Monday, January 18, 2010

Even the BBC is getting dubious about Britain's incompetent official weather forecasters

BUFFETED by complaints about its inaccurate weather forecasts, the Met Office now faces being dumped by the BBC after almost 90 years. The Met Office contract with the BBC expires in April and the broadcaster has begun talks with Metra, the national forecaster for New Zealand, as a possible alternative.

The BBC put the contract out to tender to ensure “best value for money”, but its timing coincides with a storm over the Met Office’s accuracy. Last July the state-owned forecaster’s predictions for a “barbecue summer” turned into a washout. And its forecast for a mild winter attracted derision when temperatures recently plunged as low as -22C.

Last week the Met Office failed to predict heavy snowfall in the southeast that brought traffic to a standstill. This weekend a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times reveals that 74% of people believe its forecasts are generally inaccurate. By contrast, many commercial rivals got their predictions for winter right. They benefit from weather forecasts produced by a panel of six different data providers, including the Met Office.

Despite criticism, staff at the Met Office are still in line to share a bonus pot of more than £1m. Seasonal forecasts, such as the one made in September, are not included in its performance targets. John Hirst, the chief executive of the Met Office, insisted last week that recent forecasts had been “very good” and blamed the public for not heeding snow warnings. He received a bonus of almost £40,000 in 2008-09.

Metra already produces graphics for the BBC, including the 3-D weather map that made some viewers feel sick when it was introduced in 2005. Weather Commerce, Metra’s UK subsidiary, has already usurped the Met Office in supplying forecasts to Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. Metra has been negotiating with the BBC since September, when a new tender document, seen by The Sunday Times, was sent to forecasters. It stated that the corporation was seeking a single forecaster to provide meteorological data and presenters for five years. Only companies with a turnover of more than £10m have been invited to apply. The Met Office is still likely to be a strong contender.

A source close to Metra said: “The BBC is not happy with the service it has been getting from the Met Office; it thinks it’s too expensive. We have the ability to provide a bespoke service that will undercut it. Because we already produce the graphics we’ve got a foot in the door, so we’re optimistic.”

During its time on the BBC the Met Office has produced a series of unlikely stars, including John Kettley and Michael Fish, as established meteorologists were thrust before cameras. Many commercial rivals have been put off bidding by the requirement to provide presenters. A source at one rival said: “Where are we going to find 20 weather presenters? It’s a huge burden. The Met Office has an unfair advantage.”

A BBC spokesman said: “It is common practice to look at the options available when a contract is about to expire to ensure we get the best value for money for our licence fee payers.”

The Met Office was bullish, though, saying: “We have always been in the strongest position to provide the BBC with accurate and detailed weather forecasts and warnings for the UK.”


Met Office computer models accused of 'warm bias' by BBC weatherman

Perish the thought!

A BBC weather forecaster has suggested that the Met Office's super-computer has a 'warm bias' which has stopped it predicting bitterly cold spells like the one we have just endured. Paul Hudson said the error may have crept into the computer's climate model as a result of successive years of milder weather.

His claim was rejected by the Met Office but other experts said there could be flaws in the system, which was first developed 50 years ago.

In a blog, the BBC Look North presenter writes: 'Clearly there is the rest of January and February to go, but such has been the intensity of the cold would take something remarkable for the Met Office's forecast (of a mild winter) to be right. 'It is also worth remembering that this comes off the back of the now infamous barbecue summer forecast. 'Could the model, seemingly with an inability to predict colder seasons, have developed a warm bias, after such a long period of milder than average years?'

The Met Office produces its forecasts by feeding information from sources, including satellites and weather stations, into a 'climate model'. A set of complex equations then predict weather changes.

Mr Hudson appears to be suggesting that data recorded over the past decade of warmer winters could be unduly influencing the computer's calculations. However, the Met Office denies this, saying 'any small biases' are automatically corrected before it issues seasonal forecasts.


World misled over Himalayan glacier meltdown

A WARNING that climate change will melt most of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 is likely to be retracted after a series of scientific blunders by the United Nations body that issued it. Two years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a benchmark report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming. A central claim was the world's glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035.

