Analysis

Five decisions the IPCC made today about its future

  • 27 Feb 2015, 14:10
  • Roz Pidcock

This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made some interesting  decisions about how to make its reports more useful, communicate them more effectively, and involve more scientists from developing countries.

It's worth noting, this week's meeting in Nairobi was not in response to Dr Pachauri stepping down as chairman after nearly 13 years.

As is customary for the IPCC after the release of one of its major assessment reports, this week has been about reflecting on lessons learnt and how to move forward.

So what's been decided?

Will we see shorter, more focused IPCC reports from now on?

The short answer is no. At least, not as a general rule.

Every 5 to 7 years, the IPCC publishes an enormous review of scientific literature on all aspects of climate change. These are known as Assessment Reports.

Some scientists and governments have  suggested this timeline isn't very effective since it doesn't capture topics in which the science evolves rapidly. The sheer size of the reports is also very demanding on the scientists who volunteer to write them, without payment.

In response, the IPCC has been  considering producing "rapid updates". These are short, targeted reports published in between the major ones, looking at specific topics or regions.

IPCC secretary  Dr. Renate Christ told a press conference this morning that while more frequent reports "might sound like a good idea, there are practical limitations to doing so".

Each report has to go through a rigorous triple-review process by governments and experts. It's this process that sets the IPCC apart from other organisations, Prof Tom Stocker, co-chair of Working Group 1 and nominee for role of IPCC chair, told Carbon Brief at a press conference last year:

"It's this very lengthy, but carefully designed process of the IPCC carrying out this assessment that makes it distinct from all other sources of information. That's a point we would like to preserve."

Producing more reports would mean adding to the already large workloads of the scientists and reviewers involved, Christ explained. So the IPCC has come to a compromise.

The IPCC will continue to produce assessment reports every five to seven years, but it will make better use of 'Special Reports' to provide slimmer, more focused assessments, too.

There have been a couple of special reports in the last few years, on renewable energy and extreme weather, for example. It sounds like the IPCC plans to produce more of them.

The government of Monaco requested a special report on the oceans, for example. It  says:

"It would seem extremely useful and relevant if [the] IPCC could produce a special report dedicated to the ocean … As a continuation of the AR5 chapters dedicated to the ocean, the report would gather in a sole document all the scientific knowledge related to the  role of the ocean in the climate system and climate change impacts."

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Daily Briefing | UK backs £315m renewable energy projects

  • 27 Feb 2015, 10:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Wind farm at sunset | Shutterstock

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UK backs £315m renewable energy projects 
The coalition yesterday offered financial support to the tune of £315 million for a dozen new onshore wind farm, two offshore wind projects and five solar farms. The allocation of funding, awarded under the coalition's reformed renewable incentive scheme known as Contracts for Difference, sets the stage for a fall in solar electricity prices and much cheaper wind power, says The Financial Times. Subsidies newly awarded to wind farms undercut those given to other projects in previous schemes, leading to calls for excess payments to be clawed back, says The Telegraph. The decision has angered Tories and some campaigners aren't happy that solar projects appeared to lose out to wind power in the reforms, reports The Daily Mail. Quoted in EnergyLive News, the Solar Trade Association said yesterday the Government's auction "favours big players". BusinessGreen collects more reaction to yesterday's announcements. The Guardian 

Climate & energy news

Global warming slowdown probably due to natural cycles, study finds 
Human-caused global warming over the past decade has probably been partly offset by the cooling effect of natural variability in the Earth's climate system, a team of climate researchers have concluded in a paper for Science. The finding could help explain the slowdown in surface temperature rises this century that climate sceptics have seized on as evidence climate change has "stopped", even though 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have happened since 2000. "Our study adds additional weight to the notion that this is part of a short-term excursion that is likely to reverse in the years ahead," says Michael Mann of Penn State University, a co-author of the new study, in the Washington Post. The study found that the slowdown in global warming overall is closely tied to a "sharply decreasing" trend in the Pacific Decadal (or Multidecadal) Oscillation. Reuters and Scientific American also report the study. The Guardian 

UK Arctic ambassador called for by House of Lords 
The United Kingdom should create an ambassador for the Arctic or risk being pushed out of key decisions for the region, a House of Lords report says. The Lords committee says with the Arctic warming fast, there will be huge challenges and opportunities for the environment, ecosystems and people. It recommends an increase in government science budgets focusing on the Arctic. And the committee also says oil firms should re-consider their plans for drilling in the region. The Times andRTCC also carry the story. BBC News 

