Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04771-19 Ward v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. Bob Ward complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Climate Costs” published on 13 June 2019.
2. The article was a leader column which was critical of new environmental legislation which introduced legally binding climate change targets, including the requirement to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. It reported that globally, renewable energy had increased “only marginally” since 1992 and that the UK was “unlikely” to meet the current target of 80 per cent cuts by 2030. It reported that supporters of the policy claimed that the amount that would be needed to be spent on the policy over the next 30 years would be small when spread over this time period. However, it also claimed that “UN modelling suggests meeting the net zero carbon target by 2050 would cost 5.3% of GDP – an annual cost of £187 billion for the UK assuming the policy’s efficient implementation”.
3. The article also appeared online on the same day in the same form with the headline “Theresa May’s net-zero target is the wrong approach to climate change”.
4. The complainant said that the article contained a number of inaccuracies. He said that it was inaccurate to state that renewable energy had increased “only marginally” as in fact, figures from the Internal Energy Agency showed that the total primary energy supply from renewables had increased by more than 60% worldwide since 1992, and the global electricity generated from renewables had increased by 140%. He also said that it was inaccurate to state that the UK’s current target was an 80% cut to emission by 2030; in fact the Climate Change Act of 2008 included a target of cutting annual emissions by at least 80% by 2050 compared with 1990, and it was not “unlikely” that the UK would meet this target, as it had already reduced emissions by 44% and has met the first two Carbon Budgets required by the Act. Finally, the complainant said that there was no "UN modelling" which estimated that reaching net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 would cost the world 5.3 per cent of global GDP, or would cost the UK £187 billion.
5. The publication did not accept that the article contained any significant inaccuracies. It provided data from the World Bank which showed that as a percentage of total final energy consumption – the total energy used by end users such as households, industry and agriculture – renewable energy had only grown by less than a percentage point, from 17.6% to just over 18%. It accepted that the current climate change target was an 80% reduction in emission by 2050, and not 2030 – it said that this was simply a typographical error, and any inaccuracy was not significant to the overall article as the figure was only used to contrast the current emissions target with the new, significantly more ambitious target. Nevertheless, it said that it had corrected the online article on receipt of the complaint as a gesture of goodwill. It said that whether the UK was likely to achieve its current target was a subjective assessment, and the article was entitled to be sceptical; doing so did not make the article inaccurate. The publication said that it was not inaccurate to refer to “UN modelling”; the data had been taken from Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSP), a climate-economic modelling system developed by the UN’s Climate Panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It said that the cost of 5.3 per cent of global GDP had been taken from the average impact as predicted by the SSP, in a scenario where emissions had been reduced to zero by 2050.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
7. The Editors’ Code makes clear that newspapers can publish contentious or controversial opinions or arguments, as long as these are clearly distinguished as such, in line with Clause 1(iv), and not presented as points of fact. Where there are factual claims, care must be taken not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.
8. The article reported that renewable energy had increased “only marginally” since 1992; it was not in dispute that as a percentage of total final energy consumption, renewable energy had only grown by less than a percentage point since 1992. Although the complainant argued that the percentage of energy supply from renewable sources globally had increased by 60%, this did not contradict the fact that the proportion of overall global energy supplied by renewable sources had increased by a very small percentage in this time. Therefore, care had been taken in reporting that renewable energy had increased “only marginally” in this time, and this was not inaccurate. Although the government’s new targets related to emissions reductions by 2050, rather than 2030, the Committee did not consider that this typographical error constituted a significant inaccuracy as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii); the overall point was still clear despite the inaccuracy, in that the new targets would be more stringent than the current requirements. Furthermore, the article made clear that the policy would be implemented over the “next 30 years” and that the UN predictions applied to the “net carbon target by 2050”. The Committee considered where the error occurred once in the article, the rest of the article clarified any ambiguity which may have arisen. Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to amend the online article on this point.
9. The article was entitled to be sceptical of the likelihood of the UK achieving its current emission’s targets; the article did not reference any formal predictions or data and where the article was a leader column this was clearly the publication’s viewpoint and not presented as point of fact. There was no failure to take care over the presentation of these claims. Finally, the article had accurately reported the prediction as to the possible loss to GDP should emissions be reduced to zero. This prediction was based on one of the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs), which – whilst developed by the broader scientific community - have been adopted extensively by the IPCC and used in its research and predictions on climate change. In light of the IPCC’s use of SSPs, it was not significantly misleading to describe this as a “UN modelling”. For all of these reasons, there was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 17/06/20
Date complaint concluded: 22/10/20
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.Back to ruling listing