Ruling

04034-18 Ward v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      16th January 2019

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 04034-18 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 of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The great paradox of going green is that it is a boom, not broke, phenomenon”, published on 2 June 2018”.

2. The article was a comment piece in which the columnist discussed the global efforts being made by world leaders to address the issue of climate change, and argued that “a new approach to saving the planet is needed”. It discussed various “green” initiatives that have been implemented by various countries, and commented on their respective success and effectiveness.

3. The article reported that out of the major countries in the world, the US had most successfully reduced its carbon dioxide emissions. It reported that due to the shale revolution, US emissions had reached a “25-year low” in 2017, and that energy prices in the US were falling as a result. In contrast, the article reported that “Germany and Japan are increasing their carbon footprint because they have run away from nuclear [power]”. 

4. The article criticised environmental policies in Britain and stated that energy bill levies to subsidise forms of renewable energy “will leave energy consumers screwed”. It referenced a statement that had been made by Britain’s Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, that she wanted the UK to “Power past coal”, and the columnist commented that “we shall probably have to run after the stuff to keep the lights on”.

5. The article also reported that the 2015 Paris climate agreement was failing because “poorer countries won’t decarbonise unless richer ones pay them stupendous sums”, and that “Mr Trump noticed this and felt free to walk away”.

6. The article was published online under the headline “Donald Trump has the courage and wit to look at ‘green’ hysteria and say: no deal”. The online version appeared in much the same format as the print version.

7. The complainant said that the US had not been the most successful country in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions. He provided a copy of a report from the United States Energy Information Administration (US EIA) which outlined that annual energy related emissions of carbon dioxide from the US reduced by 863 million tonnes between 2007 and 2017, a fall of 14.4 per cent. In comparison, the UK’s annual emissions of carbon dioxide from all sources fell by 173.9 million tonnes between the same period - a fall of 32.2 per cent.

8. The complainant said that the fall in carbon dioxide emissions in the US could not be entirely attributed to the shale revolution. In support of his position, the complainant relied on information provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency which he said demonstrated that the replacement of coal with both shale gas and renewables as a source of electricity was the primary cause of the decline in energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide in the US. He said that the article's omission of information relating to the effect of renewable energy rendered the article significantly misleading; however he did accept that shale gas was a “major contributor” to the decrease in carbon dioxide emissions in the US.

9. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate to report that energy prices in the US were falling: the article did not specify which form of energy it was referring to or over which period. He said that the average annual price of electricity in the residential sector had increased by 32.8 per cent between 2005 and 2016, according to the US EIA.

10. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that "Germany and Japan are increasing their carbon footprint because they have run away from nuclear", because their carbon dioxide emissions had been decreasing over the past few years. He provided a copy of a report published by the German government, which he said demonstrated that greenhouse gas emissions had declined from 909 million tonnes in 2016 to 905 million tonnes in 2017. He said that the report also demonstrated that annual emissions from the energy industry had decreased from 332 million tonnes in 2016 to 318 million tonnes in 2017. The complainant also provided a copy of a report published by the Japanese government, which he said demonstrated that annual emissions of greenhouse gases and energy-related emissions had increased between 2009 and 2013, but had decreased every year between 2013 and 2016; in 2016 the level of annual emissions was 4.6 per cent lower than in 2005.

11. The complainant disputed the article's assertion that energy bill levies in Britain “would leave energy consumers screwed”. He said that the Climate Change Levy is an energy tax that only applies to large industries and not to household consumers, and in any event, a recent analysis by the Committee on Climate Change found that household energy bills in Britain were lower in 2016 than in 2008.

12. The complainant also said that the article gave an inaccurate impression of Britain’s reliance on coal, particularly in its suggestion that Britain would have to “run after [coal] to keep the lights on”. He said that the UK had demonstrated that it was close to being able to generate electricity without coal. The latest statistics published by the UK government had indicated that coal's share of electricity supply had decreased from 38.3 per cent in 2012, to 6.5 per cent in 2017. The complainant noted that the government had set a target of reaching 0 per cent by 2025 and that there had already been periods in 2018 when no coal was used for electricity generation in the UK.

13. The complainant said that the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement was not “failing”. He said that while the US President had initiated the withdrawal of the US from the agreement, 174 other countries (including most of the world’s developing countries) had already ratified the agreement. He said that 171 countries had submitted national plans for addressing climate change and that very few developing countries had made their proposals conditional upon financial support from richer countries. The complainant also added that 9 American states, and 260 cities and counties, had already pledged that they were “still in" and would implement the agreement despite the President’s decision.

14. The newspaper did not accept that the article had breached the Code. It said that it was a comment piece published in the opinion section of the newspaper; readers would have been aware that the columnist was not a scientist or statistician, but a “well-known opinion-former with a very broad brief across many subject-areas”.

15. The newspaper said that it was accurate to report that the US had been most successful in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions, and noted that the columnist did not specify the metric against which success was to be evaluated. It provided a copy of a report published by BP, which outlined that between 2007 and 2017, carbon emissions in the US were reduced by 794 million tonnes – the largest reduction for any country. In response to this point, the complainant said that success could only accurately be judged in terms of a percentage, as opposed to volume, as suggested by the newspaper. He highlighted figures from the same BP report which stated that France and Italy had also decreased their carbon dioxide emissions between 2007 and 2017, by a larger percentage than the US.

