To: The Broadcasting Standards Authority
Referred Complaint – “NZ climate change happening”
Barry E Brill OBE, JP, LL.M, M.Com Law, OPM(Harv)
The Authority is requested to review and investigate my complaint to TVNZ1, the details of which are set out below.
Name: Barry Brill
Programme Title: One News at Six
Date of Broadcast: 8 January 2018
Time of Broadcast: 6.00pm
Date of my Complaint to TVNZ1: 18 January 2018
Broadcasting Code re Complaint: Free-to-air television
Standards Identified in Complaint: 8. Balance and 9. Accuracy
Original Complaint: A copy of the Complaint is attached
Broadcaster Decision Details
Date of TVNZ1 Decisions: 16 February 2018
I complained that the following contentions in the One News programme were neither accurate nor balanced:
- “Climate Change” has happened or is happening now in New Zealand;
- “Climate Change” is currently causing an increase in the number and intensity of New Zealand’s extreme weather events (eg cyclones, droughts, floods); – where the term “Climate Change” is well understood to be used in the UN sense of “dangerous anthropogenic global warming” (AGW).
In its formal reply, the broadcaster accepts that the term “Climate Change” refers to AGW and that the above contentions were put forward intentionally. It says:
- “The [Complaints] Committee does not agree that the idea that climate change is happening in New Zealand is either controversial or “not true”. (Page 10)
• “It is not inaccurate to state climate change is increasing the number and intensity of extreme weather events (in New Zealand). (Page 13).
There is no semantic argument here. The broadcaster accepts that both the intent and effect of the broadcast messages were correctly set out in the complaint. The dispute is simply whether those messages were, in fact, inaccurate and/or controversial – and potentially in breach of Standards 9 and 8.
It is submitted that much of the broadcaster’s reply seeks to rebut “straw man” arguments; ie statements that are different from (although perhaps similar to) those set out in the complaint. For example, the reply dwells on the future and on other countries – while the complaint deals solely with the present in New Zealand. I have responded to these comments in a separate Appendix, in case the Authority wishes to consider any of them, but my submission is that they are wholly irrelevant to this referral.
“Happening in New Zealand”
The complaint set out facts and references establishing that AGW has not yet appeared in New Zealand, which the TVNZ1 reply failed to rebut.
- There was no detectable trend in New Zealand’s average temperatures (whether AGW or natural) throughout the period of 19-20 years prior to the date of the broadcast. The accuracy of the graph shown in this link has not been challenged in the TVNZ1 reply – although the data establishes beyond any question that AGW is not ‘happening in New Zealand’. Further details regarding this official data are:
- the national temperature record takes the form of a ‘Seven-station Series’ (7SS), based on the monthly means at seven geographically representative weather stations. All the relevant daily temperature data is publicly available at NIWA’s ‘Climate Database’.
- a temperature change is measured by its trend over a period of years or decades, and the trend shown by the 1998-2016 data is a (trivial) cooling. The period since 1998 is chosen because that is when the worldwide warming “hiatus” commenced, according to the IPPC’s 5th Assessment Report.
- The flat or declining temperature record is independently confirmed by the recent scientific finding that 58 New Zealand glaciers have been advancing during the past quarter-century. The 2017 study by six VUW scientists notes that “Glaciers are iconic indicators of climate change” and that the global loss of glacier mass “has been primarily attributed to anthropogenically-forced warming”. New Zealand’s South Island has been an exception. The World Glacier Monitoring Service database shows that, in 2005, “15 of the 26 advancing glaciers observed worldwide were in New Zealand”.
After extensive climate model runs, the paper concludes that the gain in glacier mass has been a direct result of reduced air temperatures in the Southern Alps since the early 1980s: “The lower temperatures were associated with anomalous southerly winds and low sea surface temperature in the Tasman Sea region.” The “Regional Cooling” in the title of the paper refers to the whole of New Zealand and its surrounding seas.
Read separately, the temperature record and the glacier paper each provide strong evidence that New Zealand has experienced no material increase in temperature trends. Taken together, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, they provide ample proof that no warming trend, of any kind, is happening here – let alone the dangerous anthropogenic kind of warming.
The broadcaster’s contention is therefore inaccurate and a breach of Standard 9. In the unlikely event that TVNZ1 could find some competing evidence – which it has not done to date – the topic might become “controversial” and would then require a balanced presentation under Standard 8.
1 Mackintosh et al (2017): “Regional cooling caused recent New Zealand glacier advances in a period of global warming”.
“Causing extreme weather”
TVNZ1’s position is that both the number and the intensity of extreme weather events in New Zealand are increasing, and that these changes are being driven by AGW.
