The ‘Daily Mail’ has a long track record of promoting climate change denial. Its coverage of climate change before and after COP26 has been no exception.

Although it is the most widely-read newspaper in the UK, the ‘Daily Mail’ has a reputation for publishing inaccurate and misleading information. For instance, in 2017, Wikipedia’s editors concluded that there is “established consensus that the Daily Mail was not a reliable source, and that its use in most Wikipedia articles was prohibited”.

An annual survey about news consumption in the UK, which was carried out earlier this year by the broadcast regulator Ofcom, found that only 63 per cent of regular readers of the ‘Daily Mail’ and ‘The Mail on Sunday’ think that they are accurate, and only 62 per cent considered them to be “trustworthy”.

It is no surprise then that the ‘Daily Mail’ published an error-filled polemic by Bjorn Lomborg on 30 October, the eve of the opening of the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Under the headline ‘The Great Ecological Delusion’, Dr Lomborg advertised his fatally flawed recent book, and offered readers some brand new claims that are demonstrably false. For instance, his article stated: “Even if every country did everything promised in the Paris agreement, the emission cuts by 2030 would add up to just 1 per cent of what would be needed to keep temperature rises under 2c”.

This is misleading in many ways. The Paris Agreement actually commits every country to the collective goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.

Dr Lomborg has confused this with the “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) that each country has submitted to the UNFCCC secretariat, including pledges on emissions levels by 2030. His assertion that the current NDCs would only result in 1 per cent of the emissions cuts required to achieve the Agreement’s temperature goal is untrue. In fact, the most recent assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme found that the conditional NDCs would reduce annual global emissions from 64 to 50 billion tonnes by 2030 compared with the projection based on 2010 policies. This represents about 45 per cent of the reduction needed to reach 33 billion tonnes by 2030 on a pathway that would have a 66 per cent chance of limiting the rise in global mean temperature to less than 1.8 Celsius degrees.

Ironically, Dr Lomborg’s bogus essay appeared alongside a leading article which declared “The Daily Mail has a long-standing and passionate commitment to protecting and nurturing the world we live in”.

Predictably, the newspaper followed up its misinformation before COP26 with more of the same after it. On 15 November, it published an article by David Rose alongside its report on the outcome of the summit. Mr Rose’s article on ‘’Useful idiots’ who let China off the hook’, was characteristically filled with his own muddle and confusion over climate change.

Mr Rose recently joined the ‘Daily Mail’ from its Sunday sister publication where he stacked up several ‘adverse adjudications’ from the feeble self-regulatory body, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, for breaches of the Editors’ Code of Practice. He wrote a series of daft articles about climate change, including one based on a fake magazine cover he found on the web and another on a typographic error by the National Snow and Ice Data Center. He also attempted several times to discredit staff at the Grantham Research Institute.

Mr Rose’s latest polemic indulges in the same China-bashing that is common among ‘lukewarmers’ and other climate change deniers, who argue that the UK should be dragging its feet on climate change policies.

His latest contribution puts forward a conspiracy theory that China “seduces politicians, business people, academics and campaigners into supporting its aims. It regards them as ‘useful idiots’ – unwitting instruments of its goal of becoming the world’s only superpower.”

Mr Rose adds: “Evidence unearthed by this newspaper, working with researchers fluent in Mandarin, shows Western environmentalists have indeed become a target. Documents suggest they are enmeshed with bodies subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and staffed by figures from its most ruthless departments.”

Laughably, the article identifies Nicholas Stern, the Chair of the Grantham Research Institute, as one of the unwitting targets of this conspiracy. But Mr Rose’s attack on Lord Stern’s reputation is characteristically riddled with inaccurate and misleading statements.

For instance, the article states: “In 2016 he [Lord Stern] claimed China’s emissions ‘may already have peaked’. They hadn’t.” In fact, the paper by Lord Stern and Fergus Green on ‘China’s changing economy: implications for its carbon dioxide emissions’, published in the journal ‘Climate Policy’, was far more nuanced than Mr Rose suggests.

The paper states: “Combining the above analyses, we can readily see how the trajectory of China’s CO2 emissions over the next decade is likely to be radically different from that during 2000–2013. It is quite possible that emissions will fall modestly from now on, implying that 2014 was the peak. If emissions do grow above 2014 levels – if, say, a number of the risks identified earlier manifest – that growth trajectory is likely to be relatively flat, and a peak would still be highly likely by 2025. It is more likely that the peak will occur at some point between 2014 and 2025, with the precise peaking date depending on how the above factors play out.”

The latest results presented by the Global Carbon Project show that China’s annual emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels did level off between 2011 and 2017, but have increased again over the past four years.

Mr Rose also writes that Lord Stern “attended September’s annual conference in Beijing of the China council for international co-operation on environment and development”. Lord Stern actually attended via videoconference from the UK. And the article wrongly states that Lord Stern has been teaching in China since 1998, instead of 10 years earlier.

But Mr Rose’s article is most notable for its misrepresentation of China’s action to tackle climate change and its role at COP26. For instance, it states that “ China – whose president, Xi Jinping, did not even turn up – is still building coal-fired power stations at a rate of knots”. 

In fact, President Xi, who also did not travel to Rome for the G20 summit the weekend before COP26, provided a written statement for the World Leaders Summit, something which Mr Rose chooses not to disclose to the newspaper’s readers. President Xi drew attention to several initiatives being undertaken by China to implement the commitments in its revised NDC (also ignored by Mr Rose even though it was published on 28 October) to peak its annual emissions before 2030. The NDC also noted that although China is still heavily dependent on coal, it has been closing down the most inefficient and polluting power stations.

According to the latest data published by Global Energy Monitor, China is now retiring more coal capacity than it is constructing. In 2021, 96.675 gigawatts of coal capacity were under  construction, but 115.649 gigawatts were retired.

Mr Rose also stated that “the ‘agreement’ it reached with America to ‘co-operate’ on global warming lacked any substance”. However, the ‘U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s’ which was released during COP26 included explicit commitments by China, including to “phase down coal consumption during the 15th Five Year Plan [2025-30]”, and “to develop a comprehensive and ambitious National Action Plan on methane, aiming to achieve a significant effect on methane emissions control and reductions in the 2020s”.

It is obvious from this silly article by Mr Rose, and other daft nonsense that the ‘Daily Mail’ still presents as commentary on climate change, that the newspaper’s editor, Geordie Greig, still does not take the issue seriously.

Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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