Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04772-19 Ward v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. Bob Ward complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Telegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Theresa May is about to spend £1 trillion on a pointless policy. This climate madness has to end” published on 10 June 2019.
2. The article was an opinion piece in which the writer was critical of new environmental legislation which introduced a legally binding target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. He noted that renewable energy had only increased by 1.1 per cent since 1992, from meeting 13.1 per cent of the world’s energy needs in 1992 to 14.2 per cent today. He said that the transition from fossil fuels to low carbon alternatives would be “incredibly expensive” and that the cost of achieving this target would be “massive”. In support of this position, he noted that the government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) “somehow came up with an astonishingly small cost estimate of just £50 billion a year” to deliver the target, and that the UN’s climate scenario modelling predicted that this scenario would cost 5.3% of GDP – an annual cost of £187 billion for the UK by 2050.
3. Furthermore, the writer said that “studies show that in the real world where policies are not implemented efficiently, it is more likely the cost would double – meaning £374 billion annually.” The writer gave the example of New Zealand, which is also considering a net zero carbon target by 2050. He said that New Zealand was reliant on “creative accounting” to meet its carbon promises, and that a government commissioned report found that this policy would cost 16 per cent of GDP; applying these estimates to the UK would mean a cost of £560 billion per year if everything were done efficiently, and total costs “could add up to £12 trillion”. The writer concluded by saying that “According to the UN Climate Panel, the impact of global warming by the 2070s will be the equivalent to a 0.2-2% loss in average income”.
4. The complainant said that the article contained a number of inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1. He said that in fact, a study had found that reducing costs meant that renewable energy had become more competitive rather than “incredibly expensive”, and that figures showed that the total primary electricity supply from renewables had increased by more than 60% worldwide since 1992, and the global electricity generated from renewables had increased by 140%; it was inaccurate to state that renewable energy had only increased by 1.1% in this time. The complainant disputed that the CCC had calculated a cost of £50 billion a year to deliver the target or that there was any “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 complainant said that the article had failed to provide any basis for its claim that costs could double if the climate policy was not efficiently implemented. He also said that the article had misreported the New Zealand Government’s report; although it said that GDP growth would be smaller in 2050, it did not say that it would cost 16 per cent of GDP, and that it was inaccurate to state that the UK’s costs could add up to £12 trillion. Finally, the complainant disputed that the UN Climate Panel had found that the impact of global warming by the 2070s will be the equivalent to a 0.2-2% loss in average income, however, he did accept that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014 found that “…the incomplete estimates of global annual economic losses for additional temperature increases of ~ 2 degrees Celsius are between 0.2 and 2% of income…”.
6. The publication did not accept that the article contained any significant inaccuracies. It said that the article had a clear basis to report that the transition to zero carbon emissions would be extremely expensive; it cited several studies which showed costs of between 5.3-16 per cent of GDP. It also provided data which showed that the proportion of energy supplied by renewables had risen from 13.1% in 1992 to 14.2% in 2017. It said that the sum of £50 billion a year had been calculated using the CCC’s estimate that achieving the emissions target by would cost 1-2% of GDP; by applying the upper estimate of a cost 2% of GDP to the report’s estimates of GDP between now and 2050, the cost averaged out as being £50 billion per year. It noted that this figure had been widely reported as the CCC’s finding on the cost of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Nevertheless, the publication amended the article to add “by 2050” and offered to add the following clarification as a footnote to the article:
“CLARIFICATION: This article previously stated that the Committee on Climate Change estimated that the cost of meeting the 2050 net zero emissions target as being “just £50 billion a year”. We would like to clarify that £50 billion per year would be an approximate annual average at the top end of the CC’s forecast”.
7. 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. It said that the cost of 5.3 per cent of global GDP had been taken from the average impact as predicted by one of the SSPs, in a scenario where emissions had been reduced to zero by 2050.
8. The publication said there was a basis to suggest that costs could double if the emissions reductions programs were not implemented efficiently; it provided two studies, the first of which projected with a computer model in 2009 that that EU climate policies to reach its targets in 2020 could be more than twice as expensive as calculated by the European Commission if they are implemented efficiently, and the second of which projected with a model that the implementation Renewable Portfolia Standards in the United States may cost as least twice what the most effective policy would cost. The publication also did not accept that it had misinterpreted the New Zealand government’s report; it quoted the report as saying that the costs of going net-zero by 2050 would be between 9.9% and 21.2% of GDP by that date, the average of which is 16%. It said that the complainant appeared to be referring to a different source in making his complaint. The publication said that the figure of £12 trillion was calculated by summing up the costs from 2020 to 2050 as suggested by the New Zealand government’s report, and assuming that just under half of the emission reductions policies would be inefficiently implemented. The publication did not accept that the article had misrepresented the UN’s report on the economic impact of climate change, and noted that the complainant did not explain how this had been misrepresented.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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
10. It was not in dispute that achieving zero carbon emission by 2050 would cost billions of pounds; it was not misleading to describe this as being “extremely expensive”. Furthermore, the article referred to the increase in renewable energy as a proportion of meeting the world’s energy needs and accurately reported that this was 1.1 percentage points; the data provided by the complainant did not contradict these figures. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
11. The publication had stated that the CCC “somehow come up with” an annual cost of £50 billion a year to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Committee was satisfied that the publication was able to demonstrate that this figure was supported by calculations using the predictions given in the CC report; it also noted that this sum appeared to be widely reported elsewhere. There was no failure to take care in reporting the CCC’s findings as to the general level of costs between now and 2050, and thus no need for correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii). Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to clarify this point to explain the basis for this sum.
12. The article had accurately reported the prediction as to the possible loss to GDP should emissions be reduced to zero by 2050. 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”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
13. The publication was able to provide two sources which showed that the cost of environmental polices had the potential to double due to inefficiencies; there was a basis to say that “studies show” that the cost “could” double in this way. The New Zealand government’s report set out that the cost to GDP could be between 9.9 and 21.2 per cent of GDP in 2050; the Committee considered that using the medium percentage as a shorthand did not give a significantly misleading impression of the report’s overall findings as to require correction. In relation to the sum of £12 trillion pounds for the UK, the Committee noted that the article said that costs “could” add up to that sum, and it was evident that the nature of future predictions meant that a definite sum would be impossible to predict with certainty. The publication was able to give a basis for the writer’s prediction; it was based on the costs for New Zealand suggested in the New Zealand government’s report and the article’s earlier reference to additional costs associated with efficiencies. There was no significantly misleading impression as to the certainty or source of the sum, and no breach of Clause 1.
14. Finally, the complainant said that the article had misrepresented a UN report on the economic impact of climate change. However, where the complainant did accept that the UN’s IPCC Climate Panel in 2014 found that “…the incomplete estimates of global annual economic losses for additional temperature increases of ~ 2 degrees Celsius are between 0.2 and 2 % of income…”, the Committee had no basis to find a breach of Clause 1.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 15/06/19
Date complaint concluded: 22/10/19
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