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Environmental briefing

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:24 UK time, Friday, 7 December 2007

We often write on this blog about how we've covered something - after we've done it. I thought for a change it would be worth letting you know how we're preparing for a story - namely the Bali climate talks this week and next.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteIt's a high-level meeting, organised by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is trying to deliver a new global agreement on how to cut rising greenhouse gas emissions.

We've sent three environment correspondents - Roger Harrabin, Matt McGrath, David Shukman - and on the website we've already published a "set-up piece" on the talks, outlining what they are about and how they fit into the ongoing global political negotiations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Our correspondents at the talks are going to have their work cut out filing for all BBC outlets, and on occasions like this the website newsdesk in London usually writes some of the stories here, drawing on the reporting from our correspondents at the event.

On this occasion Richard Black, the website environment correspondent is not, for once, going to the talks himself, but he's helped us prepare for them with a few tips and things to watch for in this complex story. Specialist briefings like this ahead of a major story are extremely useful for the newsdesk. Here's what he sent us.


By Richard Black.

    There are some issues that we sometimes do not get completely right in reporting the anoraky end of climate change, and which are pertinent to the UN climate talks in Bali that run this week and next.

Sign promoting UN climate change conference in Bali

    1. The Kyoto Protocol does not expire in 2012. What does expire in 2012 is the first set of targets that the Protocol contains for emissions reductions.
    2. The Protocol covers a group of six greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide. As they are the six major ones involved in modern-day warming, it is acceptable shorthand to say "greenhouse gases".
    3. The conference contains two major "tracks", one relating to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, and the other to the Kyoto Protocol. The US is involved in the first, but not the second. Some of the news coming out over the next couple of weeks will relate to one, and some to the other.
    4. Australia has not just signed the Kyoto Protocol - it did so in 1998 - it has just ratified it. The US has also signed the protocol, but has not ratified. Both have signed and ratified the UNFCCC.
    5. The Protocol does include developing nations - but it does not set them targets for reducing emissions.
    6. The key difference between the EU and the US positions is whether targets should be global and mandatory, or whether they should be national and voluntary. Sometimes we say the US approach is based on technology - that isn't entirely correct - everyone wants clean technology, it is a question of a) what approach you use to stimulate its development, and b) whether you rely on technology alone with no implied lifestyle changes.
    7. The Kyoto Protocol is about far more than emissions targets - it includes measures to spread technology to developing countries, for carbon offsetting, and funds to help developing countries "climate-proof" their economies and societies. This is a key difference between the UN process and the kind of voluntary approach proposed by the US.
    8. The subject of Indonesia's own emissions will inevitably come up during the Bali meeting, and we will see the country labelled as the world's third-biggest emitter. Whether that is true or not depends on how you measure it; my feeling is we should not as a short-hand call Indonesia the third-biggest emitter, but just one of the world's major emitters.


  • 1.
  • At 07:03 PM on 07 Dec 2007,
  • Jon wrote:

Are you sure Item 7 is correct?

02 June 2007
"Bush also described three new programs to assist the developing world, particularly Africa. One will provide technical aid to attract $1 billion in new private investment. The second will support basic education for as many as four million children in poor nations, and the third calls for setting a global goal for reducing greenhouse gases and sharing clean energy technologies with other nations."

  • 2.
  • At 09:09 PM on 07 Dec 2007,
  • John wrote:

'Environment' conference in Bali. BBC: "We've sent three environment correspondents - Roger Harrabin, Matt McGrath, David Shukman"

How did they get to Bali?

Solar powered unicycle?

Or gas guzzling jet airplane that will have emitted more CO2 for that one journey than my car will emit in it's lifetime.

Why does it need THREE 'environment correspondents'? Why travel there at all when the video feed could be watched from London?

The hypocrisy of the ecochondriacs never ceases to amaze.

  • 3.
  • At 03:27 AM on 08 Dec 2007,
  • David Nakamura wrote:

Isn't the significance of this summit severely diminished by the fact that President Bush has made it clear he will not accept any obligation for the US to cut back on emissions?

I hope there will be an even more important meeting of nations when we get a competent President in office.

