The Met Office released another climate report yesterday, containing its latest set of projections, CP18.
But the day before, an article about what the report would say was published in the Sunday Times, written by their environment editor Jonathan Leake. The Sunday Times article is quite clear and precise about what the report is going to contain. The headline is
Rising seas threaten to engulf 1.7m homes, Met Office warns
and it goes on to include the following details (the article is behind the Times paywall, but you can register and get two articles per week).
The Met Office warns tomorrow that climate change and rising sea levels will threaten more than 1.5m homes, turn farmland into marsh and wash away beaches by the end of the century.
Its UK Climate Projections report forecasts that the seas around Britain are likely to increase by 3-4ft by 2100, inundating low-lying land, putting 1.7m homes at risk and destroying many holiday beaches.
Towards the end of the article, there are specific quotes from the report:
“Sea-level rises, increased river flows and more-frequent, more-intense storm surges are all possible effects of climate change,” the report will say. “This poses flooding risks to several areas of the UK, particularly along the Thames estuary.”
There is one cheerful note — global warming is at least delivering better summers. “Warm spells have more than doubled in length — from 5.3 days in 1961-90 to 13.2 days in 2008-17,” it will say. For Britain at least, climate change may have one upside.
A very similar article, containing much of the same material, appeared in the Mirror, which cites the Sunday Times and seems to be largely a cut-and-paste from Leake’s article.
So it appeared to be the case that Jonathan Leake had somehow got hold of the Met Office report a day before it was published. Otherwise, he could not have known all of these specific details of what was going to be in the report. Surely someone at the Met Office must have leaked it to him beforehand, or leaked some snippets from it? Surely if Leake was merely speculating about what the Met Office might say, he wouldn’t include such specific points and direct quotes, would he?
The plot thickens if you actually try to look at the report to see what it says. Firstly, there isn’t a single Met Office report that you can look at, just a mess of web pages and pdfs, for example this, this, this and this. But despite scouring these pages, I’ve found nothing consistent with what Jonathan Leake claims is in the report. There’s nothing about 1.7 million homes being inundated, as claimed in the Sunday Times headline. It does not say that sea level rise of 3-4 feet is likely. Here is the relevant graphic, which shows that a rise of over a metre is a small possibility (95th percentile) in the most extreme scenario (RCP 8.5). Certainly not “likely”.
And what about that quote on more-intense storm surges? Well, this isn’t in the report, but it turns out to be a quote from a Met Office web page written in 2012!
I questioned Leake about this in the comments under his article and on twitter. He didn’t reply under the article, and on twitter he wrote a short evasive reply and then deleted it.
So it appears most likely that the Met Office report was not leaked, but “Leaked”.
[Thanks to Shub, Richard Betts, Tamsin Edwards and Arthur Dent for helpful comments.]