Nuclear power additions 'need to quadruple' to hit climate goals, IEA says

  • 31 Jan 2015, 14:50
  • Simon Evans

Nuclear power station | Shutterstock

The world needs to quadruple the rate it is adding nuclear power capacity to the grid by the 2020s if it is to meet climate targets, according to a new report from thinktank the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The  2015 technology roadmap for nuclear energy, published jointly with the Nuclear Energy Agency, suggests nuclear power capacity needs to more than double by 2050 as part of cost-effective efforts to limit warming to two degrees.

Carbon Brief takes you through the roadmap's findings and its recommendations for securing a nuclear contribution to avoiding dangerous climate change.

Contributing to climate goals

The IEA takes an all-of-the-above approach to cutting emissions. Its executive director Maria van der Hoeven says all low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear, will be required for the "energy revolution" we need to meet climate goals.

Nuclear-free scenarios that successfully combat climate change have been  developed by other organisations, but they would require extremely ambitious efforts across areas including energy efficiency, land-use change and diets that not all experts believe to be achievable.

So to what extent might emissions be reduced by ramping up nuclear power, according to the IEA? Under its two degrees scenario, it thinks nuclear power capacity will need to more than double by 2050, to 930 gigawatts. That's significantly less optimistic than the  IEA's 2010 nuclear roadmap, which put 2050 nuclear capacity at 1,200 gigawatts.

Most additional capacity will be in China (the lilac area in the chart below). Other growth areas include Russia, India and the UK, which has "one of the most ambitious newbuild programmes" in the OECD group of wealthier nations, according to the IEA. These plans include the high-profile Hinkley Point C plant in Somerset, among others.

Credit:  IEA 2015 technology roadmap for nuclear energy

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Met Office puts high odds on the next few years being warmer than 2014

  • 30 Jan 2015, 14:20
  • Roz Pidcock

Expect to see more global temperature records tumble over the next few years, suggests the Met Office's new forecast. Global average surface temperatures during 2015 to 2019 are expected to stay high, with a good chance of beating 2014 for the hottest year on record.

Every year the Met Office releases what's called a "decadal forecast". It's designed to give us an idea of what we can expect in the next few years.

It's new forecast, released online this week, says global temperature out to 2019 is expected to be in the range of 0.18 and 0.46 degrees Celsius above the long-term average.

This means we're likely to see the mercury climb higher than in 2014, which saw a global temperature of 0.26 degrees Celsius above the long-term average.

Decadal forecasts

Decadal forecasts, also known as "near-term" forecasts, take into account natural fluctuations in the climate, as well as human influences.

The Met Office predicts global temperature over the next five years will be between 0.18 and 0.46 degrees above the 1981-2010 average. That's 0.76 to 1.04 degrees above pre-industrial temperature.

The graph below shows the new Met Office forecast (blue shading) and real-world surface temperatures (black line), including the most recent data for 2014.

Met Office Decadal 2015Observed global surface temperature (black line) and Met Office decadal forecast for 2015-2019 (blue shading) relative to 1981-2010. Previous predictions are shown in red. 22 model simulations from CMIP5 that have not been initialised with current observations are shown in green. Source: Met Office decadal forecast  2015-2019

The new forecast slightly edges up global temperatures expected over the next few years, compared to last year's forecast for 2014 to 2018. That one predicted global temperatures between 0.18 and 0.43 above the long-term average. But the difference is very small.

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New US poll shows gap between scientists, the public, and politicians on climate change

  • 30 Jan 2015, 12:30
  • Mat Hope

Crowd outside Congress | Shutterstock

The US Congress  set up a showdown with the Barack Obama yesterday over the approval of the  controversial Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Most members of Congress argue it's necessary for the country's energy security. The president is concerned about the impact that extracting, transporting, and burning the oil could have on climate change.

New polling data shows the vast majority of the US's scientists and growing numbers of the public share the president's concern about how human activity may impact climate change. It suggests that the views of politicians are increasingly at odds with the country's climate scientists.

Causes of climate change

Growing numbers of US adults attribute climate change to human activities, new data from the  Pew Research Centre shows. But there's a big discrepancy between the public, politicians, and scientists' views on climate change.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 11.04.43.png
Sources: Public and scientists,  Pew Research Centre. Congress, the  Centre for American Progress. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Daily Briefing | Shell bows to shareholder demands on climate change

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

Shell logo | Shutterstock

Shell bows to shareholder demands on climate change 
Shell's board has agreed to support a resolution filed by the Church of England and more than 150 other investors urging it to explain how it is managing its greenhouse gas emissions and investing in low-carbon energy. Shell's action puts pressure on BP, which the shareholders have also targeted ahead of the UK company's annual meeting in April. ReutersRTCC and the Guardian also carry the story.      Financial Times 

