diverse areas such as gardening and food, to economics and business. The further assertion in The Great Global Warming Swindle that its contributors have been ignored by the media or treated as “heretics” was a claim that we also challenged. We argued that all of the contributors have enjoyed privileged access to the prestige press in the UK and the US. This high level of coverage has been disproportional to their standing within the climate science community, resulting in the public being given a distorted view of their credibility and position within climate change science.
Senior Lecturer in Environment at The Open University and Co-Director of the Cambridge Media and Environment Programme
Dr Smith peer reviewed the sections of the complaint relating to the media’s coverage of climate change
Within the protective bubble of media commissioning it is easy to see why Swindle looked like a good idea: it was provocative, naughty and counterintuitive. It gave voice to outcast experts, defied groupthink and surprised the audience. But pop the bubble, step outside and talk to the numerous and broad climate change science and policy community and it is viewed as one of the most unhelpful pieces of programme making about a science topic that anyone can remember. Britain had established itself as a leader in the extent and quality of public debate about climate change but the Swindle programme dented that. It is a clear example of how the media’s desire to appear edgy and probing can leave everyone involved in a commission looking at best foolish and dated.
PhD researcher at the Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London and research fellow at Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo
Nathan Rive was a co-lead author of this complaint
Ofcom’s ruling is a vindication of the concerns that we, and many others, had with The Great Global Warming Swindle documentary. Global warming is a topic worthy of public debate, but C4 and TGGWS have done a public disservice by presenting misinformation and unfairly representing members of the climate change community. Climate change involves enough interesting topics and uncertainties to set up an engaging discussion – without the need to resort to distortion, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and mud-slinging. C4, as such, have missed a great prime-time opportunity to educate the public, as per the public service commitment mandated by their broadcasting license.
My hope is that this ruling will dissuade schools and other broadcasters from screening TGGWS in future. My hope is that it also encourages people to educate themselves, and engage themselves in the discussion about global warming. The IPCC summaries are a good starting point – and why not contact the climatology department at your local university?