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Petition for better climate change reporting on the BBC

We are facing a Climate Emergency. Global temperatures are rising and Arctic ice melt is outpacing the IPCC's worst predictions. We might hope that the BBC would lead the way in providing clearsighted coverage of the situation, but unfortunately this is not always the case. 

For example, on 13 July, in an interview on the Today programme, John Humphrys asked "You can't absolutely prove, can you, that CO2 in the atmosphere is responsible for global warming?"

On 17 September, a new Director General, George Entwistle, will take office at the BBC. We will be writing to him to ask for the BBC to take its responsibilities seriously when it comes to reporting climate change.

 

Please add your name to the letter and show him that this is something many licence fee payers care about.

 

Dear Mr Entwistle

Congratulations on your new role as Director General of the BBC. Clearly, many challenges await you. However, as concerned licence fee payers, we ask you to consider the BBC’s coverage of climate change as a significant part of its public service remit.

On the basis of current policies and energy infrastructure development, the predicted consequences for the global climate in the coming century are nothing short of catastrophic. Improving the public's understanding of climate change therefore, sits squarely within
the BBC’s responsibilities to promote education and learning, and to sustain citizenship and civil society.

In an Impartiality Report submitted to the Trust in 2008 the Executive noted “Given the weight of opinion building up around the IPCC it makes sense for us to focus our coverage on the consensus that climate change is happening, is serious, but is manageable if tackled urgently…”

The scientific evidence for climate change has only got stronger in recent years, yet in 2012, we have John Humphrys posing the question “You can't absolutely prove, can you, that CO2 in the atmosphere is responsible for global warming?"

The 2011 BBC Trust review of the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science identified the problem of false balance. On scientific topics perceived as 'controversial', the attempt to remain impartial can lead to an approach which gives equal weight to assertion and the accumulated weight of peer reviewed science. Global warming was singled out as an example of where a debate format sets up “the seesaw (“on the one hand, on the other”) that has plagued this topic. The real discussion has moved on to what should be done to mitigate climate change. Its coverage has been impeded by the constant emphasis on an exhausted subject whose main attraction is that it can be presented as a confrontation.”

It is apparent from coverage in recent months that the lessons from this report have not been universally learnt. When it comes to policy responses to climate change, lively debate is appropriate. There are also genuine scientific debates, for example the extent to which positive feedbacks will accelerate warming. However, the BBC should avoid giving the impression that the fundamental science of climate change is still widely doubted: every national academy of science in the world is agreed that humans are warming the planet by emitting CO2.

It would greatly aid public understanding if news presenters could be better briefed on basic scientific concepts, including risk and uncertainty, in the same way as they are for politics or economics. Also, while pundits and campaigners may be entertaining, it is unfortunate when they are given the role of debating climate science to the exclusion of climate scientists themselves.

The BBC executive promised to review science coverage a year on from the BBC Trust report. We hope that you can reassure us that you will be addressing these issues as a matter of urgency.