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How the IPCC is sharpening its language on climate change

  • 01 Sep 2014, 17:40
  • Simon Evans

Barometer | Shutterstock

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is sharpening the language of its latest draft synthesis report, seen by Carbon Brief.

Not only is the wording around how the climate is changing more decisive, the evidence the report references is stronger too, when compared to the previous version published in 2007.

The synthesis report, due to be published on 2 November, will wrap up the IPCC's fifth assessment (AR5) of climate change. It will summarise and draw together the information in IPCC reports on the science of climate change, its impacts and the ways it can be addressed.

We've compared a draft of the synthesis report with that published in 2007 to find out how they compare. Here are the key areas of change.

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Some important context on Arctic sea ice melt

  • 01 Sep 2014, 16:31
  • Robert McSweeney

Iceberg | Shutterstock

The Mail on Sunday  reports that Arctic summer ice is on the increase, disproving the "myth of Arctic meltdown".

But the article, by journalist David Rose, acknowledges a declining trend in summer Arctic sea-ice. And scientists tell us the increase in ice is natural year-to-year variation.

Climate change is warming the Arctic, and scientists think it will make the region ice-free in summer at some point this century - points that despite the hyperbolic headline, the Mail on Sunday notes.

Ice gain or loss?

The Mail article reveals "how melt has slowed over ten years" using the graph below, showing Arctic sea ice extent from 2004 to 2014.

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In brief: How much do volcanoes influence the climate?

  • 29 Aug 2014, 12:00
  • Roz Pidcock

Overnight, a volcano in Iceland called Bardabunga began erupting, triggering a flurry questions about the possible impacts for the UK and further afield.

In 2010, Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland  disrupted global transport - shutting down air traffic across Europe for several days.

Volcanoes also have an effect on the climate. Throughout earth's history, volcanic eruptions have punctuated the temperature record. We take a quick look at the role of volcanic eruptions in climate - past, present and future.

A tiny contribution to global warming

Volcanic eruptions can affect climate in two main ways. First, they release the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, contributing to warming of the atmosphere.

But the warming effect is  very small. Volcanic carbon dioxide emissions since 1750 are at least 100 times smaller than those from fossil fuel burning, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A two-year cooling effect

As well as carbon dioxide, volcanic eruptions also blast a cloud of ash, dust and sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere, which is quickly blown around the globe.

Sulphur dioxide combines with oxygen and water to form sulphuric acid "aerosols". These particles directly reflect sunlight and encourage clouds to form.

This cooling effect outweighs the warming contribution from carbon dioxide, causing an overall cooling that tends to lasts for about two years after a major eruption.

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The trouble with Europe’s ageing nuclear power plants

  • 29 Aug 2014, 11:35
  • Mat Hope

Shutterstock: Nuclear power plant

Four of Britain's nuclear reactors were  taken offline due to unexpected faults earlier this month. Owners EDF said it took the "conservative action" after finding a defect in one of the boilers, built in the 1980s.

As nuclear plants are prone to breaking with age, a new report warns network operators across the world should be braced for more of the same.

Britain is by no means a special case. Most of the EU's 211 operational nuclear plants were built in the 1970s and 1980s and were designed to last around 40 years, so many are due to close.

But with the EU committed to decarbonising its energy sector, and nuclear power able to act as a low carbon source providing electricity around the clock, policymakers face a choice: either spend billions eking out a few extra years of generation, or close the plants and build potentially expensive replacements.

The  World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2014 suggests that without swift measures, nuclear power in Europe could be entering its twilight years. It warns that unless policymakers make immediate plans to replace ageing plants, by the mid-2050s, nuclear power across the globe could become a thing of the past.

Ageing plants

Forty years is a typical lifespan for a nuclear power plant built in the 70s or 80s. While it's quite common for plants to have their operational lifetime extended, particularly in the US, many close earlier.

 

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Why we’re going to be breaking renewable records for the foreseeable future, and what that means

  • 28 Aug 2014, 13:00
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 William Kunz

UK wind power shattered records last week, spinning out 22 per cent of electricity demand for a day. One in five of our morning cups of tea was renewably-powered, if you like.

Sound familiar? It should, because renewables keep  breaking  records. In 2013 records were smashed. The same was true in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. We've been building a lot of windfarms, solar panels and biomass conversions recently.

The rest of the world has too but it's been building huge numbers of fossil-fired power plants at the same time. But even though renewable electricity output around the world will continue to break records through to 2020, we'll still only get a quarter of our power from renewables.

