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BBC ‘hypocrisy’ row as reporter racks up air miles to criticise global emissions

Richard Bilton flew to Alaska and California for the show
Richard Bilton flew to Alaska and California for the show

The BBC has been accused of “rank hypocrisy” after a reporter racked up an estimated 20,000 air miles to ask why “despite all the green promises, we’re using more fossil fuels than ever before”.

London-based Richard Bilton travelled to Europe, the Middle East and the United States for an episode of BBC One’s Panorama in which he claimed “the world is saying one thing and doing another” on climate change.

Analysis by The Telegraph suggests that he could have racked up around 20,000 air miles, taking flights to Dubai, Alaska, California and Berlin for the programme, which was aired on Nov 13.

At the most conservative estimate, this would have produced around 5.4 tonnes of CO2, more than the average person produces in a year and the equivalent to driving an average car for 18 months.

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The air miles estimates are based on one scenario, which involved Mr Bilton taking return flights from Berlin and Dubai back to London, and going from the UK to California and then onto Alaska before returning across the Atlantic.

The BBC would not say which routes Mr Bilton took.

The BBC, which has pledged to reduce its operational greenhouse gas emissions by 46 per cent by 2030, said all the flights were in economy class and were “required” for “on-the-ground reporting”.

But critics have pointed out that the corporation has local teams of reporters in each location, meaning the “one-man jolly” was “rank hypocrisy”.

In the Panorama episode entitled Why Are We Still Searching for Fossil Fuels?, Mr Bilton took aim at how the world’s energy companies are planning to drill for more oil and gas, and interviewed academics who demanded a faster path to net zero in order to keep global warming to 1.5C.

Richard Bilton also travelled to Dubai for the Panorama broadcast
Richard Bilton also travelled to Dubai for the Panorama broadcast

He told viewers ominously: “2023 is expected to be the hottest year on record – the devastation of climate change will be hard to stop if we remain reliant on fossil fuels.”

Mr Bilton added: “Figures seen by Panorama paint a pretty grim picture of the world – everywhere, Middle East, US, UK – we’re getting more and more carbon out of the ground instead of leaving it.”

At one point in the programme, Dr Barbara Haya from the University of California, Berkeley, told Mr Bilton: “We’re in a climate emergency – we all need to be reducing our emissions as quickly as we can.”

However, analysis by The Telegraph showed that if Mr Bilton took a return flight from London to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where he asked if it was a “suitable host” for the upcoming COP28 climate conference given it is “wedded with oil and gas”, it would have been 6,840 miles, producing 1.8 tonnes of CO2.

His trip to Alaska and California, assuming he visited both states in one trip from London and flew domestically between the two, would have produced 3.2 tonnes of CO2, a total of 12,290 miles. His Berlin round-trip would consume 400kg of CO2 for 1,200 miles.

In total, this would mean his flights to make the episode spanned 20,328 miles, producing 5.4 tonnes of CO2. According to the International Energy Agency, the average person in the world has an energy-related carbon footprint of around 4.7 tonnes of CO2 a year, the equivalent to driving an average SUV for 18 months.

These calculations exclude any flights for Mr Bilton’s production crew and travel by car – including one Mr Bilton was seen filming from – at each location.

Dame Andrea Jenkyns, the Conservative MP for Morley and Outwood, said: “If the BBC feels it necessary to lecture the public about fossil fuels, they should practise what they preach first.

“BBC Panorama ought to do an episode on itself, namely how its reporter is globe-trotting on flights at the licence-fee-payers’ expense.

“To add to the rank hypocrisy, the BBC could easily have used its local teams of reporters in each country rather than sending one man on a jolly.”

‘I took several flights’

During the BBC Panorama episode, Mr Bilton said: “Energy companies are meeting our demand. To make this programme, I took several flights – it’s hard to fight climate change if we still use fossil fuels to drive, fly and heat our homes.”

The BBC refused to confirm the exact flight itinerary and could not answer why Panorama did not use the BBC’s local reporters in each location.

A BBC spokesman said: “As a flagship current affairs programme, on occasion, some international travel is required to further investigate important stories and provide audiences with additional insight and analysis which may not be possible without on-the-ground reporting.

“We take our sustainability commitments seriously and careful consideration is made when travel is necessary for a story.”

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