UK low carbon energy share climbs, as energy use keeps falling 
Preliminary figures for 2014 released by the Department for Energy and Climate Change show that primary energy consumption in the UK, on a fuel input basis, slumped by seven per cent, and still fell by 3.1 per cent when the fact it was the hottest year on record is taken into consideration. The reduction was achieved as the economic recovery continued and GDP grew 2.6 per cent, meaning that energy consumption per unit of economic output is likely to have fallen by around 5.6 per cent between 2013 and 2014. BusinessGreen 

Giant turbines driving down offshore wind costs, study finds 
Energy from offshore wind farms is almost 11 per cent cheaper than three years ago, putting the industry well on course to meet government cost-cutting targets. The figures revealed in a report by the Offshore Wind Programme Board show the lifetime cost of energy from offshore wind has come down from £136 per megawatt hour of electricity produced in 2011 to £121/MWh for projects moving to construction between 2012 and 2014. BusinessGreen 

Britain to invest $67 million in low-emission vehicles 
The Department for Transport has announced it will invest 43 million pounds to support ultra-low-emission vehicles (ULEV), providing more car charge-points in towns and cities and helping fund research into electric buses. The ministry said £15 million would be directed to providing drivers of electric vehicles with grants, while £8 million would be used to install new charge-points across the country. Reuters 

China's top climate negotiator removed from leadership list 
China's top climate change negotiator has been removed from the nation's leadership list, appearing to confirm media reports he has retired. The move has left it unclear who will lead China at crucial climate talks in Paris at the end of the year. Xie Zhenhua was appointed vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission in 2007 and led China's negotiating team at recent climate talks. Reuters 

Brent rises above $61, set for biggest monthly gain since 2009 
Crude oil futures have rebounded, with Brent heading for its biggest monthly gain since May 2009, as supply outages in the North Sea and renewed fears of gas supply disruption in Europe supported prices. A reduction in rig counts and expectations for better oil demand have helped Brent prices rise by around 15 per cent so far this month from January's close of $52.99. Reuters 

Ice is melting but the polar bears are fine, say sceptics 
Polar bear populations are recovering well despite claims that declining Arctic sea ice is threatening their survival, according to a report by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate sceptic lobby group. There are at least 25,000 bears, more than double the number in the 1960s, when hunting had left some populations close to collapse, according to the author of the report, Susan Crockford, a climate-sceptic zoologist based at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. The Times 

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UK renewables auction pushes down costs

  • 27 Feb 2015, 08:10
  • Simon Evans

Windfarm | Shutterstock

Contracts worth £315 million have been awarded to 27 renewable energy projects with a combined capacity of 2.1 gigawatts, the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced on Thursday.

The "strike prices" awarded to the schemes in the first-ever Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction were well below those expected. The strike price is the price paid for each unit of electricity supplied by the schemes, guaranteed for 15 years.

Carbon Brief's number crunching shows the government could have supported double the capacity if only the cheapest renewables such as onshore wind had been supported. It also shows that offshore wind projects awarded contracts last year could have been £2.2 billion cheaper, if they had been given the same support as offshore schemes contracted this year.

Most of the projects are windfarms

The majority of the 27 schemes are windfarms, including 15 onshore and two offshore schemes (the blue and green chunks below). The remaining contracts went to five solar farms (yellow) and five schemes that will burn or gasify waste to generate energy (black and grey).

Source: Department for Energy and Climate Change. Chart by Carbon Brief.

The total cost of the schemes is expected to be £315 million between now and the 2020-21 financial year. The schemes will cost around £4 billion over the full 15-year lifetime of the contracts, according to DECC figures quoted by the Financial Times.

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Official data confirms Chinese coal use fell in 2014

  • 26 Feb 2015, 11:40
  • Simon Evans

Chinese coal use fell by 2.9 per cent in 2014 compared to the previous year, according to official Chinese government data published today.

The official data confirms widely discussed expectations of a reduction in coal use first published by Greenpeace last October. The reduction in coal use was despite an increase in the capacity of coal-fired power stations, the figures show.

Significantly, preliminary analysis suggests the reduction in coal use will mean Chinese emissions fell in 2014.

The official data also shows that low-carbon generation capacity, including nuclear and renewables, grew rapidly during 2014. However, it remains a long way behind China's coal capacity.

Falling coal use

Against an overall increase in Chinese energy use of 2.2 per cent, coal was the only major energy source to see falling demand during 2014, with a 2.9 per cent drop. At the same time, the Chinese economy grew by 7.4 per cent, showing it is decreasing its energy intensity.

The chart below shows the percentage change in use for different energy sources in 2014, compared to the previous year.

