Expect twice as many extreme La Niña events under climate change, study warns

  • 26 Jan 2015, 16:00
  • Robert McSweeney

2011 La Nina in Bangkok | Shutterstock

The Pacific weather phenomenon known as El Niño or 'The Little Boy' is regularly in the news. Scientists keep a close eye on its status as events can cause devastating extreme weather around the world.

But El Niño has a lesser-known sister, La Niña, which also has a dramatic impact on global weather. Now a new study suggests that we could see La Niña events occurring twice as often as the climate warms.

The lesser-known sibling

Every five years or so, weakening trade winds causes a shift to warmer than normal ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, a phenomena known as El Niño.

La Niña, or 'The Little Girl', is El Niño's cold water counterpart. During La Niña events the trade winds strengthen, and the central and eastern Pacific Ocean becomes even colder than normal. La Niñas are known to bring drought to the southwestern US, floods to Central America, and hurricanes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Together, the warm and cold events form the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and cause most of the fluctuations in global weather we see from one year to the next.

Understanding how extreme La Niña will change as global temperatures rise has challenged scientists for the past three decades. A new paper, published in Nature Climate Change, suggests that extreme La Niña events will occur almost twice as often in the twenty-first century than they did in the twentieth.

La -nina

Credit: Rosamund Pearce, Carbon Brief

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Briefing: India’s energy and climate change challenge

  • 26 Jan 2015, 11:45
  • Mat Hope

Old Delhi | Shutterstock

The US and India have signed a deal to "enhance cooperation" on cutting emissions and investing in low carbon energy sources. The countries agreed the deal during President Obama's  state visit to meet India's prime minister Narendra Modi this weekend.

Last time the president visited one of the world's foremost developing economies, China, he signed an  historic deal on climate change. As the world's third largest emitter, India is coming under increasing pressure to  follow suit.

The new US-India pact is weaker than the agreement Obama signed in Beijing. But there are a number of good reasons India is reluctant to take strong action to curb its emissions in the short term.

Carbon Brief takes a look at the factors likely to shape India's energy and climate choices in the coming years, and what it means for the world's efforts to tackle climate change.

india challenges

Population and poverty

India has become noticeably more progressive on climate change under  prime minister Narendra Modi. It remains adamant that the world's developed economies must shoulder most of the responsibility for curbing emissions, however.

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Met Office confirms 2014 among hottest years on record

  • 26 Jan 2015, 11:20
  • Roz Pidcock

The UK Met Office has announced that 2014 was one of the warmest years since 1850.

Average air temperature over the land and sea surface was 0.56 degrees Celsius above the long-term average, tied with 2010 as the joint warmest year on record.

The Met Office is the fourth major meteorological organisation to release data confirming 2014 was a particularly warm year,  despite not experiencing an El Niño.

A hot year

The average temperature across the globe in 2014 was 0.56 degrees Celsius above the 1961-90 long-term average, according to HadCRUT4, a dataset jointly put together by the UK Met Office and the Climatic Research Centre at the University of East Anglia.

This is very close to the central estimate of 0.57°C from the  Met Office global temperature forecast for 2014, which was  issued in late 2013.

Lots of factors make measuring global temperature a difficult task, such as sparse data in remote places, random measurement errors and changes in instrumentation over time.

That means the uncertainty in temperature measurements can be larger than the difference between individual years, which typically comes down to just a few hundredths of a degree.

It's for this reason, the Met Office can't say for absolute certain which year was the warmest, Colin Morice explains:

"Uncertainties in the estimates of global temperature are larger than the differences between the warmest years. This limits what we can say about rankings of individual years. We can say with confidence that 2014 is one of ten warmest years in the series and that it adds to the set of near-record temperatures we have seen over the last two decades."

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Daily Briefing | Obama and Modi share nuclear "breakthrough" in landmark visit

  • 26 Jan 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

India flag | Shutterstock

Obama and Modi share nuclear 'breakthrough' in landmark visit 
Barack Obama and the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi reached a "breakthrough in understanding" this weekend on investing in nuclear power in India. While not a concrete emissions reductions agreement like the one Obama reached with China this past November, the two countries have pledged to work together on clean energy and low greenhouse gas emissions technologies, reports Think Progress.      The Times 

Climate and energy news

MPs: Ban fracking to meet carbon targets 
The UK's Environmental Audit Committee today issued a report calling for a moratorium on fracking for shale gas, stating that the practice would be "incompatible" with the UK's legally-binding climate change targets. On top of a greater reliance on fossil fuels, the cross-party committee cited "remaining concerns" over deleterious impacts on water supplies, air quality and public health, despite assurances from Environment Agency that no hazardous substances will be permitted. The MP's also called for fracking to be "prohibited outright" from national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, reportsThe Express. But petroleum academics and the fracking industry have accused the committee of rushing the report and listening to "ill-informed" green groups instead of scientific evidence, says The Telegraph. The Financial Times and the frontpage of The Scotsman also have the story.     BBC News 