This might be of interest in view of the current Bali Climate talks:

Press Release
'The Catch' an installation by Julia Lohmann, on show at S-AIR/Inter-cross Creative Centre (ICC), Sapporo, Japan from 08/12/2007-16/08/2007

‘The Catch’ confronts viewers with a vast empty ocean, depleted by over-fishing and our unthinking consumption of marine life. Visitors are swept up in towering waves made of used empty fish boxes taken from Sapporo’s fish market. Unwittingly, they find themselves drifting into its womb-like core. Far from comforting however, the small sanctuary at the centre of the installation is bare; its walls lined with empty roe boxes are more akin to those of a church that has been raided by iconoclasts.

‘The Catch’ is modeled on an Almadraba, a Mediterranean tuna trap now obsolete due to lack of tuna. It is inspired by Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market. The installation probes our fatal beliefs in endless supplies of marine life, in inflated fishing quotas and unreliable scientific research.

Julia Lohmann 2007

  • 5.
  • At 09:33 PM on 08 Dec 2007,
  • marc fenton wrote:

what a load of greeny tosh

  • 6.
  • At 10:16 PM on 08 Dec 2007,
  • Pete McCabe wrote:

Thank you for this, it is fascinating to see the wheels at work behind the story.

I will now be most interested to see if the guides / notes given to the journalists actually filter down to the final reports. It strikes me that many of the pointers quite rightly highlight commonly published misrepresentations of the whole Kyoto project - publish indeed on this site as much as elsewhere.

Knowing that certain key figures in the journalistic sector have openly contradicted certain myths, it will be of interest to see if their words are heeded in 'print'.

  • 7.
  • At 01:35 AM on 09 Dec 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Climate Change Farce 2007. Son of Kyoto. More of the same nonsense we've been getting for 15 years. China and India will agree to long as they don't have to do anything or make any sacrifices themselves. Indonesia and Brazil will continue to burn down the world's great rainforests reducing the reabsorbion of CO2 for conversion to oxygen. Brazil will blackmail the world by demanding extortion if they want it to stop. The EU will make promises they won't come clost to keeping just like they did the last time, insist on their carbon trading scheme which has already proven a fraud, and demand the US comply with whatever numbers tehy come up with no matter how implimentation would wreck the American economy (the worse the better) and no matter how many people around the world will starve to death if it complied with. Europe and others will continue to tote out their science fair alternate energy projects like solar boilers which would have to cover half hte Sahara desert and transmit millions of kilowatts a third of the way across Africa and across the Mediteranian Sea to make a dent in Europe's GHG emissions, something virtually certain not to happen, and in the background, Europe will be scrambling to find enough oil and gas to stay warm this winter, acting as supplicants to Russia the first time the weather turns cold. Meanwhile the US Congress will disown this nonsense and nothing will change. Why bother to go then, aren't there any Indonesian restaurants near Bush House reporters can expense to the Corporation? Think of all the money and energy they'd save.

  • 8.
  • At 10:40 AM on 09 Dec 2007,
  • chui wrote:

These high level meetings or the usual pow wows, the higher the level they are more useless they get. So far nothing useful has been accomplished. If it about the climate change, which is drastic and will take many decades to fix, why should these so called treaties expire. The fix needed is permanent and all this carbon trading is just pure simple BS. These useless politicians know exactly what need fixing, but ignoring the scientific data and pandering there own agenda, nothing gets done or accomplished. George W. Bush for one know not his ass from the hole in the ground about anything. Leaders like him the world does not need.

  • 9.
  • At 07:26 PM on 09 Dec 2007,
  • greg wrote:

I fully agree that humans need to cut down on all sorts of environmental pollution, its just a shame that CO2 is not a pollutant. There are far more important things going wrong with the world's environment than the levels of a gas that takes up less than 0.01% of our atmosphere.

heres are few observations that are often overlooked by the alarmist global warming hype in the media;

1. Most scientists do not believe human activities threaten to disrupt the Earth’s climate. More than 17,000 scientists have signed a petition circulated by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine saying, in part, “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” (

2. Our most reliable sources of temperature data show no global warming trend. Satellite readings of temperatures in the lower troposphere (an area scientists predict would immediately reflect any global warming) show no warming since readings began 23 years ago. These readings are accurate to within 0.01ºC, and are consistent with data from weather balloons.

