How the media, politicians (and lobbies) communicated on the IPCC report

The IPCC report was released on August 9 and FINALLY, the media and politicians were up to the challenge! They have taken the measure of the gravity of the situation! The media has been talking about it for a week, the politicians have taken strong measures and have stopped false discourses ! This ecological awakening is unprecedented… what a moment !

… And then that’s when I woke up.

The media coverage of the IPCC release was both too short, not accurate enough, and mostly disappeared after 24H. Rare, very (too) rare are the media that have lived up to the event. And what about the reaction of politicians! Absolutely pathetic. Not a single government has responded adequately, all of them confining themselves to lip service, when they were not climate deniers.

A festival of misinformation also took place. The climate deniers and the climatorassurists had a field day. Let’s look back on this media week together, analyzing the recurring elements of language that we are likely to hear for a long time to come.

NB: before reading the rest, it is essential to know how the IPCC works, and what was the content of the group 1 report released on August 9, 2021.

24h, and back to normal

I have been looking forward to the release of this new IPCC Group 1 report for two main reasons. First of all, it is a great work (synthesis of 14000 scientific articles!) and it will be used as a reference in the years to come (on my side, especially for the articles with the CNRS on the preconceived ideas on the climate). Second, I was anxious to see the media coverage of the report.

Tough timing, some say. The same day as the implementation of the sanitary pass, and the terrible murder of a priest. Instant news, which of course takes priority, as is all too often the case. “Imagine” for a moment that Lionel Messi is about to arrive in Paris, and you have the cocktail to put climate change on the back burner. Forget it. Unfortunately, he does not and will not forget anyone.

Before going into detail about the numbers, let’s quickly clear up one idea from the conspiracy sphere: timing. As if by chance, the IPCC report was released on August 9. As if by chance, right on the day of the health pass, the arrival of Lionel Messi, and the assassination of a priest. Reminder: these dates are set by the IPCC office and the WMO. The original date was scheduled for April and was pushed back a few months, due to Covid. Moreover, the sooner we have this report in our hands, the better, both for the climate negotiations before the COP26 in November, and for us as citizens, to get informed, and to act.

Numbers and letters

What is written in this report is of unparalleled scientific, political, geopolitical and economic importance. Each validated sentence in the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) can potentially have a multi-billion impact for multiple countries. Indeed, This text is an objective, comprehensive, understandable and usable support to guide them, together with civil society, in their choice of measures to be taken to limit global warming and develop adaptation strategies.

However, the climate has had less airtime than the transfer of Messi to PSG. Thanks to two journalists from Arrêt sur Images, who reviewed 36 hours of BFM and CNEWS (thank you, and get well soon?), we learn that on BFMTV, the first news channel in Francethe IPCC report and the ongoing climate scare get less than an hour of airtime. Same thing on CNEWS, less than an hour.

NB: let us note all the same that Le Monde, Libération and La Croix have highlighted the subject. This is not really the case for other newspapers, such as Le Figaro, which preferred to put forward a climate sceptic (we will come back to this).

To illustrate this lack of interest, I went to Google Trends. When we say that the interest will have lasted 24 hours, it is indeed 24 hours:

Interest for the keyword IPCC on Google Trends in the week following the release of the report

We see the same thing in comparison with the keywords “Messi” and “health pass” :

It’s the same thing in the US, where apparently the TV media’s declining interest in the IPCC has accomplished the feat of doing what our GHG emissions should do…

Being in the middle of a climate emergency and seeing such a media treatment is quite discouraging. We prefer to interview Jean-Michel waiting for Messi at the airport than scientists from Météo-France on the release of the IPCC report. Priority to live, I guess. The problem is that there is always a more important subject than the climate, until the day when the disasters will follow one another and the same media will play the surprised.

We would like to remind all these media that record fires and floods continue all over the world and that unfortunately, it is not only for 24H. Learning about these complicated and complex subjects is not and will not be done in 24 hours.

The ? Fossil fuels ? Never heard of

With this new report, we had confirmation of two things: “It is indisputable that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land” and100% of global warming is due to human activities”. This has been rather well reported in the press. But why not take another 10 seconds to point out that fossil fuels are the cause?

