TWO government advertisements that use nursery rhymes to warn people of the dangers of climate change have been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for exaggerating the potential harm.
The adverts, commissioned by Ed Miliband, the energy secretary, used the rhymes to suggest that Britain faces an inevitable increase in storms, floods and heat waves unless greenhouse gas emissions are brought under control.
The ASA has ruled that the claims made in the newspaper adverts were not supported by solid science and has told the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) that they should not be published again.
It has also referred a television commercial to the broadcast regulator, Ofcom, for potentially breaching a prohibition on political advertising.
The rulings will be an embarrassment for Miliband, who has tried to portray his policies as firmly science-based. He had commissioned two posters, four press advertisements and a short film for television and cinema, which started appearing in October last year in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate talks.
They attracted 939 complaints — more than the ASA received for any advertisement last year. The deluge posed problems for the ASA, which is not a scientific body, so it decided to compare the text of Miliband’s adverts with the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Based on that comparison, it ruled that two of the DECC’s adverts had broken the advertising code on three counts: substantiation, truthfulness and environmental claims.
Of the two banned adverts, one depicted three men floating in a bathtub over a flooded British landscape, and the text read: “Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub — a necessary course of action due to flash flooding caused by climate change.”
It then explained: “Climate change is happening. Temperature and sea levels are rising. Extreme weather events such as storms, floods and heat waves will become more frequent and intense. If we carry on at this rate, life in 25 years could be very different.”
The second showed two children peering into a stone well amid an arid, post-climate-change landscape. It read: “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. There was none as extreme weather due to climate change had caused a drought.”
It then added: “Extreme weather conditions such as flooding, heat waves and storms will become more frequent and intense.”
It was these additional claims, rather than the nursery rhymes or illustrations, that fell foul of the ASA, which ruled it was not scientifically possible to make such definitive statements about Britain’s future climate.
The ASA said: “All statements about future climate were based on modelled predictions, which the IPCC report itself stated still involved uncertainties in the magnitude and timing, as well as regional details, of predicted climate change.” It added that both predictions should have been phrased more tentatively.
The ASA did, however, reject other complaints, including one suggesting the DECC adverts were misleading because they presented human-induced climate change as a fact.
Miliband said: “On the one issue where the ASA did not find in our favour, around one word in our print advertising, the science tells us that it is more than 90% likely that there will be more extreme weather events if we don’t act.”
Greg Barker, shadow minister for climate change, said: “It is so unnecessary to exaggerate the risks of global warming, and also counterproductive.”
Grandaddy of green warms to eco-sceptics, Comment, page 23