16. The newspaper said that the article did not attribute the US’ success in decreasing its carbon dioxide emissions solely to the shale revolution; however, it was well known that this was a major contributory factor. It provided a copy of the report from the US EIA (as referred to by the complainant) which outlined that in 2017, 17.1 per cent of total US power generation came from renewables, compared to 31.7 per cent from natural gas. The newspaper also provided a copy of a report from Carbon Brief, which estimated that carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 18 per cent in the US between 2005 and 2018, and that 33 per cent of that reduction was attributable to coal-to-gas switching, as opposed to 22 per cent which was attributable to renewables. It noted that other academics have estimated higher figures of between 400 – 500 million tonnes.

17. The newspaper said that it was accurate to report that “energy prices are falling” – the article did not make reference to retail electricity prices in the US, as the complainant had suggested, nor did it refer to a specific period. The newspaper said that the argument being made in the article was that cheap shale had led to a reduction in energy prices generally, by replacing traditional oil. It said that concurrently, Brent crude oil prices decreased from $96.99 per barrel in 2008 to $54.24 in 2017, and that this caused large reductions in the prices of electricity in the industrial and transportation sectors - this did not occur in the residential or commercial retail sectors. The complainant did not agree with the newspaper’s position and provided information published by the US EIA which he said demonstrated that the average retail electricity price in both the industrial and transportation sectors had increased from 9.95 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2016, to 10.38 cents in 2018.

18. In further support of its position that US energy prices are falling, the newspaper provided copies of two graphs produced by the US EIA, which it said demonstrated that the price of regular gasoline had decreased from $3 per gallon in 2008 to $2.50 in 2017, and that real gasoline prices in the US are now lower than they were in 1980. The complainant then provided figures also published by the US EIA which he said demonstrated that the average price of a gallon of gasoline was $2.51 in 2015, $2.20 in 2016, $2.47 in 2017 and $2.97 in 2018; he said that gasoline prices are increasing, and are at their highest since 2014. The complainant highlighted that petroleum only supplies 37% of energy in the US. The newspaper further supported the claim that energy prices are falling by highlighting that the estimated levelised cost of electricity generation for different sources between 2010 and 2018 has decreased in the US.

19. The newspaper said that it was accurate to report that "Germany and Japan are increasing their carbon footprint because they have run away from nuclear [power]"; the columnist was referring to future projections and the fact that using fossil fuels instead of nuclear power would inevitably increase carbon emissions. It provided copies of two German news articles in support of its position. These articles reported that Germany had a self-imposed emissions reduction target of 40 per cent by 2020, but that since it had stopped consuming nuclear power, its actual emissions reduction was only projected to reach 32 per cent; and that Germany’s total carbon emissions were 909.4 million tonnes in 2016, an increase of 2.6million tonnes from 2015 – the second consecutive rise. The newspaper also provided a copy of a report produced by Climate Action Tracker, which reported that in Japan at least 8 new coal power plants had been built in the past 2 years, and that 36 more are planned for the next decade; that estimates have suggested that Japan’s coal plans will lead to an additional 100 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year; and that Japan’s Minister of the Environment had said that “it will be difficult for us to meet our emissions reduction goals”.

20.  The newspaper also said that it was accurate to report that the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement was “failing”. It said that the achievements of the agreement remain limited by its lack of practical enforceability regime, and that the fact that 174 countries have ratified the agreement does not render it successful. The newspaper added that the withdrawal of the US, as the world’s second largest contributor to carbon emissions, would inevitably render it even less effective.

21. The newspaper said that it was accurate to report that British citizens will be “screwed” by the climate change levy, as it remains excessive and unaffordable for ordinary people. It said that the “energy bill levies” which the columnist referred to were the totality of additional costs borne by consumers as a result of the government’s climate change policies. These included the costs of Renewable Obligation Certificates, feed-in-Tariffs, Contracts for Difference, the intermittency costs associated with increased reliance on renewables and the Climate Change levy itself. The newspaper said that some of the costs are levied directly on domestic consumers, but the majority are born by businesses, which may in turn pass the costs on to domestic consumers – an indirect levy.

22. The newspaper also said that the article did not give a misleading impression about Britain’s reliance on coal. Firstly, it said that it was clearly the columnist’s speculation that the “UK will continue to rely on coal”. However, the newspaper said that the intermittency of renewables means that fossil fuels may remain an integral part of maintaining a consistent energy supply for the foreseeable future. It said that while the government plans on “phasing out” the use of coal after 2025, if gas capacity remains inadequate, the government retains the option of suspending the “phase out”. It said that in any event, coal can continue to be burned after the “phase out” if co-fired with biomass.