 

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Why fossil fuel divestment won’t be easy

  • 27 Aug 2014, 15:45
  • Simon Evans

Sai Yeung Chan | Shutterstock

There's a growing global campaign to stop investments in the fossil fuel industry. The British Medical Association, the World Council of Churches and Stanford University are among those pledging to take their money out of oil, coal and gas firms.

But if the idea catches on, it won't just cause headaches for oil moguls. Investment managers will be scratching their heads too. If they can't invest in fossil fuel firms, where should they put their money?

Clean energy firms simply aren't big enough to soak up $5 trillion currently invested in oil and gas firms, according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). But divesting from coal would be much more feasible, it finds.

Original

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Widespread methane leakage found on US Atlantic coast

  • 26 Aug 2014, 15:39
  • Robert McSweeney

New research has found evidence of methane leaking from under the sea floor on the Atlantic Coast of the US. Could this be the beginnings of a huge release of methane into our atmosphere? Scientists tell us probably not.

Seabed seeps

The research has identified hundreds of 'seeps' along the American Atlantic coast - places where gas bubbles out of the sea floor. This could be just the beginning, with perhaps "tens of thousands" more seeps to discover, the researchers say.

They also say it's likely the bubbling gases include methane - a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas. Methane stored under the seabed is one of the largest reserves of methane on the planet - a companion article describes the overall size of the reservoir as "staggering".

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Could an independent Scotland deliver a low carbon future?

  • 26 Aug 2014, 14:55
  • Mat Hope

Shutterstock: Scottish Borders

In a little over three weeks, Scottish voters will head to the polls to decide whether their country should remain part of the UK, and politicians have been ramping up the rhetoric as the referendum draws closer.

Energy policy has been a topic the opposing camps have repeatedly clashed over. Those wanting independence - the 'Yes' camp - claim the country's renewable electricity potential and North Sea oil and gas reserves can provide cheap, clean energy for decades to come.

In contrast, the 'No' camp claim independence could plunge Scotland into an energy crisis, with bills rocketing as the country struggles to fund its own energy sector.

So what difference will the vote make to the energy future of these isles?

Renewables: Plentiful potential, sparse funding?

Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond has enthusiastically promoted the country as the "Saudi Arabia of renewables".

The Scottish government has pledged to get the equivalent of  100 per cent of electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020. Scotland also shares the UK's EU obligation to get  15 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

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Daily Briefing | Labour wants new fracking rules

  • 26 Aug 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff
Get the daily briefing in your inbox at 9AM - click here to subscribe

Government facing four challenges in bid to tackle climate change, think-tank claims
The Government should carry out an assessment of how rising global temperatures will affect Britain's transport infrastructure, homes and energy resources, according to a new Low Carbon Manifesto from the IPPR think-tank. Parties should invest in decentralised energy generation, tackle fuel poverty and introduce concrete plans to avoid a repeat of last winter's flooding. 
Independent

Climate and energy news

Will climate change cause a rise in dengue fever?
New research warns of the increase risk of Dengue Fever spreading in Europe. The disease, which is spread of mosquitoes, could thrive in warmer conditions under climate change - particularly in coastal areas of southern regions of Europe. 
Mail Online

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Pacific watch: Is El Niño finding its second wind?

  • 22 Aug 2014, 14:55
  • Roz Pidcock

Scientists around the world have been watching closely to see if an El Niño develops this year - a weather phenomenon in the Pacific that drives extreme weather worldwide.

After initially predicting with  90 per cent certainty we'd see an El Niño by the end of the year, forecasters began scaling back their predictions earlier this month.

But interest in the Pacific weather phenomenon shows no sign of waning. And after much talk of El Niño cooling off, there are hints it could be rebounding, say scientists.

El Niño watch

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

Together, El Niño and its cooler counterpart La Niña are known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Between them, they're responsible for most of the fluctuations in global temperature and rainfall we see from one year to the next.

Earlier this year, the ocean looked to be primed for an El Niño, with above average temperatures in the eastern Pacific lasting throughout March and May.

But last month, forecasters across the world began  dialling down their forecasts. The atmosphere had "largely failed to respond" to sea surface temperatures, scientists announced.

"Waiting for Godot"

This week, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  dropped the odds of an El Niño developing in autumn or winter to 65 per cent, down from 80 per cent  earlier this month. As NOAA scientist, Michelle L'Heureux,  described recently:

"Waiting for El Niño is starting to feel like Waiting for Godot"

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