George Osborne urges ministers to fast-track fracking measures in leaked letter 
A leaked letter from George Osborne to his cabinet colleagues requests that ministers make dozens of interventions to fast-track fracking for shale gas a "personal priority". The letter calls for "rapid progress" on "reducing risks and delays to drilling". This comes hours after a cross-party committee of MP's called for a moratorium on fracking and ahead of today's Commons vote on shale gas exploration.     The Guardian 

Watch sea ice vanishing in the Arctic over 27 years 
Researchers from the US National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration have put together a new time-lapse animation showing how quickly Arctic sea ice has disappeared over the last 27 years. In the 1980s, ice four years and older made up a quarter of the ice pack but as of March 2014, this was just 10 per cent. Today, ice more than seven years old is extremely rare, says The Telegraph.     The Daily Mail 

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MPs brand fracking 'incompatible' with UK climate targets

  • 26 Jan 2015, 06:56
  • Simon Evans

Onshore gas rig | Shutterstock

Fracking should be banned because it is incompatible with the UK's climate targets, according to the cross-party House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

The committee's report has been rushed out in advance of a series of parliamentary votes this afternoon on the government's Infrastructure Bill. Ten MPs have tabled an amendment to the bill that would ban fracking "in order to reduce the risk of carbon budgets being breached".

This amendment also has cross-party support: it is backed by former Conservative environment secretary Caroline Spelman along with two other Conservatives, five Labour MPs and one each for the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

The Labour Party says it will block UK fracking unless the government agrees to a series of environmental conditions set out in a separate amendment to the Infrastructure Bill.

The committee report and parliamentary votes come at a crucial time for the nascent UK shale gas industry. It is hoping to resume exploration activities, which have been on hold since causing earth tremors in 2011.

Last week, Lancashire council's planning department said exploratory fracking at two sites should not go ahead, citing concerns over noise and traffic. The council's planning committee was due to have voted on the plans this week until developer Cuadrilla asked for more time.

Carbon Brief takes you through the EAC's conclusions on fracking and the climate, and assesses the evidence behind its findings.

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Daily Briefing | EU Carbon Plummets as Panel Rejects Market Fix recommendation

  • 23 Jan 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

EU Carbon Plummets as Panel Rejects Market Fix Recommendation 
European Union carbon credits fell by as much as 8 per cent yesterday after the European Parliament's industry committee failed to agree a position on planned reforms, reports Bloomberg. The failure puts the reforms in doubt, says Business Green. But the committee's failure increases the chances of political backing for early reforms seen as crucial by the likes of Germany and the UK, reports Reuters. The Guardian also has an optimistic take on the prospect for ambitious, early reforms following the industry committee vote. RTCC also has the story.     Bloomberg 

Climate and energy news

New Saudi king seen holding line on OPEC policy to keep oil output high 
Saudi Arabia's new king is expected to stick to an OPEC policy of keeping oil output steady, even as the energy markets face some of the biggest shifts in decades, in fight to protect their market share from rival producers. The price of oil has jumped since King Abdullah's death earlier today added to uncertainty in energy markets.       Reuters

Fossil fuel firms accused of renewable lobby takeover to push gas 
Energy firms including Total and EOn have secured a majority position on the board of Europe's wind energy and solar trade associations, the Guardian reports. The firms' presence has seen the renewable trade groups shift away from promoting a 100 per cent renewable energy future, the article says, towards a more pro-gas stance. It adds that the shift may have influenced the outcome of the EU's 2030 targets for climate and energy.      The Guardian 

The oceans are warming so fast, they keep breaking scientists' charts 
The amount of heat stored in the world's oceans rose to record levels in 2014, Guardian blogger John Abraham reports, pointing to new data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric. There was more heat in the top 2,000 metres of ocean in 2014 than in recorded history, Abraham says, with the figure so much higher than previous years that NOAA had to remake its graphs.      The Guardian 


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Factcheck: Scientists hit back at claims global warming projections are "greatly exaggerated"

  • 22 Jan 2015, 17:15
  • Roz Pidcock

The MailOnline today reports on a study claiming scientists' projections of climate change are overstated. Using an alternative "simple" model, there is "little evidence for alarm" about the scale of future warming, say the authors.

Today's news report is picking up on a study published earlier this month in the Chinese journal Science Bulletin, lead-authored by climate skeptic politician Viscount Christopher Monckton. The MailOnline headline reads:  "Is climate change really that dangerous? Predictions are 'very greatly exaggerated', claims study".

But climate scientists have been quick to point out serious flaws with the new research, calling its approach "cherry-picked", "meaningless" and "simply physically implausible".