23. Despite denying that it had breached the Code, the newspaper offered to publish a clarification on the points concerning falling energy prices and Germany and Japan increasing their carbon footprint. This would be published in print on page 2 in its 'Corrections and Clarifications' column and as a footnote for the online article. The newspaper offered the following wording:

A 2 June comment article's statement that "Germany and Japan are increasing their carbon footprint because they have run away from nuclear" was intended to convey that these countries' CO2 emissions are higher than would have been the case had they persisted with nuclear power; in fact, their overall CO2 emissions have been decreasing. Further, the article's claim that energy prices are falling in the USA as a result of the shale revolution did not mean that prices were falling across all sectors. Residential electricity and petrol prices are currently rising in the US, although the global crude oil price fell between 2008 and 2017 and US petrol is cheaper now than in 1980.

Relevant Code Provisions 

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.

Findings of the Committee

24. Clause 1 does not prevent newspapers from publishing comment pieces on topics considered to be controversial or divisive. Newspapers are entitled to do so, provided they do not present this information in an inaccurate or misleading way. However, comment pieces are not exempt from the requirement to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information.

25.  The article stated that Germany and Japan are increasing their carbon footprint; the material provided by the complainant indicated that both nations' carbon footprints are decreasing. This was presented as a categorical statement of fact and the newspaper's basis for this claim, that their emissions are higher than they would have been had they persisted with nuclear and that they would not hit emissions reduction targets in the future; was not communicated sufficiently as to not make the claim misleading. The article claimed that Germany and Japan's carbon footprint is increasing; this was not the same as claiming that emissions were not decreasing as fast. Readers of the article would understand that Germany and Japan were increasing their carbon emissions, when this was not the case; this constituted a breach of Clause 1(i). This represented a significant inaccuracy, and a correction was necessary to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

26. The claim that energy prices are falling as a result of the shale revolution was broad; the article did not specify which sectors and which period of time this referred to. The newspaper's basis for the claim, that international crude oil prices and US gasoline prices are lower now than in 2008 and 1980 respectively, was problematic: the figures for the two years represented the highest prices in the last 38 years and referencing that prices were lower than these peaks did not demonstrate that energy prices were falling as a result of the shale revolution; the crude oil figures were international figures and not specific to the US. The complainant provided material which indicated that energy prices are rising across several sectors and that prices of both gasoline and crude oil have increased since 2016. The newspaper had not demonstrated how shale gas had affected the levelised cost of producing electricity by other sources; the Committee noted that the article referred to energy prices, not costs. The Committee considered that it was not misleading to refer to gasoline and crude oil prices when referring to energy prices. However, the newspaper had not sufficiently demonstrated the relationship between shale gas and the decrease in the energy prices cited, and did not establish which time period the shale revolution referred to. The newspaper could have made it clear that it was referring to market or wholesale figures, as domestic energy prices were referenced elsewhere in the article. The Committee considered that the information provided by the newspaper had not sufficiently supported the columnist's claim; this represented a failure to take care not to publish misleading information in breach of Clause 1(i) and a correction was required to avoid a breach of 1(ii).

27. The correction offered by the newspaper identified the inaccuracies, set out the correct position and was offered with due prominence: it would be published on the corrections and clarifications page. The Committee noted the amount of time that had passed before the offer was made but considered that this was a complex issue and the specific inaccuracies may not have become apparent until later in the process than would normally be the case. In these circumstances, the Committee were satisfied that the correction was offered with sufficient promptness.

28. Both parties were relying on different measures to define successful CO2 reduction. The Committee acknowledged the complainant's position that Britain had seen a greater reduction as a percentage but this figure was from all sources and not just energy, which made up the US figure. In terms of volume, the US had seen the greatest reduction in emissions; this was not an inaccurate basis for the author to claim that, in his opinion, the US had most successfully reduced their carbon footprint. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

29. The Committee noted that the article did not claim that a decrease in CO2 emissions was solely due to shale gas, and the complainant did not dispute that shale gas was a major contributor to a decrease in CO2  emissions. The difference between a major contributor and the claim that reductions had "everything to do with the shale revolution" was not significant. Omitting reference to the impact of renewable energy sources on CO2 emissions did not render the article significantly misleading; there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

30. The columnist's basis for claiming that the Paris agreement was failing was made clear in the article and the information provided by the newspaper sufficiently supported its position. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant held a different view, but noted that international agreements and their level of success are a contested area of debate. In the context of a comment piece this was not misleading and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

31. The Committee noted the complainant's position that household energy prices are lower now than in 2008. However, the columnist was entitled to speculate on the additional costs associated with climate change policies that are passed on to consumers, as outlined by the newspaper. Decreasing energy bills did not make it misleading to claim that these costs were detrimental to consumers; this was clearly presented as conjecture in the article; there was no breach of Clause 1. The Committee also considered that it was clearly the columnist's speculation that the UK would continue to rely on coal; the basis for this claim was supported by the newspaper's position that the intermittency of renewables would necessitate this reliance. This claim was clearly presented as the opinion of the author and was not significantly misleading in the context of a comment piece. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.  

Conclusions

32. The complaint was upheld

Remedial Action required

33. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action would be required.

34. The correction was offered with sufficient promptness and prominence to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii) and should now be published.

Date complaint received: 18/06/2018

Date complaint concluded: 14/12/2018