Of course, fossil fuels are not mentioned once in the summary for decision-makers (in a future article, we will come back to the backstage of the negotiations). But you don’t need a degree in climatology to know perfectly well what causes this warming: coal, oil and gas. Although some delegates (i.e. countries) fought for this summary not to mention fossil fuels, this is no reason not to mention them, either on TV or in the written press. Too few people will read the Technical Summary, or the entire report which is several thousand pages long, to find references. There is no need to wait for the work of groups 2 and 3 to talk about it.

Fortunately, some people have taken up the cause, like Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations: “The report of the UN climate experts (IPCC) should “sound the death knell” for fossil fuels that “destroy the planet. He added, “Countries should also halt all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and redirect fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy. Translation: any company, bank or insurance company that finances new projects is irresponsible, even criminal.

Humans are responsible, but not all at the same level

Now that we know that humans are responsible, we should clarify one thing: yes, all 7.9 billion people on Earth emit emissions, but certainly not at the same level of responsibility. Between a Bill Gates with several thousand tons, and the average Malagasy (who I remind you, suffer from famine because of climate change), there is a world.

Don’t forget to empty your email box, thanks

If we exceed the limit of a global warming of +1.5°C, it is indeed because of a certain population living well above the planetary limits, including the French!

The redirection of responsibility is theone of the discourse of climate inaction: we drown the fish, everyone is responsible, so no one is responsible. This redirection is a classic of the oil lobbies, such as Total, which asks in its latest advertising campaign ‘to delete your emails to do your part‘. Yes, small acts are important, and no, they will not be enough in the face of the billions generated by the oil and gas companies that are warming the planet. NB: If you think they are doing it because there is a demand, read this text.

NO, we didn’t “know everything for 50 years”.

Before moving on to the reactions of politicians, let us return to a crucial point of communication. One can often read (not only in the last week) that “we knew for 50 years“. Some have even claimed that we have known for 109 years:

Well, guess what: it’s much more complicated than that. We knew there was a problem. But did we know how much? And for whom?

We have seen in our article on climate models that there has been enormous progress in the last 30 years and that this has improved many elements, including the relevance of the results. The models are more ‘credible’ today than they were before. Also, it is one thing to convince climate scientists of a problem, but it is something else entirely to convince public opinion. See today how difficult it is to make some people admit that the IPCC is not a warming lobby. Imagine in 1970, without the thousands of published scientific papers and the uncertainties of the time, if it was easy to convince anyone, especially when on the other side of the fence you already had people who had a vested interest in seeing nothing change?

As Sylvestre Huet points out in an excellent paper, before 1987, it was a completely different matter:

However, among the spectacular “omissions” of the book is the series of articles published in Nature on October 1, 1987 by the French teams of Claude Lorius and Jean Jouzel. There is no patriotic fight in this remark (although Nathaniel Rich’s inability to get out of the U.S. box for both science and geopolitics is quite annoying). The subject is pure science: before this research conducted with Antarctic ice cores drilled at the Soviet Vostok station, climate scientists had no “ground truth” of the relationship between greenhouse gas content and global temperatures over the last few hundred thousand years.

Without the reality of the field, you can imagine that climate skeptics had a field day mocking the results of scientists (which they have continued to do, following the example of Claude Allègre). Here is also an extract from the first IPCC report, which illustrates the uncertainties:

From the 1990 IPCC report: ” Our conclusion is that the Earth’s average surface air temperature has increased by 0.3 to 0.6°C over the past 100 years…; The magnitude of this warming is broadly consistent with predictions based on climate models, but is also of the same order of magnitude as the natural variability of climate. If the sole cause of the observed warming were the anthropogenic greenhouse effect, then the sensitivity of the climate would be close to the lowest estimates inferred from the models. Thus, much of the observed increase could be due to this natural variability; on the other hand, this variability and other anthropogenic factors could have offset an even larger warming due to an anthropogenic greenhouse effect. It will probably be at least a decade before observations allow us to establish with certainty that a greenhouse enhancement has occurred.” Translated with (free version)

This infographic from the FAQ of the latest IPCC report (WG1) also highlights the progression of climate science over time:

Climate delayers on the lookout

Why is it essential to pay attention to communication, especially when announcing phrases like “we knew everything for 50 years”, or “there are 10 years left before X or Y”?