The only “extreme” events in NIWA’s Annual Climate Summary 2017 (the subject of the One News bulletin) were two ex-tropical cyclones – Debbie and Cook – which produced “near-record amounts of rain and flooding for some areas” and a La Nina “marine heatwave” in November/December. There is no suggestion in the published report that:
- either the cyclones or the La Nina were more intense or numerous than normal;
- any of the year’s weather events had been caused by AGW
Weather-wise, 2017 was an unusual year. The NIWA report makes clear that this was because the initial La Nina switched to El Nino/neutral conditions before the La Nina came roaring back. This El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has been the major driver of weather conditions in the SW Pacific for many millennia. It is an entirely natural phenomenon and owes nothing whatever to AGW.
The TVNZ1 reply accepts that the obvious culprit (La Nina) was wholly omitted from the selected footage, but says it was indirectly blamed. That is a nonsense. Causation by a natural La Nina is the very opposite of causation by a human intervention (AGW) – and TVNZ1 cannot have it both ways.
In its reply, TVNZ1 does not offer any evidence that 20th-century New Zealand has yet seen any statistical change in ex-tropical-cyclones, or floods, or heat-waves or droughts. Instead, it quotes various expectations that such changes might occur in the future.
NIWA and other monitoring bodies (such as MetService and the MfE) are measuring these events and would have reported publicly if any change had been detected. It is reasonable to assume that no increases have actually occurred, and the One News report was therefore seriously misleading.
If increases had occurred (which they have not) they could not have been caused by AGW, as no warming has yet become manifest in New Zealand (see above). Further, the NIWA report itself states that 2017 “temperatures were near average” relative to 1980-2010 across most of the South Island.
The 2016 El Nino returned mid-year but the period is labelled ‘neutral’ because it lasted just under the 13-week minimum.
The TVNZ1 reply says discussion of NIWA’s perspective of New Zealand’s climate was not “a controversial issue”. In itself, that is not an “issue” at all – but controversial issues were undoubtedly inserted by the broadcaster to spice up the discussion.
Whether or not they comprised “a small part”, they quite deliberately fastened the whole bulletin to the hot-button topic of Climate Change.
The focus on Climate Change was neither accidental nor incidental. It occurred only because the One News team firmly believed the two memes I have rebutted above and (quite understandably) viewed them as controversial matters of public importance.
However, as their beliefs were ill-founded, they have misrepresented the current climate position to the viewing public.
Anecdotally, as a regular watcher of One News at Six, I have heard these incorrect contentions inserted into weather-related items on numerous occasions. When a government-owned newscaster’s beliefs are presented as incontestable facts, and then constantly reiterated over long periods of time, it is inevitable that large numbers will be seriously misinformed.
TVNZ1 do not seriously contest the view that these are controversial matters of public importance. Their reply says: “Viewers are well aware that alternate views exist on climate change as this is a much debated topic.” I suspect the reason One News made no reasonable effort to present a balanced view is because their news team, subjectively, regard ‘other perspectives’ on all Climate Change issues as misguided and worthless. Unlocking any such blinkered groupthink is a key role of this Authority.
9 March 2018
Red Herrings Raised by TVNZ1 Complaints Committee
Most of the arguments put forward by the Committee attack straw-man arguments that form no part of the alleged inaccuracy or lack of balance.
Climate Change – General
My complaint is wholly consistent with all of the following undisputed facts:
(a) The words “climate change”, read literally, describe a phenomenon that is continuous and ubiquitous in all regions and countries of the world. It has always happened and always will.
(b) Climate Change”, as usually used by the New Zealand media, has the meaning ascribed by the 1992 UNFCCC treaty: “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere”. The object of the treaty is to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.
(c) As a result of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (Emissions), the CO2 component of the atmosphere has increased from around 0.03% to 0.04% since about 1850.
(d) The global mean surface temperature (GMST) has increased by approximately 0.8°C since the end of the Little Ice Age in about 1850. The observed GMST increase since 1950 has been about 0.4°C – approximately 2.7%.
(e) The IPCC has attributed most of that temperature increase as follows: “More than half of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is extremely likely due to human influence, notably the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations”.
(f) The IPCC predicts, on the basis of CMIP5 modelling, that additional AGW will occur over the course of the 21st century. The pace and extent will vary greatly as between four scenarios of the volume of emissions [and is further dependent upon (a) climate sensitivity and (b) natural variability].