3. Global climate computer models are too crude to predict future climate changes. All predictions of global warming are based on computer models, not historical data. In order to get their models to produce predictions that are close to their designers’ expectations, modelers resort to “flux adjustments” that can be 25 times larger than the effect of doubling carbon dioxide concentrations, the supposed trigger for global warming. Richard A. Kerr, a writer for Science, says “climate modelers have been ‘cheating’ for so long it’s almost become respectable.”

4. A modest amount of global warming, should it occur, would be beneficial to the natural world and to human civilization. Temperatures during the Medieval Warm Period (roughly 800 to 1200 AD), which allowed the Vikings to settle presently inhospitable Greenland, were higher than even the worst-case scenario reported by the IPCC. The period from about 5000-3000 BC, known as the “climatic optimum,” was even warmer and marked “a time when mankind began to build its first civilizations,” observe James Plummer and Frances B. Smith in a study for Consumer Alert. “There is good reason to believe that a warmer climate would have a similar effect on the health and welfare of our own far more advanced and adaptable civilization today.”

5. Ice core records show that CO2 levels rise AFTER the temparature of the earth increases.

6. There is strong correlation between the suns output and our climate. This is not surprising really, as the sun is the reason why Earth is hot in the first place.

Of course, i dont expect this post to be published, as it comtains undisputable information.

  • 10.
  • At 12:27 AM on 10 Dec 2007,
  • Cam wrote:

The environment is definitely a very important issue. However there is no doubt that we have been lied to about the state of alternative energy systems that have been available for decades and the fact that Mars and other planets have also been warming, not just Earth. People are slowly waking up and realising that life is merely an illusion yet it's too late to do anything about it.

  • 11.
  • At 09:52 AM on 10 Dec 2007,
  • P Lee wrote:

The problem with the earth is simple, the naked ape has become too 'succesful' is destroying the planet that enabled it to evolve. The planet cannot support the number of humans that now exist in a reasonable manner. The solution - few humans living a less destructive lifestyle - but this will not happen. The naked ape will destroy all other lifeforms before going into extinction itself.

  • 12.
  • At 11:48 AM on 10 Dec 2007,
  • Mike Daly wrote:

To Greg in post 3, I know I won't convince you to reconsider your stance but here goes:

1. The Oregon Petition was started in 1995 to campaign against US acceptance of Kyoto limits which was felt to threaten economic growth. The qualifications of even genuine signatories is dubious but you seem to accept it as more relevant than the UN.

2. Your statement was correct 15 years ago but more data has been analysed, errors removed and now the warming is clearly shown. Of itself that doesn't prove a link with CO2.

3. Computer models are all we have. Feel free to identify the flaws, recalculate and present your results for review.

4. Even if your 'facts' were right, the point you miss is that there are now more than 6 billion people on earth and many of us use far more resources than Vikings or prehistoric peoples. When Bangladesh, London, New York etc are flooded by rising sea levels, where do we all go?

5. Correct. Climate change has many triggers. But this is the first chance mankind has been around in sufficient numbers to add to the problem. Surely you aren't questioning the greenhouse effect?

6. The sun is very important but without greenhouse gases the Earth would be much cooler. Modern instrument measurements of the suns output do not provide evidence that this is the source of the warming. Why is the temperature increase greater at night than during the day?

I am not a climate scientist. I don't claim to be certain that all warming is man-made and I appreciate your opening comments about pollution. Where ever the warming is coming from I think a discussion on how we act is more important than an endless row about the role of man in the cause.

  • 13.
  • At 12:25 PM on 10 Dec 2007,
  • Leo wrote:

I'm sure I'm not the only one who will appreciate Richard Black's admissions of fallibility. But who is he referring to when he says "We"?
The web team?
Environmental journalists?
BBC News?

And I certainly take exception to him referring to the correct reporting of detailed facts as 'anoraky'. Does this not signal to the news desk that errors in reporting the points he lists will irritate a few geeks but are basically unimportant?