Energy Amended

Source: National Bureau of Statistics China. Chart by Carbon Brief.

Earlier this month, the International Energy Agency (IEA) argued energy efficiency, changing patterns of economic growth and competition from other energy sources would act to reduce pressure on oil demand, despite falling oil prices.

The Chinese figures could be seen as partial confirmation of this new normal for oil, with the 5.9 per cent increase in oil demand in 2014 over 2013 well below GDP growth of 7.4 per cent. Chinese gas use also grew strongly last year.

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Daily Briefing | Europe releases vision for the Paris climate change deal

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

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Europe releases vision for the Paris climate change deal 

The European Commission has outlined its vision of a UN climate change deal, set to be signed off this December in Paris. Governments should target greenhouse gas emission cuts of 'at least' 60 per cent on 2010 levels by 2050, the report says, with countries belonging to the G20 taking the lead. Europe's own initial contribution will be 40 per cent carbon cuts on 1990 levels of by 2030, a decision backed by member states last October and set to be confirmed in March. But the proposals could 'severely undermine' efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, UK climate and energy chief Ed Davey has warned, reports RTCC. This is because they allow naturally-occurring carbon sinks like forests and wetlands to be used to meet the EU's target, which wasn't the case in previous drafts. BusinessGreen sums up the reaction. RTCC

Climate & Energy News

UK shale gas firm Cuadrilla hits further planning snag 
British shale gas firm Cuadrilla hit another obstacle to getting the gas out of the ground when Lancashire County Counci refused it a permit for a site where it wanted to take geological measurements. Last month, council officials also last month recommended two other Cuadrilla shale gas applications should be rejected. BusinessGreen also has the story. Reuters 

Scientists witness carbon dioxide trapping heat in air 
Scientists have witnessed carbon dioxide trapping heat in the atmosphere above the US, showing human-made climate change 'in the wild'. The new study demonstrates in real-time field measurements what scientists already knew from basic physics, lab tests, numerous simulations, temperature records and dozens of other climatic indicators. Carbon Brief also covered the research. Mail Online 

Cameron's climate envoy blames big six energy firms for green deal's failure 
The big six energy companies undermined the government's flagship programme to upgrade the energy efficiency of Britain's housing stock, according to the former climate minister who is now David Cameron's climate envoy. Tory MP Greg Barker told an audience in London that large energy companies had feigned enthusiasm but never seriously tried to sell the green deal to consumers. Ed Davey, secretary of state for energy and climate change, who was also on the panel, said he agreed with Barker. The Guardian 

Lawmakers Seek Information on Funding for Climate Change Critics 
Democratic lawmakers in Washington are demanding information about funding for scientists who publicly dispute widely held views on the causes and risks of climate change. Prominent members of the United States House of Representatives and the Senate have sent letters to universities, companies and trade groups asking for information about funding to the scientists. New York Times 

World leaders urged to tackle food waste to save billions and cut emissions 
Governments across the world should make reducing food waste an urgent priority, says a new report from the UK government's waste advisory body Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. Reducing food waste worldwide can make a significant contribution to tackling climate change, the report says. Food waste is responsible for around seven per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions globally. The New York Times also has the story.  The Guardian 

UN Climate Science Body Launches Search to Replace a Strong Leader 
With Rajendra Pachauri's resignation as head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations' science body on climate change must now find a replacement. Scientific American looks back at Pachauri's tenure and the hopes for a 'strong replacement'. Scientific American 

Sacre blow! Eiffel Tower embraces wind power 
One of the world's most iconic sites has become the latest high profile venue to embrace onsite renewables, after the Eiffel Tower installed two vertical axis wind turbines as part of its high profile renovation project. Two turbines, capable of delivering 10,000kWh of electricity annually, have been installed. The company say the turbines are 'virtually silent' and have been painted to match the rest of the tower.  BusinessGreen 

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New study directly measures greenhouse effect at Earth’s surface

  • 25 Feb 2015, 18:00
  • Robert McSweeney

Cloudy skies | Shutterstock

Scientists know that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere cause the Earth to warm. But measuring exactly how much heat they trap is harder than you might think.

Previous studies using satellites have established that more heat is entering the atmosphere than leaving it. But a new study goes a step further and directly measures the amount of warming greenhouse gases are producing at Earth's surface.

The paper provides the critical link between rising carbon dioxide concentrations and the extra energy trapped in the climate system, the researchers say.

Greenhouse effect

Joseph Fourier first suggested in the 1820s that gases in the Earth's atmosphere trap heat and help keep the planet warm, coining the term greenhouse effect. Physicist John Tyndall later extended the theory by identifying the gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, that were responsible for the warming.