Notably for two reasons. The first is that it sometimes leads to a doomist behavior, thinking that “it’s too late” to act. The second is because climate deniers and climatorassurists are waiting for this: an error (of communication) to point out the possible exaggerations and to say that finally, one makes too much, that it is not so serious.

An exemple ? Bjorn Lomborg, an ‘economist’ who spends his time saying that global warming is no big deal and that environmentalists are too alarmist:

Of course, his buddy Michael Shellenberger, the intellectual who thinks you just have to turn on the air conditioning if the temperature rises (it would be funny if he didn’t have 150k followers), is never far away. We have the same people in France, like Laurent Alexandre who spreads his climatoscepticism every week, and who continues to be invited on TV shows. I’ve seen hundreds of comments like the one below in the past week, and it’s been the same thing for months/years. Conclusion: let’s be as impeccable as possible in our communication.

The French government, words and (non) actions

On the day of the release of the IPCC report, the communication of the members of the French government was absolutely terrible. While the report was officially published at 10 a.m., Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, Minister Delegate for Transport, was already full of certainty at the microphone of France Inter, 2 hours before: “only technological innovation will allow us to solve climate change“. As usual, the scientific literature does not interest him. Our minister is too busy tweeting to make fun of ecological associations and sell us his green flight that will fly with cooking oil.

The 24 hours that followed were without surprise. The government’s political recuperation has been limitless. The N’Golo Kante of the climate. The Macron government, whose climate policy is very inadequate, and which was also condemned by the Council of State for its lack of initiatives, has nevertheless allowed itself to communicate on the Climate Law!

To dare to talk about the Climate Law when the same people have done everything to scuttle it and reduce to nothing the proposals of the Citizens’ Climate Convention, is to have an ethic at the level of Manuel Valls.

We understand very quickly that these nice discourse will not be followed by actions (discourse number 7 of climate inaction). There is no need to wait for the COP26 in November to act. Maybe finally, the Mediterranean basin on fire, the million Malagasy suffering from famine or the megafires in Siberia, deserve to wait a few months. The “tranquil” ecology.

The rest of the world is not much better

These IPCC reports are a real dilemma for states. We are completely dependent on fossil fuels, and the only way to meet the climate commitments of the Paris Agreement is to move away from them quickly. This does not suit many people, especially those to whom it could cost billions of euros in losses. Let’s take a quick tour of international policy reactions.

Let’s start with the Australian Prime Minister who thinks Australia is doing enough and refuses to raise Australia’s climate ambitions. This is hardly surprising when one considers that many politicians in his party have close ties to the mining industry and deny the existence of climate change or seek to minimize its risks. The fires in January 2020 and the billion dead animals obviously did not move this criminal Scott Morrison, nor the Australian media, which continues to invite climate deniers on TV sets, without contradiction.

In the United States, Biden, who many people were announcing as the savior of the climate on November 4, obviously did not read the IPCC report, since he asked OPEC to increase oil production! Why not Joe. But let’s be glad we have the United States as our compass: it is constantly doing the opposite of what is needed to fight climate change.

Even Vladimir Putin pretended to be interested in the issue by saying “The scale and nature of natural disasters in some regions are absolutely unprecedented. It is important that we engage deeply and systematically in the climate and environmental agenda in the future.

Fortunately, some have remained true to themselves, like the Saudis, who are known to undermine climate negotiations. The former oil minister even made a series of climate denier tweets:

Tweet 1 (deleted right after), Tweet 2

The climate deniers and climato-delayers are still around

We might have thought that with the very clear conclusions of the new IPCC report, the climate deniers would make amends, acknowledging that they were wrong and that it was time to move on. Not at all. As with each release of a report of this importance, they always try to remind us that they exist: “we must debate, we are not sure“.

