from: Alan Sunderland
date: Tue, Feb 21, 2012 at 9:33 PM
subject: factual error & lack of inquiry
Dear Mr Hendrickx,
Thanks for the feedback.
Based on the information provided to me by the program team, I don’t believe the ABC report on the Torres Strait Islanders broadcast on January 16 was accurate and not misleading.
Here are some points in response:
- Two recent papers which provide climate projections for the region which include details about the number of extreme weather events that are likely to occur and have an impact on Torres Strait Islands. They are: “An assessment of climate change impacts and adaptation for the Torres Strait Islands, Australia” (2010) published in Climatic Change Journal, and “Observed and future of the Torres Strait Region” (CSIRO report from 2010). Specifically the reports state that the observed ‘above average’ rate of sea level rise is of 6mm a year, compared to the global average of 3mm a year. This observation is highlighted in the reports as particularly concerning.
- The CSIRO report (2010) concludes that climate change impacts will affect daily life on the Islands, by impacting on their economic livelihoods.
- Dr. Donna Green, interviewed in this story for The World Today, has completed a study into climate change affects on the Torres Strait Islands. For her report, published late last year (titled: What Legal Recourse Do Non State Islands Have To Obtain Resources to Adapt to Climate Change), Dr. Green conducted an analysis of extreme sea level heights for Mer Island. It suggests that by 2050, there will be an increase in the frequency of extreme sea level events that are usually associated with inundation events on the Island. The report also anticipates that the present ‘one in one hundred year’ sea level height of 1.43m above mean sea level may be exceeded on average at least every 10 years by 2050.
- The IPCC has acknowledged in their most recent report that small island states are disproportionately impacted by climate change due to their susceptibility to rising sea levels
- These impacts have also been acknowledged by Federal Parliament. A private members motion, passed in August 2011, reads that the House: “recognises that the Torres Strait Islander people have been experiencing flood devastation for the past 4 years.... and that “in light of evidence of continued flooding on the outer islands due to king tidal surges, calls on government to commit to restore and rebuild damaged seawalls.”
We didn’t broadcast information about the islands being inundated in the 1940s, but it was clear that inundation has been a problem in the past – the reference to the sea walls makes this clear.
Our understanding is not that inundation is a completely new phenomena, but rather to do with the increase in the frequency of inundation events, which is linked to climate change (rising sea levels, and increase in extreme weather events.)
We think this was a fair and balanced report based on published scientific research.
Alan Sunderland Head of Policy & Staff DevelopmentABC News
I'll reply in more detail in the near future at ABC NEWS WATCH where your email below (above) will be repeated in full.
The information you have provided does nothing to justify the omission of the historical data from the report that would have given ABC's audience important historical context to the recent alarming reports. Your understanding may be that "inundation is (not) a completely new phenomena", however your audience were not given the chance to make this assessment due to your reporter's omission of the historical facts. Sea walls are built for a variety of reasons, hence your claim that "We didn’t broadcast information about the islands being inundated in the 1940s, but it was clear that inundation has been a problem in the past – the reference to the sea walls makes this clear." does not hold. Why not just simply state that similar inundations had resulted in complete evacuation of islands in the 1940s? I am not a journalist however I would have thought that providing historical context such as this would be essential in a report of this nature and would constitute "sound" journalism. Not having the pressures of commercial news networks I would have thought ABC would have had the capacity to stretch a little further and provide more information on this one. I remember it doing so in the past.
The ABC report also did not provide any information about the large uncertainties involved in IPCC sea level projections that you describe below, or that recent sea level trends around the Australian continent appear to be decelerating and hence call into question IPCC sea level projections used by Dr Green (see for instance HERE). As such it was missing in factual information, biased, lacked balance and like a lot of other recent ABC news articles on climate change it was simply misleading.
You are of course free to believe otherwise. It's amazing what people believe in this day and age.