Jumping forward a century and a half, we now know a lot more. Using satellites to measure how much of the sun's energy enters the Earth's atmosphere, and how much is reflected or re-emitted back into space, scientists have shown that the difference between the two is increasing. This means the Earth is trapping more heat than it used to, and therefore must be warming.

But while those studies show a widening gap between the energy reaching and leaving Earth, they are unable to directly measure how much warming greenhouse gases are causing at a particular point in time. New research, published today in Nature, shows how scientists have directly been able to measure the warming effect of greenhouse gases at Earth's surface.

Measuring energy

The researchers used a set of instruments to take thousands of measurements at the Earth's surface. The instruments record the longwave energy that is re-emitted by greenhouse gases back towards the Earth's surface, which causes the warming.

Making these sorts of measurements on the ground is difficult, says lead author Dr Daniel Feldman, a geological scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US. With weather systems passing overhead, and temperatures and humidity changing frequently, it's tricky to take energy measurements without other factors getting in the way.

To overcome this problem, the researchers measured temperature and water vapour at the same locations so that their influence on warming could be eliminated from the calculations, leaving just the impact of greenhouse gases.

The scientists used data from 2000 to 2010, collected from two sites in the US: the southern Great Plains and northern Alaska. They chose these sites because of their very different climates, says Feldman. This meant the researchers could investigate both a mid-latitude and a high-latitude location.

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How the EU's evolving Energy Union reveals underlying politics

  • 25 Feb 2015, 16:15
  • Simon Evans

EU flags | Shutterstock

Europe's energy system needs to be fundamentally transformed, shifting away from reliance on fossil fuels, according to the European Commission's proposals for an energy union.

A framework strategy for the energy union, published today, explains how the commission plans to achieve this transformation. The strategy attempts to create a coherent vision by synthesising all existing EU policies on climate and energy with a number of new initiatives.

Reactions so far suggest this synthesis has only been partially successful. Legal NGO ClientEarth says the strategy lacks clear rules on how EU targets will be met. Thinktank E3G says the strategy is "good on vision, but deeply confused on delivery priorities". NGO Greenpeace says the plan is "contradictory" and lacks coherence, while WWF says it has "blind spots".

Carbon Brief explains where the idea of an energy union came from and shows how the strategy text has evolved through several drafts, revealing evidence of the differing political priorities that have challenged creation of a clear and coherent strategy.

It's important to note that the commission proposal will be discussed by member state governments at meetings in March, April and June. They could propose further changes.

Moving on from Tusk's energy security union

The idea of an energy union was first proposed by European Council president and former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk in an April 2014 article for the Financial Times. Tusk's proposal emphasised energy security above all.

It called for region-wide purchasing of gas, linking and strengthening the EU's electricity transmission systems, and making "full use" of EU fossil fuel reserves, including coal and shale gas.

Earlier this month, Carbon Brief produced a detailed energy union briefing based on a leaked draft strategy dated 30 January. The briefing explained how Tusk's proposal had been transformed into a more holistic strategy with five "dimensions": integrated energy markets, a new deal for energy consumers, energy efficiency, decarbonising the economy and research.

Since then, a second draft was widely leaked, including to Carbon Brief. This draft shifted emphasis in a number of key areas while the final version moves things on again. So, how has the energy union evolved in recent weeks?

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Daily Briefing | IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri resigns

  • 25 Feb 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri resigns 
Rajendra Pachauri has stepped down from his role as Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) amid an ongoing police investigation into claims he sexually harasses a 29-year old female colleague at his New Delhi-based research institute. In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Pachauri cited concerns that he could no longer show the "strong leadership and dedication" required from an IPCC chair, reports RTCC questioning the significance of Pachauri's resignation for crucial climate talks taking place in Paris in December, Sky News in Australia quotes ambassador Laurence Tubiana of France as saying, "The work of the fifth (assessment report) has been finalised and nothing is going to change from this point of view." The BBC's Roger Harrabin says Pachauri's departure is "unlikely to create lasting damage to the IPCC as he was due to retire, and potential replacements are already throwing hats in the ring". The Guardian looks at who's in the running. In the meantime, the IPCC has appointed Sudan's Ismail El Gizouli, who may end up remaining acting chairman until Pachauri's replacement is elected in October, says the Financial TimesReutersThe TelegraphThe TimesThe Daily MailAPThe New York Times and BusinessGreen have more on the story. The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