Climate and energy news

Many Americans reject evolution, deny climate change and find GM food unsafe, survey finds 
A major survey of US opinions by the Pew Research Center has revealed that huge numbers of people in the US reject Darwinian evolution, consider GM foods unsafe to eat, and doubt that human activity is warming the planet. Only half of those surveyed agreed with the IPCC view that climate change was mostly driven by human activity. The Washington Post and Associated Press also examine the report, which was published in Science.    Guardian 

Low oil prices won't hurt renewable energy, says US EIA 
Tax incentives more important than oil price and oil is not in head-on competition with renewables for electricity production, says the US government's chief energy analyst.      BusinessGreen/The Guardian 

How Climate Change Leads to Volcanoes (Really) 
You can now add another problem to the climate change hit list: volcanoes. That's the word from a new study conducted in Iceland and accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters.     Time Magazine 

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Coal returns as most-used fuel for electricity generation, new government statistics show

  • 29 Jan 2015, 12:00
  • Mat Hope

Spinning turbines | Shutterstock

After being briefly displaced by gas, coal returned to its place as the UK's most used fuel for electricity generation towards the end of 2014, new government statistics show.

At the same time, low-carbon electricity generation fell slightly as two nuclear power reactors were unexpectedly taken offline and wind speeds slowed.

The data shows the UK's continued reliance on the most carbon-intensive fuel source for its power, and the energy system's sensitivity to international fuel-price volatility.

Carbon Brief goes through the Department of Energy and Climate Change's latest  energy trends statistics, which provides data up to the end of November 2014. 

Coal use increases

Gas was the most used fuel for electricity generation during the third quarter of 2014, bucking a long-term trend. But, in November, coal generation overtook gas generation for the first time in five months.

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 11.40.04.png
Source:  DECC energy trends, UK electricity supply

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Daily Briefing | Public more concerned about climate change than crime or education, survey finds

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

Flooding in Cambs | Shutterstock

British belief in climate change at highest level in past decade - survey 
Britons are more likely to agree the climate is changing than at any time in the past decade, reports the Guardian. Nearly nine in 10 people say climate change is happening and 84 per cent attribute this somewhat or entirely to human activity, according to a survey covered widely today. Business Green says the survey shows the public is more concerned about climate than crime or education, while The Telegraph notes just 18 per cent are "very concerned" about climate.      The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

New Report Urges Western Governments to Reconsider Reliance on Biofuels 
Government subsidies for use of plant biomass as a fuel are a "wrong turn", says the New York Times, reporting on a new study from green thinktank the World Resources Institute. Biomass is too inefficient to supply more than a fraction of global energy needs, the study says, and continuing to exploit it in this way is in conflict with growing food. RTCC also has the story.      New York Times 

Hinkley Point nuclear deal faces fresh delay 
The House of Commons public accounts committee has abandoned plans to check the value for money of the Hinkley Point C nuclear project because it doesn't expect the deal to be finalised before May's general election, the Financial Times reports. The committee's chair tells the paper that the National Audit Office thinks a pre-election conclusion to the Hinkley Point decision is "increasingly unlikely".      Financial Times 

Shell to cut investment by $15bn over three years 
Falling oil prices are forcing Royal Dutch Shell to cut back investment by some $15 billion over the next three years, the BBC reports. Despite that its profits for the most recent quarter were $4.2 billion, compared with $2.2 billion in the same period a year earlier. Shell is the first oil major to announce its full 2014 results, the Financial Times says. Other oil majors have already announced major cutbacks.    BBC News 

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UK flooding pushes public acceptance of manmade climate change to five-year high

  • 29 Jan 2015, 00:01
  • Robert McSweeney

Berkshire floods 2014 | Shutterstock

There is growing public acceptance of the human contribution to climate change, according to a new study published today. The latest results from a national survey show public agreement that humans are causing climate change is at its highest level for 5 years.

The researchers also find that those affected by the UK winter floods in 2013-14 were significantly more likely to be concerned about climate change than those that weren't affected.

Public acceptance

A year on from the major winter flooding in the UK, the new study led by Cardiff University sheds new light on public perception of climate change. Researchers interviewed 1,002 people across the country about their views on climate change and the floods.

The results of the survey show almost nine in 10 respondents said the world's climate is changing (88 per cent), and more than eight in 10 said human activity was at least partly the cause (84 per cent). This represents the highest level of acceptance that the climate is changing since surveys began asking the question in 2005. More than a third (36 per cent) said that climate change is mainly or entirely caused by humans, which is the most agreement on the human impact on climate change since the question was first included in comparative surveys in 2010.

Capstick Et Al (2015) Is The Climate Changing

Responses from this and previous surveys to the question 'As far as you know, do you personally think the world's climate is changing?'. Source: Capstick et al. (2015).