                          Screenshot 2015-01-22 14.31.05

Source: MailOnline, 22nd January 2015

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Daily Briefing | World Bank chief makes climate action plea at Davos

  • 22 Jan 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

World Economic Forum | Shutterstock

Davos 2015: World Bank chief makes climate action plea 
In a call to make 2015 a year of action on climate change, the president of the World Bank urged the international community to help developing nations cope with a warming planet. Jim Kim told delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, "We are seeing the accelerated impact of climate change. Last year was the hottest on record." A video in the Telegraph sees singer Pharell Williams join Al Gore on stage at the conference to announce plans for Live Earth 2015. The event - the largest of its kind - will take place on June 18 across seven continents, including Antarctica, reports Reuters. Meanwhile, the Guardian has a complete guide to the World Economic Forum - who the delegates are, what they are talking about and whether the event produces any tangible benefits for the world and its economy.     The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

UK nuclear ambitions dealt fatal blow by Austrian legal challenge, say Greens 
Plans for a new generation of nuclear reactors in the UK have been dealt a fatal blow by Austria's decision to launch a legal challenge to the EU's approval of a £17.6 billion subsidy deal, according to the Green Party. Austria will appeal the EU's decision last year to approve the subsidy deal between the UK government and EDF for Hinkley Point C.      The Guardian 

Six in 10 UK onshore windfarms rejected, says report 
New analysis by the Fabian Society, a left-leaning thinktank, has found 57 per cent of all onshore projects were rejected in 2014, meaning only 161 mostly smaller ones got the go-ahead. The rejection rate is now double that when the coalition came to power, as onshore wind power has become a major area of political tension, says the Guardian.      The Guardian 

Cuadrilla Lancashire fracking application 'should be refused' 
Fracking should not go ahead at two sites in Lancashire, a Lancashire County Council report said yesterday. The recommendation said energy firm Cuadrilla should be refused permission to explore for shale gas at Little Plumpton and Roseacre Wood due to concerns over noise, which would "unnecessarily and unacceptably" affect neighbouring properties. Cuadrilla chief Francis Egan told the BBC that while the recommendation was a "set-back", the limited issues can be resolved. Councillors are due to make a final decision next week, reports The GuardianThe ExpressThe Telegraph and The Times all have the story.     BBC News 

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DNA: How it's helping scientists understand species’ adaptation to climate change

  • 21 Jan 2015, 17:00
  • Robert McSweeney

DNA molecules | Shutterstock

How species respond to climate change could well determine their chances of survival. A new paper describes how scientists are finding new ways to understand how plants and creatures adapt to climate change - by digging deep into their DNA.

The methods are allowing scientists to measure responses to climate change at a greater scale than ever before, the study's lead author tells Carbon Brief.

DNA sequencing

DNA holds all the genetic information that controls how an organism will develop and function. In humans, it dictates physical traits such as height and  eye colour.

DNA sequencing is the way scientists identify which genes control particular traits in a species. But as organisms may have millions or billions of pieces of DNA, sequencing can be a lengthy process.

The new paper, published in BioScience journal, describes how a technology called 'next-generation DNA sequencing' (NGS) allows scientists to analyse millions of pieces of DNA at the same time. This dramatically reduces how much time and money sequencing takes, the paper says.

Lead author, Prof Jonathon Stillman, uses an analogy of analysing a haystack to describe NGS. Using traditional methods you would need to pick out a few straws and use those to try understand the whole haystack, he says, but with NGS you can look at every straw of hay individually.

Move, adapt or die

So what are scientists doing with all this genetic information?

There are three ways a species can respond to changing conditions: move, adapt or die. While it is relatively easy to measure if a species is dying out, monitoring how it moves or adapts is more difficult. This is because scientists need to be able to study how its DNA or physical characteristics are changing.

Scientists use the data they gather from NGS to see where species migrate and which physical traits they're developing to survive. One  study, for example, uses NGS to track how the habitat of three species of giant clams expanded as sea levels rose after the last ice age. And a  study also published this week shows how polar bears have gradually migrated north in search of more year-round sea ice.

There's more than one way that a species can adapt, the study says, and NGS can help with both.

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How the Met Office forecast a hot 2014 and why it thinks 2015 may be even hotter

  • 21 Jan 2015, 14:30
  • Simon Evans

When the Met Office publishes its 2014 global temperature figure on Monday, a group of scientists will be quietly congratulating themselves for having correctly forecast the outcome.

Just over a year ago in December 2013 the Met Office forecast that 2014's temperature would be 0.57 degrees Celsius above the long-term average, a statistical tie for the warmest year on record. Its forecast looks set to be right on the money, agreeing with actual temperatures to within a few hundredths of a degree.

The Met Office has been predicting global temperatures one year in advance since 1999, and it turns out its scientists are rather good at this.

Carbon Brief spoke to the Met Office's Professor Chris Folland to find out how his team forecast the hot year for 2014 and why they are forecasting that 2015 could be even hotter.

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