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Government forced to defend climate change advert

By Cathy Newman

Updated on 04 December 2009

The government's chief scientist has been forced to justify controversial claims in the government's latest climate change advertisement, Channel 4 News has learnt.

Image from government climate change advertisement

The "storybook" TV campaign features a father reading his daughter a frightening bedtime story about global warming. This programme understands that Clearcast, the body responsible for vetting TV adverts, has questioned the scientific evidence used in the campaign.

Clearcast's role is to check that adverts touching on issues of public controversy are impartial - in line with broadcasting rules. After learning that questions had been raised, the government's top scientific advisers penned a furious retort to Clearcast.

The letter, seen by Channel 4 News, states: "We are concerned that the basic scientific inferences referred to in the latest...campaign are being brought into question by Clearcast.

"We are both surprised and disturbed that the premise of the television campaign is being questioned, given the incontrovertible nature of the science that underpins the campaign material."

Read the letter from the government to Clearcast in full here.

The government says it hasn't broken the rules because the advert is based on fact. It was eventually cleared for broadcast, but is now being investigating by the advertising watchdog after triggering 785 complaints from members of the public.

The fresh dispute comes after a week of allegations that scientists are manipulating official data. Leaked emails have led to charges the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit has distorted the evidence on global warming.

The chief scientist John Beddington and the energy department's main scientific adviser Robert Watson wrote the letter to Clearcast. It's emerged that Professor Watson is director of strategic development at the UEA's Climatic Research Unit.

A 'mendacious' advert

Lord Lawson, the Conservative former chancellor who has just launched a think tank devoted to challenging conventional wisdom about climate change, told Channel 4 News the advert was "mendacious".

He said: "There are two things wrong with this ad. First, I am sure that if a commercial organisation had tried an ad which is as imaginative, as inventive as this one and as mendacious, it would not be permitted. The second thing is the focus of the ad is to scare young children and I think that's positively immoral."

But the Energy Secretary Ed Miliband told the programme: "The problem is that the sceptics who want to cast doubt on this are the modern equivalent of the Flat Earth Society because the science is very clear about this. Climate change is real. It's happening. It's man-made.

"Frankly it's irresponsible to suggest that it isn't happening and it isn't man-made and it's trying to suggest that there is an easy way out of climate change. Well I'm afraid there isn't an easy way out. We want to make it as financially possible as possible for people to make the transition but the truth is these are hard decisions that we have to make in order to make this transition. It's necessary and the science is very clear."

Climate change survey

Private research commissioned by the energy department - and seen by Channel 4 News - shows the scale of the challenge facing the government as it attempts to persuade people to combat the threat from global warming. Those surveyed didn't see climate change "having a serious impact in the UK". And they wanted the government to do more about the problem before they individually would do their bit.

Worryingly for the government, the research also found "a lack of understanding...of what climate change actually is, how it is caused, what the impact will be, what that might mean to human life and when the consequences might happen".

Not only do ministers have to convince a sceptical public about the effects of global warming, but they also have to persuade people to pay for measures to fight it.

The government estimates that by 2020 the average household energy bill will increase by £92 a year as energy companies pass on to consumers the cost of tackling climate change.

On top of that, many householders will have to dig into their own pockets for energy saving devices around the home.

The government is to encourage householders to pay for loft lagging, cavity wall insulation and other green initiatives by applying for long-term loans from supermarkets, banks, local authorities and energy companies.

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