International climate summits always spark a flurry of reports, analysis and stock-takes on the climate crisis. They’re also a cue for some conservatives to signal their own virtues.
In segments on Sky News Australia, the Cop27 talks in Egypt – now in their final days – were variously described as “performative art”, a “global centre of virtue signalling” and a “religion” of “climate madness”. Australia’s pledge to cut emissions was a “highway to hell”.
In the Australian, former editor Chris Mitchell sought to play down the climate crisis, preaching “It’s time journalists reported what is really happening”, under a headline that reporters were “blind to facts”.
So how did some of Mitchell’s own “facts” stand up?
In an apparent effort to undermine the nature of global temperature rise, Mitchell wrote: “Evidence suggests temperatures were higher during the medieval warming and the Roman warming.”
Actually, evidence does not suggest this. The latest United Nations assessment of climate studies says the world is warmer now than at any time over at least the past 100,000 years.
The medieval warming period (MWP) occurred roughly between 950AD and 1,250AD – although there’s slight disagreement on the start and end dates. The Roman warming period covered the first few centuries AD. Both were regional, not global.
A 2019 study in Nature of temperatures in these periods, the authors wrote, “provides further evidence of the unprecedented nature of anthropogenic global warming in the context of the past 2,000 years”.
Mitchell wrote: “Global temperature sits about 1.2C above the pre-industrial era, which also coincided with a little ice age.”
Prof Nerilie Abram, an expert in ancient climates at the Australian National University, said the little ice age lasted a few centuries, but was considered over by 1850 – the start of the 50-year period that scientists use to refer to “pre-industrial”.
She said: “The MWP was nowhere near as warm as today. As well as the speed and magnitude of current warming, the global extent of the current warming is also unique, with no other period over the last 2,000 years showing synchronous warming across the entire globe.”
Prof Steve Sherwood, of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre, said: “The medieval warming period and the little ice age are old tropes.
“For a while – decades ago – we thought the world was pretty warm during the MWP, but then we finally figured out it was only parts of Europe and Greenland that were really warm. That’s about 2% of the global surface. The rest of the planet didn’t get the memo.”
Mitchell also claimed “latest research” suggested the world’s climate was less sensitive to CO2 “than previously thought”, but Sherwood said this was “off base”.
“The most recent IPCC report moved the sensitivity significantly higher than past reports and no research since then has changed that – a few papers have pushed it up or down but there’s no consensus.”
Lost and damaged
SkyNews Australia presenter Peta Credlin badly mangled commentary about a major issue at the Cop this week in a segment viewed more than 115,000 times on YouTube.
Credlin told viewers that UN climate summits were not “about the weather, but were about wealth transfer” from rich to poor countries.
Pointing to an argument in Mitchell’s column, Credlin said developing countries had been demanding a fund of $100bn “each and every year for so-called loss and damage supposedly suffered by poor countries because of climate change caused by historical energy use of rich countries”.
Credlin went on to claim that some world leaders were having doubts over the $100bn fund, quoting US climate envoy John Kerry saying the plan wasn’t “fully defined”, there were “all kinds of views on what it could be” and that nobody could sign up to it yet.
But Credlin confused two different and long-running issues at climate summits.
Kerry was referring to negotiations about the creation of a funding scheme to help developing countries cope with “loss and damage” from the impacts of human-caused climate change.
But this is very different from a $100bn pledge developed countries made at the 2010 climate talks in Cancun to help developing countries make emissions cuts and to pay for adaptation to impacts they are already feeling.
Dr Melanie Pill, a researcher at ANU looking at the issue of international climate financing, said: “The $100bn of climate finance a year is financing for adaptation and mitigation. It is unrelated to loss and damage.
“We do not have a loss and damage fund yet. At Cop27, they’re pushing for a mechanism or financial facility where money is dispersed for loss and damage that’s due to climate change and in addition to mitigation and adaptation finance. Countries are just not able to cope any more.”
Mitchell claimed “nothing much has come of that” $100bn pledge.
There is some disagreement about exactly how much developed countries have provided, but Mitchell’s statement is only true if you think that between $21bn and $68bn a year is “nothing much”.
And the claim about “wealth transfer”? A review by Oxfam of the nature of the pledges said last month that 70% of the climate finance delivered so far was in the form of loans.
“Money has been spent,” Pill said. “It’s just not nowhere near enough of what is needed.”
What affect does misinformation on climate and energy – this column’s weekly focus – have on the public?
A campaign group, Climate Action Against Disinformation, published findings this week of the views of 1,200 Australians taken in October.
44% agree climate change is mainly caused by humans
37% think there’s significant disagreement among scientists on the causes of climate change
34% think gas is a climate-friendly source of energy
20% think climate and net zero policies are the cause of Europe’s energy crisis
17% think net zero policies are a “globalist conspiracy to destabilise Australia”
Not that surprising, is it? This is what you get after more than a decade of the “climate wars” and large parts of the media – particularly on the right side of the politics – happy to give misinformation and climate science denial an uncritical airing.