Friday 21st October 2016                 Change text size:

‘Catastrophic climate breakdown’: what the papers say about the IPCC report


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report says unequivocally that human activity is causing global warming. Here’s how its contents have been reported by the media since its release on Friday.

Of all the major national daily newspapers in the UK, only the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Independent, the i and the Scotsman included news of the IPCC Working Group 1’s report on global warming on their front page.

The study – put together by 259 climate scientists from 39 countries, who delivered over 54,000 comments among them – is arguably the most comprehensive report ever on the subject.

Guardian columnist George Monbiot described the report as “familiar and shattering” (Climate change? Try catastrophic climate breakdown), adding, “What the report describes, in its dry, meticulous language, is the collapse of the benign climate in which humans evolved and have prospered, and the loss of the conditions upon which many other lifeforms depend.

Climate change and global warming are inadequate terms for what it reveals. The story it tells is of climate breakdown.”

Since the release of the report on Friday, the Guardian has published, at last count, 23 articles on the subject, including interactive “How hot will it get in my lifetime?” charts and an “in numbers” rundown of the harrowing document.

The Independent, following in the Guardian’s footsteps, was also prolific in its reporting. Perhaps the most interesting article it published was one quoting Rajenda Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, saying how financial markets were “humanity’s only hope in the battle against global warming” (IPCC report: The financial markets are the only hope in the race to stop global warming). Pachauri warned that a price must be put on carbon emissions, in order to force energy firms to dramatically cut down their use of polluting fossil fuels.

Reporting from Stockholm where the IPCC report was launched, Financial Times environment correspondent Pilita Clark wrote how the world has “about 30 years” left before temperatures rise to dangerous levels (Rate at which world is burning fossil fuels is unsustainable, says IPCC).

Meanwhile, columnist Nick Butler envisaged only two solutions: adaption or investing heavily in science (Climate change: time for reality). He concluded, “The reality of climate change as spelt out by the IPCC report and the reality of the political failure of a global deal are both uncomfortable. But effective policies can only start from a cold acceptance of the world as it is.”

Most interesting about the coverage of the IPCC report was that even many of the right-wing titles – which often publish stories with climate change denying narratives – reported the facts relatively accurately.

Despite writing how scientists had apparently overestimated the threat posed by global warming (It’s not as bad as we thought – but global warming is still a disaster, warn UN experts), the Daily Mail admitted that the impacts will be severe and described the scientific consensus as “unequivocal”. That said, the Mail did quote the climate denying thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) in its report.

Geoffrey Lean of the Telegraph described the work that had gone into the IPCC study as “mindbogglingly thorough” (IPCC: Global warming is getting deeper). He concluded, “Despite the IPCC’s work, however, there is so far little sign that governments will do enough to avert dangerous climate change. Looking back at its report, it seems, future generations are more likely to scream than to dance.”

Like the Mail, the Times latched on the “it’s not as bad as we thought” angle in a leader published on Saturday (Climate Realism). It added that the IPCC’s conclusions are “offered with greater certainty than ever before and with this caveat: the world might warm up more slowly than was once feared.”

The front page article in the Times on Saturday, however, outlined how George Osborne had “[told the] environmental lobby […] that Britain should not be ‘in front of the rest of the world’ in tackling climate change” (Osborne threatens to put brake on green taxes).

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