Capstick Et Al (2015) Causes Of Climate Change

Responses from this and previous surveys to the question 'Thinking of the causes of climate change, which best described your opinion?'. Source: Capstick et al. (2015).

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Claims that climate models overestimate warming are "unfounded", study shows

  • 28 Jan 2015, 18:00
  • Roz Pidcock

A new paper takes an in-depth look at the suggestion that climate models routinely overestimate the speed at which Earth's surface is warming - and finds the argument lacking.

A look back over the past century shows that, by and large, what we see in global average temperature is extremely well captured by models, the authors tell Carbon Brief.

The new research, a collaboration between scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the University of Leeds, is published today in the journal Nature.

Recent trends

Climate scientists study how Earth's temperature changes over several decades. They also seek to understand how natural fluctuations influence the picture over shorter time periods.

The past 15 years has received a  fair bit of attention. It's notable that 14 of those years  topped the charts as the warmest on record. But the difference between individual years has been slight, meaning the earth's surface has risen a fair bit slower than in previous decades.

Most climate models haven't captured this slower rate of warming. Instead, they show continued warming, arriving at global temperatures that are above what we're seeing now.

Prof Tim Osborn, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia, tells Carbon Brief even the  news that 2014 was probably the hottest year on record doesn't change the picture much:

"Despite being very warm, 2014 still leaves the observed warming in the lower part of the range of climate model simulations."

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Arctic sea-ice decline erratic as expected

  • 28 Jan 2015, 14:30
  • Ed Hawkins

Sea ice | Shutterstock

This is a cross-post from the  Climate Lab Book blog.

Imagine a ball bouncing down a bumpy hill. Gravity will ensure that the ball will head downwards. But, if the ball hits a bump at a certain angle it might move horizontally or even upwards for a time, before resuming its inevitable downward trajectory. This bouncing ball is an analogy for the behaviour of Arctic sea-ice.

Post based on Swart et al., Nature Climate Change

Arctic sea-ice melts in summer, reaching a minimum each September, before refreezing through the winter and a maximum extent in March. Over the past 35 years, the extent of September sea-ice has reduced by about 35% overall. But, this decline has not been smooth. The linear trend over the second half of this period is larger than over the first half, suggesting an acceleration, and in 2007 and 2012 the summer extent was dramatically lower.

Estimates of the volume of sea-ice suggest even larger reductions, although necessary historical observations of the thickness of sea-ice are less comprehensive and the uncertainties are greater than for extent. The CryoSat-2 and SMOS satellites are now measuring sea-ice thickness from space, but only during October-April because the presence of melt ponds on the ice in the melt season confuses the thickness retrieval. The available thickness data also shows year-to-year variations in the volume of Arctic sea-ice, similarly to the extent observations.

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Fracking divides UK media as Lancashire Council defers Cuadrilla decision

  • 28 Jan 2015, 12:55
  • Mat Hope

Preston County Hall |

Lancashire Council today decided to  defer a decision on whether to give fracking company Cuadrilla planning permission for two developments. Cuadrilla submitted revised plans after the council released a  planning report recommending its applications be rejected.

Councillors will meet again in eight weeks to make a final decision, having today taken legal advice on how to proceed after Cuadrilla submitted its new plans.

County Hall was unusually swamped today with journalists eager to hear the decision. The case is being interpreted by many in the media as a litmus test for the UK's appetite for a domestic shale gas industry. MPs stoked the fire earlier this week as they  debated fracking regulations as part of the mammoth infrastructure bill on the same day the Environmental Audit Committee branded fracking  "incompatible" with the UK's climate goals.

The time has come

Some parts of the press are brimming with frustration that policymakers at all levels continue to obstruct shale gas exploration. The Sun today painted a dramatic picture of the decision Lancashire's councillors face, saying:

"They can abandon reason and give in to a hysterical mob. Or they can see the bigger picture, work with exploration firm Cuadrilla and make it happen. It's their choice."

The editorial expanded on points made in its  'Sunifesto', which lays out the paper's demands for any new government. It said, "[s]hale gas must now be quickly examined and exploited. Yet even our MPs are in thrall to hysterical scare stories about its harmful effects, despite scientific evidence proving otherwise."

The Times was similarly scathing in an editorial attacking Lancashire council's planning report, saying it showed how "committees of bumpkins" could be "influenced by marauding locals". It called on the national government to do more to remove obstacles to shale gas exploitation, saying "Sometimes we elect a government because we want it to trample on the barons of local government and get on with making the country richer."

The Telegraph is similarly eager for fracking to proceed, outlining its case in an editorial yesterday headlined "let the drilling begin". It said the government has been cautious enough in putting in place a "a robust regulatory regime" and "the time has now come to get fracking. The country will simply not understand it if our parliamentarians continue to stand in the way of the opportunities it provides to underpin our energy security", it argued. 


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