Unfortunately, some people still have too much space in the media, and do not hesitate to proudly display their climate scepticism:

It is true that between listening to the opinion of GW. Goldnanel and the synthesis of 14,000 scientific articles, it is essential to debate who we should listen to.
However, we had to wait a few days to get the worst. Le Figaro, via its ‘journalist’ Judith Waintraub, gave a column to Benoit Rittaud, president of an association of climate skeptics:

This statement was immediately and unanimously condemned by climate scientists, such as Valérie-Masson Delmotte (Co-Chair of IPCC Group 1) and Jean-Baptiste Sallée (lead author of the latest report).

Return of the fake ranking

In the same continuity of misinformation, I was unpleasantly surprised to see a worthless ranking that had been shared by the entire Macron government, where we learned that “France is 4th green country”. This ranking is based on ridiculous criteria (everything is explained here), but that didn’t stop some people from sharing it again. Why? To show that France is an example, a climate leader, a good student. “You see, we are leaders! No need to change!”. Let us recall that the article shared by the members of the government came from a far-right site, and quoted François Gervaisas a reference, a notorious climate denier…

Thousands of shares have again misinformed the French, who deserve clear and accurate information about the efforts to be made to meet our climate commitments. Some people are obviously ready to do anything to defend their interests, even if it means liking climate deniers.

Gilles Babinet who ‘likes’ a tweet from a climate denier

Methane emissions and lobbies in action

Last piece of misinformation. For the first time, the IPCC has focused on methane, one of the greenhouse gases that contribute greatly to global warming (2nd most important gas, behind CO2). This is one of the key points of the SPM, the summary for decision makers:

To limit global warming, strong, rapid and sustainable actions will be needed to reduce CO2, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions. This would not only reduce the consequences of climate change but also improve air quality.

However, while methane emissions have increased enormously over the last 20 years, the people directly concerned have come to explain to us that it is not so serious, for example, that “livestock farming is only 5% of the emissions“. This discourse is doubly dangerous. Not only is it wrong (because it doesn’t take into account indirect emissions), but it is above all whataboutism, one of the climate inaction discourse that consists in saying ‘yes, I’m 5%, but the others are more, so let them start first’.

Of course, the sellers of “clean gas” are not left out. Like the coal mine operators, they are still very active in sowing doubt in the population about the role of gas in anthropogenic global warming. The graph below reminds us of one thing: everyone will have to make an effort. Not one by one, all at once, and quickly.

The biggest methane emitters, from cows to coal mines
Source : UNEP, The Global Methane Budget 2000–2017

Unfortunately, the French media and lobbies do not have the exclusivity of this disinformation. Hanna Daly noted the same thing in Ireland, where lobbies downplay the impact of methane on global warming and sometimes accuse the IPCC of being a lobby funded by X or Y. Reminder: the IPCC has a very limited budget, and to accuse volunteer scientists of making money… is just ridiculous.

Once again, the idea is not to eliminate livestocks overnight, an argument put forward by certain lobbyists who present themselves as victims. The first step is to recognize the problem, and then to collectively help reform.

The last word

Our house is burning, and we are watching Messi arrive at PSG. This is how this article on the media coverage of the release of the new IPCC report could have been titled.

We are in the middle of a climate emergency, and the vast majority of the media always find something more important, more immediate, more reassuring than talking about climate change, its causes and consequences. Clearly, the media coverage is not up to par. I’m doing what I can via Bon Pote, and am absolutely thrilled that people are discovering my work this year and in turn becoming aware of the important and rapid changes we must make to meet our climate commitments.

But in order of magnitude, as long as the continuous news channels, the 13H and 20H news, etc. do not do a correct communication work on the climatic stakes, the French will continue to be badly or not informed, and France will suffer the consequences. As we pointed out in an article, France is not prepared for climate hazards, and the cost of repair will be much higher than the cost of adaptation. We have no more time to lose. We must both reduce our emissions AND adapt.

The IPCC has reminded us that every ton emitted contributes to global warming. We know the causes of global warming, it only remains to take action.

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