  • 14.
  • At 02:11 PM on 10 Dec 2007,
  • T Massingham wrote:

Will there be any mention of the aspects of Koyoto science which are starting to look distinctly dodgy?

I am thinking in particular of the continuous problem they are having with temperature proxies, and the divergence issues with the several direct temperature measurements; both of which argue that the current temperature rise is not unusual.

And there are indications that all the mathematical models have hugely overestimated climate sensitivity. Oddly, though all this science is progressing as we speak, it is never talked about. I wonder why this is?

  • 15.
  • At 06:29 PM on 10 Dec 2007,
  • John wrote:

Three 'environmental correspondents' flying all the way to Bali?

What's the 'carbon footprint' of that?

Certainly more CO2 than me and my little car will be chucking out.

Why not send one person or cover it from London, using electronic feeds of the conference?

  • 16.
  • At 11:47 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • David G wrote:

Will the UK Hadley Centre for Climate Change (The Met Office) stand up an apologise for their prediction in January that 2007 would be the hottest year since 1998 ?

  • 17.
  • At 04:10 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Guy wrote:

As a research scientist for over 30 years I am disheartened to see the dogmatic religeous overtones to the climate change issue.

There is a wealth of hard empirical information in the earth sciences that refute the role of man and CO2 as significant initiators of climate change - in any direction. Ice core data and analysis show persuasively a contrary conclusion - with over 700 000 years of information prior to present. I have this data and have graphed it carefully, and there are many hundreds of thousands of years where temperature change precedes CO2 variation, not the contrary. I wish Al Gore would have overlaid his two graphs of CO2 and temperature on the same time axis, as this would perhaps have enlightened him, and may possibly have saved the Nobel prize committee from a future embarrassment... time will tell.

Some information and observations on ice core...

Ice core data and analysis provides important empirical information and context for assessing the most recent global temperature variations. Global temperature variations over past 20,000 years (see graphic) are derived from analysis of information extracted from the Antarctic Vostok ice core record which contains a 420,000 year record of temperature and atmospheric gas composition [] Vostok ice core data. Petit, J.R., et al. (2001), Vostok Ice Core Data for 420,000 Years, IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology Data Contribution Series #2001-076. NOAA/NGDC Paleoclimatology Program, Boulder CO, USA . The context of very recent temperature fluctuations can be seen clearly in context with the major warming event that terminated the last glacial period. This warming event started ~17,000 years BP and completed ~11,000 years BP and temperature rose ~8°[[Celsius|C]] and sea level rose approximately 130 metres. Subsequent temperatures have been stable by comparison and varied within a range of 1-2°[[Celsius|C]] over the following 11,000 years to present time. Temperatures higher than present have occurred at several instances in this interval. Small temperature (climatic) variations in the very recent past, such as the Roman Warm Period (RWP), Dark Ages Ice Age (DIA), Medieval Warm Period (MWP), and Little Ice Age (LIA) appear as minor variations on a temperature "plateau" when compared with the temperature change that terminated the past ice age.

A 740,000 year ice-core record was obtained from the 3260 metres deep Dome-C EDC99 drillhole in Antarctica. This ice core shows the temperature profile (Deuterium-proxy) and an overlay of CO2 variation (available data) plotted on the same time axis and scaled to show the respective timings of the rise and falls in the data values [ Dome C ice core data. Jouzel, J., et al. 2007. EPICA Dome C Ice Core 800KYr Deuterium Data and Temperature Estimates. IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology Data Contribution Series # 2007-091. NOAA/NCDC Paleoclimatology Program, Boulder CO, USA , Dome-C ice core data. Siegenthaler, U., et al. 2005. EPICA Dome C CO2 Data 650 to 390 KYrBP. IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology Data Contribution Series # 2005-077. NOAA/NCDC Paleoclimatology Program, Boulder CO, USA. . Temperature variation displays a broad cyclic climatic "heart-beat", which has relatively short warm cycles at ~100,000 year intervals amidst longer climatic intervals that were cooler than present. It is notable that the variations in the CO2-value curve lag approximately 700 - 2800 years behind temperature changes yet show similar rises and falls. This sustained lag of CO2 change behind temperature variation, as shown by the analysis of the ice core data, strongly suggests CO2 is a response to temperature change and not a driver of the change. Another point of interest in the ice core data is shown by contrasting the position of the previous warm period ~120,000 years BP and the oldest ice age date from Greenland at ~110,000 years BP. This strongly suggests that all ice in Greenland melted in the 120,000 year BP warm event, and reformed as an ice sheet after the termination of that warm-age. This ice core information provides solid empirical evidence for careful re-evaluation and discussion of current climate changes against those that occurred over the past 800,000 years.