European carbon market reform set for 2019 
Reforms to strengthen the EU's flagship carbon cutting policy will begin two years ahead of schedule, after the European Parliament approved a plan to remove 1.6 billion extra carbon allowances from the market. While some environmental groups say the flailing trading scheme still risks undermining emission reduction targets, the move has been hailed by others as a "gamechanging" compromise, reports RTCC. A report by Reuters Thomson Point Carbon estimates that by 2020, the reforms could lift carbon prices up to €20 per tonne from their current value of around €5. BusinessGreen has the reaction. The Guardian 

Obama vetoes Keystone pipeline bill 
The decision may be the beginning of the end for one of the biggest energy fights of Obama's administration, says Bloomberg New Energy Finance. But it might not be quite the death blow it seems, suggests Climate CentralThe Financial Times 

US sea level north of New York City 'jumped by 128mm' 
Sea levels north along the northeast US coast rose by a record 128mm in the two years between 2009 and 2010, according to a report in the journal Nature Communications. Professor Rowan Sutton from the University of Reading in the UK says, "There is strong evidence that the likelihood of such events has been increased by climate change, and that we should expect more such events in the future." BBC News 

EU "backtracks" on climate goals in UN pledge, says experts 
Changes in the way the EU accounts for changing land use in emissions reductions could mean its targets for 2030 are weaker than previously proposed. The bloc has set a target to cut carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 but unlike last year when it was first proposed, the target now includes emissions from forestry and land use. Analysts say the contribution from existing forest growth means that target effectively drops to 35 per cent, placing less pressure on buildings, agriculture and transport. RTCC 

Shell shelves plan for tar sands project in face of low oil prices 
Shell has shelved plans for a new 200,000-barrel-per-day tar sands mine in Canada, as the high-cost production industry tries to cope with prices at six-year lows. President of Shell Canada, Lorraine Mitchelmore, says, "The Pierre River Mine remains a very long-term opportunity for us, but it's not currently a priority." Total, Statoil and Cenovus Energy have recently postponed big oil sands projects. The Guardian 

EU lawmakers back new limit for food-based biofuel 
A European Parliamentary committee has backed a new limit on traditional biofuels made from food crops. Tuesday's vote agreed biofuel from food crops should not exceed six per cent of final energy use in transport - a tougher limit than the 7 percent backed by member states last year. Current legislation requires that renewable sources account for at least 10 percent of energy in transport by 2020. Reuters 

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MEPs vote for early EU carbon market fix

  • 24 Feb 2015, 16:15
  • Simon Evans

Trading chart | Shutterstock

An early and ambitious fix to the European Union's emissions trading scheme (ETS) has been backed by the European Parliament's environment committee in a vote today.

The ETS is central to the EU's efforts to tackle climate change, but has been suffering from  chronically low prices that are insufficient to drive low-carbon investments.

To fix the market, the European Commission had proposed reforms starting in 2021, designed to reduce a surplus of two billion carbon credits on the market which have caused low prices.

Today's parliamentary vote backs earlier implementation of the reforms, starting in 2018, and contains additional measures to tackle surplus allowances.

Analysts say the reforms could see EU carbon prices more than double by 2020, to between €17 and €35 per tonne. Member states must still back any reforms to the ETS, however.

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Pachauri steps down as head of UN climate Panel

  • 24 Feb 2015, 11:50
  • Roz Pidcock

Dr Rajendra Pachauri has stepped down from his role as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), effective today.

After nearly 13 years in the job, Pachauri was due to step down later this year. However, his departure has been brought forward pending allegations of sexual harassment at the New Delhi-based research centre TERI, where he is director general.

Pachauri has strongly denied the allegations, saying his personal email account had been hacked to send inappropriate messages to a colleague.

Today's press release  from the IPCC doesn't give a reason for Pachauri's early departure, but says the decision has been taken to ensure the IPCC's work "continues without interruption".

Pachauri announced his resignation in a letter to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, citing concerns that he is no longer able to provide the "strong leadership and dedication" required from an IPCC Chair.

Interim chief

The IPCC has today appointed vice-chair Ismail El Gizouli as acting chair. Carbon Brief understands El Gizouli will serve in this role until the end of this week's meeting in Nairobi.

This is the first meeting of the IPCC since the completion of the Fifth Assessment Report and will discuss the structure and internal workings of the IPCC, as well as changes to size or frequency of reports it produces.

Pachauri, due to chair the event,  pulled out on Monday amid the ongoing police investigation. He announced his resignation in a letter today to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, saying:

"The IPCC needs strong leadership and dedication of time and full attention by the chair in the immediate future, which in the current circumstances I may be unable to provide, as shown by my inability to travel to Nairobi to chair the plenary session of the Panel this week."

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