In the past few days the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before the IPCC's 2007 report. It has also emerged that the New Scientist report was itself based on a short telephone interview with Syed Hasnain, a little-known Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

Hasnain has since admitted that the claim was "speculation" and was not supported by any formal research. If confirmed it would be one of the most serious failures yet seen in climate research. The IPCC was set up precisely to ensure that world leaders had the best possible scientific advice on climate change.

Professor Murari Lal, who oversaw the chapter on glaciers in the IPCC report, said he would recommend that the claim about glaciers be dropped: "If Hasnain says officially that he never asserted this, or that it is a wrong presumption, than I will recommend that the assertion about Himalayan glaciers be removed from future IPCC assessments."

The IPCC's reliance on Hasnain's 1999 interview has been highlighted by Fred Pearce, the journalist who carried out the original interview for the New Scientist. Pearce said he rang Hasnain in India in 1999 after spotting his claims in an Indian magazine. Pearce said: "Hasnain told me then that he was bringing a report containing those numbers to Britain. The report had not been peer reviewed or formally published in a scientific journal and it had no formal status so I reported his work on that basis.

"Since then I have obtained a copy and it does not say what Hasnain said. In other words it does not mention 2035 as a date by which any Himalayan glaciers will melt. However, he did make clear that his comments related only to part of the Himalayan glaciers, not the whole massif."

The New Scientist report was apparently forgotten until 2005 when WWF cited it in a report called An Overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat, and Subsequent Impacts in Nepal, India and China. The report credited Hasnain's 1999 interview with the New Scientist. But it was a campaigning report rather than an academic paper so it was not subjected to any formal scientific review. Despite this it rapidly became a key source for the IPCC when Lal and his colleagues came to write the section on the Himalayas.

When finally published, the IPCC report did give its source as the WWF study but went further, suggesting the likelihood of the glaciers melting was "very high". The IPCC defines this as having a probability of greater than 90%. The report read: "Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate."

However, glaciologists find such figures inherently ludicrous, pointing out that most Himalayan glaciers are hundreds of feet thick and could not melt fast enough to vanish by 2035 unless there was a huge global temperature rise. The maximum rate of decline in thickness seen in glaciers at the moment is 2-3 feet a year and most are far lower.


British taxpayers' millions paid to Indian institute run by UN climate chief

Millions of pounds of British taxpayers' money is being paid to an organisation in India run by Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the controversial chairman of the UN climate change panel, despite growing concern over its accounts. A research institute headed by Dr Pachauri will receive up to £10 million funding over the next five years from the Department for International Development (DfID).

The grant comes amid question marks over the finances of The Energy and Resources Institute's (TERI) London operation. Last week its UK head called in independent accountants after admitting 'anomalies' – described as 'unintentional' – in its accounts that have prompted demands for the Charity Commission to investigate. The decision to resubmit accounts follows a Sunday Telegraph investigation into the finances of TERI Europe, which has benefited from funding from other branches of the British Government including the Foreign Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Dr Pachauri, TERI's director-general, has built up a worldwide network of business interests since his appointment as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2002. The post, argue critics, has given him huge prestige and influence as the world's most powerful climate official.

The decision by DfID to fund Dr Pachauri's institute, based in Delhi, will add to growing concern over allegations of conflict of interest with critics accusing Dr Pachauri and TERI of gaining financially from policies which are formulated as a result of the work he carries out as IPCC chairman – a suggestion he strongly denies. But Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor who now chairs the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank which challenges the prevailing scientific view on climate change, said: "It is now a wholly legitimate concern to ask questions about possible conflicts of interests. The IPCC is a very influential body and he is obviously very involved in its leadership."

Ann Widdecombe, one of only a handful of MPs who have openly declared themselves climate sceptics, said: "I would have thought that in the interests of transparency and for the avoidance of doubt he probably should not perform both roles. It makes me uneasy."

Because Dr Pachauri's role at the IPCC is unpaid – although he does receive tens of thousands of pounds in travel expenses – he is exempt along with other panel members from declaring outside interests with the UN. But he is paid an undisclosed salary by TERI while the institute has also received payments from a number of organisations and businesses he has advised in recent years including 100,000 euros (£88,400) from Deutcshe bank, $80,000 (£49,000) from Toyota Motors and $580,000 (£357,000) from Yale University, where he serves as head of its new Climate and Energy Institute.