  • 18.
  • At 08:36 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Josh W wrote:

I appreciate your list of the countries pollution from three years ago, I tried to make one myself but didn't have time. What other sources of raw data do you use, and how could I get access to them?

  • 19.
  • At 03:56 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • Patrick Hadley wrote:

In the interests of accuracy you should now make a change to your article "Climate Scepticism: The Top 10" 12th November 2007.

The second question on that site about why the climate is at present cooling is answered with the response that this is only true if you cherry-pick 1998 as a base and that: "The linear trends since 1998 are still positive." After the figures for 2007 were published by UEA Hadley Centre on Saturday, the five year moving average of global temperatures is undoubtedly moving downwards. You will not find this out by visiting the Met Office site, or as far as I can see anywhere on the BBC, but if you put the data into a spreadsheet you can produce the graph for yourself.

I am sure that you will be happy to make this correction. It is possible to pose the question and answer it without reference to 1998 at all. It would restore some faith in the balance of the BBC if you gave reasonable space on your news pages to the good news that the world climate has been officially cooling for the last five years and that the linear trends are now negative.

  • 20.
  • At 12:56 AM on 24 Dec 2007,
  • greg wrote:

Thank you Mr Herrmann for posting my previous post, maybe there is some hope for a civilzed debate on this issue, even if coverage of the debate is severely lacking.

To briefly restate my key point, 'I fully agree that humans need to cut down on all sorts of environmental pollution, its just a shame that CO2 is not a pollutant. There are far more important things going wrong with the world's environment than the levels of a gas that takes up less than 0.01% of our atmosphere.'

In responce to Mike Daly, i feel that you counterpoints are misguided at best.

I am not denying the greenhouse effect, just the overhyped impact that it will have on the earth that the media often attributes to it. The other day one of the main breakfast headlines was that penguins are in danger from global warming. But when an expert was interviewed he could actually name a considerable amount of benefits that penguins would get from a slightly warmer climate. Cold areas are the most barren on earth, if the Earth does heat up due to Global warming (which i do not dispute, i just duspute that it is us that is causing it) polar bears will have far more food to eat, and the effects would actually be beneficial for them. That sort of Ad Hominem reasoning (appealing to the viewers emotions, rather than reason) is not acceptable.

I wonder why the BBC chooses to ignore the recent paper put forward by prominet climatologists (google "New Study Explodes Human-Global Warming Story"), and instead chooses to belive the conclusions of the IPCC, which is clearly a political body, with political conclusions. It just so happens that the AGW debate seems to be helping the west keep their technological and economic advantage over competing developing nations rather conveniently.

Quote; "As much of the U.S. is being blasted by vicious ice storms, a blockbuster report published in a prestigious scientific journal insists that the evidence shows that climate warming is both natural and unstoppable and that carbon dioxide (CO2) is not a pollutant.

Writing in the International Journal of Climatology of the Royal Meteorological Society, professor David H. Douglass (of the University of Rochester), professor John R. Christy (of the University of Alabama), Benjamin D. Pearson and professor S. Fred Singer (of the University of Virginia) report that observed patterns of temperature changes ("fingerprints") over the last 30 years disagree with what greenhouse models predict and can better be explained by natural factors, such as solar variability."

Also the recent senate report has a very detailed list of literally hundreds of academics that challenged the fact that we are causing the warming. just google "Over 400 Scientists Dispute Manmade Global Warming ".

Now why dont you lead with that as a headline story?

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