No, Guardian: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Have Not Doubled In The Last Decade

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Do we really need leaked IPCC documents to tell us what we already know? Apparently the Guardian thinks so.

Today they have a story about how a leaked IPCC report shows that “Greenhouse gas emissions grew nearly twice as fast over the past decade as in the previous 30 years.” Is this news? If I wanted to find out how much greenhouse gas emissions have risen over this period it is incredibly easy. No IPCC leak is necessary. I could simply have a look at the UNFCC data, or perhaps the Edgar data set, or CDIAC. All of these data sets will tell you what this IPCC leak tells you. In fact there is no need for an IPCC leak to tell us this, you could simply look up research that the Guardian itself has reported on multiple occasions.

Is this journalism? Poking through a leaked IPCC report to find a statement of the obvious and publishing it as news?

Perhaps as a follow up we will have a story about how a leaked IPCC story shows that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are in fact increasing, or that rain is a particular feature of the climate of Scotland.

And the headline is particularly delightful: “UN: greenhouse gas emissions nearly doubled in first decade of 21st century.” No they did not. The growth in emissions doubled. Naturally the Guardian’s environment website editor has not picked up the error and is tweeting it, as is the author of the original story. Is such innumeracy part of the training for the modern journalist?

We are inveighed to keep emissions below a certain level, but we cannot make the effort to get the growth in emissions accurate to within even a factor of two. What hope is there?

However when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions the Guardian is particularly sloppy. Their environment editor recently reported atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reaching a record high as carbon dioxide emissions reaching a record high. These of course are fundamentally different things. Even if carbon dioxide emissions fell next year atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would keep going up.

When it comes to climate change the numbers really do matter. Gigatonnes, terawatts, trillion cubic metres. Such orders of magnitude demand care, not sloppiness. But unless that sloppiness is being made in the Daily Mail, and not the Guardian, no one does any complaining.