The deal with DfID was announced in September at the British Council in Delhi with Dr Pachauri and Development Secretary Douglas Alexander in attendance. According to a press release issued by the British High Commission at the time, the "partnership will enable TERI to improve knowledge, policy analysis and development practice across a broad range of issues critical to growth, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability in India".

Dr Pachauri, who lives in a mansion in Delhi on the most valuable stretch of residential real estate in India, declared at the time: "This partnership will assist in creating capacity within TERI to undertake efforts by which poverty can be addressed through resource efficient solutions." Asked last week what the money was actually for, a DfID spokesman said it would help "bring electricity and clean energy to millions of the world's poorest people". The spokesman added: "TERI is a globally respected institution. Their accounts are externally audited and annually submitted to the Government of India. As is routine, DFID is undertaking a full Institutional Assessment of TERI as part of our due diligence process."

Mystery surrounds the financial affairs of TERI, which now has five overseas branches in North America, Japan, South East Asia, Dubai and Europe, since it does not make its accounts public even though it is a not for profit organisation. Its annual report only shows two pie charts representing its main areas of income and expenditure although these include no figures. After two weeks of requests by the Sunday Telegraph, TERI revealed income for 2008 to 2009 of £10.7m, up from £6.8 million the year before. DfID said the first year funding of £2 million amounted to about 15 per cent of TERI's annual turnover.

TERI Europe has also attracted British Government and private funding and although no overall figures have been made available for the value of the contracts, they are reckoned to be worth substantial sums over several years. But latest available Charity Commission accounts show income of £8,000 and expenditure of £3,000 in 2008 while separate accounts lodged at Companies House show a little over £60,000 in cash at the bank in June 2008.

Ritu Kumar, who runs TERI Europe, said in response to inquiries by this newspaper she had called in independent accountants Mazars. Dr Kumar wrote: "As a result of this, Mazars has advised us that there are anomalies in the accounts filed with the Charity Commission. As soon as we learned of these anomalies, which were unintentional on our part, we informed the Charity Commission and immediately asked the accountant to prepare revised accounts, which will apply the correct accounting treatment."

In a letter published in today's Sunday Telegraph, Dr Pachauri denies any conflict of interest. He writes: "I am proud of my association with various organisations, of which I am happy to provide a complete list, but such associations are limited to me providing them with advice essentially on clean technologies and sustainable practices. There is no question of them influencing the functioning of TERI, the IPCC or myself. "There is no conflict between these roles and my position as chairman of the IPCC. I advise several organisations on sustainable energy and related subjects, and any remuneration that is due to me from these organisations is paid to TERI, not to me. "This is not for reasons of tax evasion or money laundering, but, to keep within the practices of TERI, of which I am a full-time, salaried employee. No part of these payments is received by me from TERI either directly or indirectly."


Green Jobs, Red Ink, Pink Slips

The "New Socialism" – as columnist Charles Krauthammer adroitly calls the global governmental power grab and wealth redistribution schemes lurking beneath the "green economy" – has kicked into high gear in Washington, D.C. already this year. Struggling to respond to a surprisingly bad December jobs report – and struggling to explain the clear failure of President Barack Obama's massive bureaucratic bailout to stimulate the economy – U.S. government officials are turning to a familiar refrain, "green jobs."

Of course, this familiar song and dance ignores the fact that a huge chunk of the failed "stimulus" went to fund these jobs in the first place. Undeterred by this lack of stimulation – as well as the ongoing unraveling of the climate change myth – Obama's "solution" to this crisis is apparently to continue doing what hasn't worked.

In fact, the red ink had yet to dry on the Department of Labor's latest disappointing employment data before Obama was in front of a Teleprompter announcing that the U.S. government was going to spend another $2.3 billion on tax credits for "green jobs." He also challenged the U.S. Congress to approve $5 billion worth of additional "green manufacturing" tax credits.