(g) The Paris Agreement, to which New Zealand is a signatory, assumes that further anthropogenic warming will become ‘dangerous’ (or the risks will become unacceptable) if GMST should rise by a further 1.2°C in future.
(h) NIWA has downscaled a selection of the CMIP5 model runs to the New Zealand grid-block. On that basis, it predicts that anthropogenic warming will be clearly detectable in New Zealand by 2040 and thereafter, and that it will be accompanied by changes in regional precipitation rates. NIWA’s website has an online tool for exploring temperature and precipitation projections by period and by region.
Complaint re 8 January 2018 broadcast
TVNZ1 relies upon extracts from Our atmosphere and climate 2017 DATA TO 2016 (p7).
The Ministry for the Environment caveats that the publisher “gives no warranty in relation to the report or data used in the report – including its accuracy, reliability and suitability.” The following italicised statements from the quoted excerpt are either irrelevant or misleading:
- “New Zealand’s annual average temperature has increased by 1°C since 2009” and
- “The average SST around New Zealand increased 0.7°C since 2007.”
This opinion is based on an internal NIWA calculation that has over 80% of New Zealand’s 20th century warming occurring prior to 1958 – the year in which AGW first became manifest (IPCC).
So, these statements deal mainly with the distant and pre-AGW past, rather than temperatures and weather in the 21st-century.
If 100-year timelines were believed relevant to the complaint, the Authority should refer to a subsequent paper, De Freitas et al (2014) which is the only relevant research appearing in the international peer-reviewed literature. That research shows that the average 7SS temperature has increased by only 0.28°C ± 0.3°C since 1909. As the error bars exceed the trend, the range of temperature changes include zero. In other words, there has been no significant warming
- Climate change is already potentially adversely affecting New Zealand’s natural systems.
This is a statement about potentiality, which is not in dispute. It serves as an admission that no such adverse effects have yet been scientifically detected.
- From 1977 to 2016, it is estimated our glaciers have lost almost 25% of their mass
This estimate has since been overtaken by Mackintosh et al (2017), discussed elsewhere. It is not consistent with reports of the World Glacier Monitoring Service and is simply incorrect.
- 18 Associations (and NASA) say that worldwide observations make clear that AGW is happening.
My complaint makes no reference to worldwide occurrences. Its whole point is that AGW is not yet happening in New Zealand.
- Two studies have indicated that AGW might have added to the intensity of flooding events – Dean et al (2013) and Rosier et al (2015).
These studies sound potentially relevant but are not referenced on page 29 of the MfE publication, as advertised. I could not find them on Google Scholar or by other internet searches. If the papers do exist, they must be in error – as no AGW has yet been detected in either Nelson or Northland.
- Extract from a 2012 judgment finding that the evidence of a Mr Dunleavy (a layman) should not have included opinions on scientific matters.
This extracts’ intended relevance to the TVNZ1 complaint escapes me.
- the acidity of the subantarctic ocean off the Otago coast has increased since 1998
- since the 1972/73 measurement season, soils at one-fifth of sites around New Zealand have been getting drier.
Neither of these two observations tend to establish that AGW has been happening in New Zealand.
Presumably, the acidity of the vast majority of ocean areas off the coast has not increased since 1998, and four-fifths of measurement sites have not been getting drier since 1972/73.
- coastal sea levels have risen by up to 22 centimetres, depending on location, over the last century.
Worldwide sea levels have been rising slowly for thousands of years. The 2.2mm/year maximum rise in some New Zealand locations is standard and there has been no observed acceleration of that rise since European settlement.
 Mackintosh et al (2017): “Regional cooling caused recent New Zealand glacier advances in a period of global warming”.
 If warming had occurred, “human fingerprints” would be required to label it as “Climate Change”. A sharp and unprecedented long-term warming trend might also serve as evidence.
 The 2016 El Nino returned mid-year but the period is labelled ‘neutral’ because it lasted just under the
 The only human “interference” caused by altering the composition of the atmosphere (resulting from Emissions) is ‘anthropogenic global warming’ (AGW). Accepting that some level of AGW is inevitable and safe, the consensus aim has always been to avoid a level that is ‘dangerous” (DAGW).
 Set out in Working Group 1 (WG1) of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (5AR) in 2013.
 “It remains difficult to quantify the contribution to [pre-1958] warming from internal variability, natural forcing and anthropogenic forcing, due to forcing and response uncertainties and incomplete observational coverage.” (IPCC AR5 Section 10.3.1).
 A Reanalysis of Long-Term Surface Air Temperature Trends in New Zealand