Obama is clearly seeking to move beyond picking winners and losers in the marketplace (another proven non-starter), as these sorts of policies represent government manipulation of the marketplace at a very macroeconomic level. In the case of "green jobs," government is mandating (and subsidizing) the creation of inefficient, unreliable and in some cases totally nonexistent sources of energy – all of which in turn creates a net cost to the economy that isn't being recouped.

Exacerbating the problem would be the Obama administration's proposed "cap and trade" energy tax hike and a series of sweeping new EPA carbon regulations. Not surprisingly, these new EPA mandates are likely to become even more sweeping in the event Congress doesn't give Obama the carbon tax revenue he desperately needs to continue funding his unprecedented government expansionism.

In spite of all this, Obama maintains that "cap and trade" is all about creating jobs, even as it would dramatically increase energy costs on families and small businesses across the country while putting dozens – if not hundreds – of larger companies out of business.

Take the example of Spain, which Obama has repeatedly cited as a blueprint for America's "green jobs" effort. According to a recent study from Juan Carlos University in Madrid, the only "green jobs" in the Spanish economy are vanishing ones – specifically the 2.2 jobs that the country has lost for each "green job" that has been created. "Spain's experience (cited by President Obama as a model) reveals with high confidence, by two different methods, that the U.S. should expect a loss of at least 2.2 jobs on average, or about 9 jobs lost for every 4 created, to which we have to add those jobs that non-subsidized investments with the same resources would have created," the study's author Dr. Gabriel Calzada concluded. In other words, "green jobs" are adding to the pile of pink slips in more ways than one.

Not surprisingly, Obama is pushing these positions as another form of payback to the union bosses who supported his 2008 presidential campaign. For example in Maryland this month, a $4.6 million "stimulus" grant was presented to a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) partnership to fund "new and emerging green jobs in the healthcare industry." That same week, the Department of Labor doled out $100 million in grants to "support green job training programs to help dislocated workers and others, including veterans, women, African Americans and Latinos, find jobs in expanding green industries and related occupations." Among the recipients of this money? Unions like SEIU, UAW, United Steelworkers and Communications Workers of America, just to name a few.

So while "green jobs" may be replenishing union bank accounts, they're only drowning this country deeper in red ink while showering pink slips on workers who simply want government to get out of the way so they can get back to doing their jobs. Only in Washington, D.C. is that called that a "stimulus."


Reconsider carbon plan, says Australian government adviser

ONE of the Government's key business advisers on the emissions trading scheme has called for a fresh look at whether the plan should go ahead. Dick Warburton, chairman of the panel set up last year to advise on emissions-intensive trade-exposed activities, said that after Copenhagen's failure, the matter should be debated afresh. He is organising a round-table of company executives, bureaucrats and experts - including supporters and critics - to consider the pros and cons and alternatives of a trading scheme.

His move comes as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott tonight gives his first speech as leader on the environment, arguing that while the environment is important, it is not just about climate. He will seek to redirect focus to areas where Australia can make a difference on its own, including water. Mr Warburton told The Age that despite intense political debate about the emissions scheme, important aspects had not been dealt with adequately. "Chairmen and CEOs and the public have very poor knowledge of what the ETS involves." The round-table should be held by the end of this month, he said.

The Government plans to bring in legislation incorporating last year's deal with the Opposition - which prompted the change of leadership - as soon as Parliament resumes next month. "I think there should be a delay in whatever we do until we have a clear picture of the best course," Mr Warburton said. There was no rush - "We need to get it right."

Mr Warburton is chairman of Tandou and the Magellan Flagship Fund, chairman of the Board of Taxation and a former member of the Reserve Bank board. He personally believes the climate change science is not settled and would favour a carbon tax or other alternative to a trading scheme. A round-table would give some indication of how opinion in big companies is moving after Copenhagen.

Other business sources expect a weakening of support from business for quickly passing the legislation. An important pointer will be the attitude of the Business Council of Australia, but it is yet to consider its position after Copenhagen.

The Government has constantly repeated the argument that business wants legislation passed as soon as possible to provide certainty



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1 comment:

charles said...

The government marketplace should consider other option other than MET. MET has been consistently inaccurate with their forecast and it's the people who suffer from their mistakes.