Analysis

HSBC outlines four ways to divest from fossil fuels

  • 24 Apr 2015, 16:12
  • Sophie Yeo

Palurtchaivong | Shutterstock

The divestment movement is gathering steam, with universities, cities, charities and pension funds under increasing pressure to move their money out of the fossil fuel industry.

Those behind the push have sold it as both an ethical and financial imperative. In the first case, investors should not be propping up an industry that divestment advocates say is responsible for the bulk of human-caused emissions.

In the latter, they argue that climate change regulations could lead to investments in the fossil fuel industry losing their value, since the  majority of reserves cannot be burnt if the world is to avoid exceeding 2C of warming.

HSBC released a  report on divestment last week, confirming that it sees the risk of stranded assets as a genuine threat for investors in the fossil fuel industry.

But the threat is not spread equally, it said, and nor is there one blanket solution to deal with it.

Carbon Brief looks at which investors are most at risk from the possible devaluation of the fossil fuel industry, and the different strategies that they can take to protect themselves.

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World's plants and soils to switch from carbon sink to source by 2100, study shows

  • 24 Apr 2015, 15:40
  • Robert McSweeney

Autumn forest | Shutterstock

Every year, trees and plants across the world absorb a vast amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But a new study suggests this massive carbon sink could instead become a source of carbon dioxide by the end of the century.

This means we might not be able to rely on plants soaking up our emissions for much longer, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.

Extra carbon dioxide

Through photosynthesis, plants convert carbon dioxide, water and sunlight into the fuel they need to grow, locking up carbon in their branches, stems and leaves in the process.

Research suggests that as human-caused carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere, plants will grow more quickly because the rate of photosynthesis speeds up. This is called 'carbon dioxide fertilisation'.

This argument is sometimes used in parts of the media to suggest that additional carbon dioxide is beneficial for the Earth as extra food for plants.

But research published this week in Nature Geoscience suggests that plants won't have enough nutrients to make full use of the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  So any benefits will be limited, say the authors.

Nutrient needs

Plants need the right mix of nutrients to grow. Two of the most important nutrients are nitrogen and phosphorus. But there isn't an endless supply in soils for plants to use, lead author Dr Will Wieder, from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, tells Carbon Brief:

"Many ecosystems appear to be co-limited, meaning that both nitrogen and phosphorus are important for plant growth. There are places where one element or the other may be slightly more limiting, but at the end of the day plants need both to build roots, leaves and wood. This is why many fertilizers used in gardens and farms come with both nitrogen and phosphorus."

While nitrogen is abundant in the air we breathe, most plants can only take it up from the soil. Nitrogen gets into the soil by being 'fixed' from the air by microbes and certain plants, such as soy, Wieder says. Phosphorus primarily originates from rocks, and reaches the soil when they are worn down by the weather.

Nutrients can come from a little further afield as well, Weider adds:

"Both nitrogen and phosphorus can be moved around and transported through the atmosphere as dust or air pollution. The subsequent deposition of nitrogen and phosphorus also can contribute new nutrients to an ecosystem."

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Daily Briefing | Oil and gas drilling triggers man-made earthquakes in eight states, USGS finds

  • 24 Apr 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Oil and gas drilling triggers man-made earthquakes in eight states, USGS finds 
The US Geological Survey says the oil and gas industry is causing man-made earthquakes, reports the Associated Press, mainly by injecting wastewater underground. Oklahoma lawmakers have acknowledged the link, says Yale Environment 360, in an interview with a geologist about the issue.Reuters says 17 regions have been newly designated for seismic hazards attributed to the fossil fuel industry. The Daily Mail says oil and gas drilling has caused tremors across the US.        The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

Australia's new carbon price fails to attract big polluters 
The Australian government will pay AUS$14 a tonne to cut emissions by 47 million tonnes after its first new carbon reduction auction to be held after the country scrapped its carbon tax last year. The Guardian reports on Australian government plans to hand $4 million to controversial climate commentator Bjørn Lomborg, who is defended in a separate article in the paper by Roger Pielke Jr.       Reuters 

Fifth of Labour and Lib Dem candidates pledge to defy party line on fracking 
More than 1,000 prospective parliamentary candidates have signed a pledge to oppose fracking, reports the Guardian. The list includes around 300 Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates - a fifth of those parties' total - and a handful of Conservatives, despite all three parties' support for fracking. About half the list are Green party candidates.      The Guardian 

Japan May Target 25% GHG Reduction Cut by 2030, Asahi Reports 
Speculation over Japan's pledge to the UN climate talks continues, with Bloomberg reporting on Japanese media speculation over a 25% by 2030 target. The base year could be either 2005 or 2013, the reports say. The Japanese government may target 20-22% nuclear energy by 2030, down from 30% pre-Fukushimi, reports Reuters.        Bloomberg 

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10 of the best YouTube videos on climate change

  • 23 Apr 2015, 16:20
  • Sophie Yeo

PiXXart | Shutterstock

YouTube turns 10 today. To celebrate, Carbon Brief has compiled a list of 10 of some of the best videos about climate change featured on the site. Featuring comedians, scientists and some very slick graphics, these hits have helped make the internet a more entertaining and informative place to learn about climate science and policy.

So, here they are (in no particular order):

1. A statistically representative climate debate

In US show Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver takes the media to task for creating a false balance in the debate on climate change. To more accurately represent the scientific consensus, he invites 97 scientists and three sceptics into the studio, to comedic effect. The video has gone viral, racking up over five million hits on YouTube to date.


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What do volcanic eruptions mean for the climate?

  • 23 Apr 2015, 15:35
  • Robert McSweeney & Roz Pidcock

Calbuco eruption | P.O. Calisto

Having lain dormant for over 40 years, the Calbuco volcano last night erupted twice within the space of a few hours. The blast sent a huge cloud of ash over southern Chile.

Carbon Brief has asked a number of experts what volcano eruptions mean for the climate, and whether or not we can expect this latest event to have global consequences.

Cooling effect

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 effect is very small. Emissions from volcanoes since 1750 are thought to be at least 100 times smaller than those from fossil fuel burning.

Second, sulphur dioxide contained in the ash cloud can produce a cooling effect, explains Prof Jim McQuaid, professor of atmospheric composition at the University of Leeds:

"Sulphur dioxide is quickly converted into sulphate aerosol which then alongside the fine volcanic ash forms a partial barrier to incoming solar radiation"

You can see this in the NASA video below that maps movements of particles in the Earth's atmosphere. At around 2 minutes in you can see the impact of the volcanic eruption in Madagascar, just off the eastern coast of Africa.

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Daily Briefing | Obama pushes climate change action on Earth Day

  • 23 Apr 2015, 10:15
  • Carbon Brief Staff

President Obama | Shutterstock

Obama pushes climate change action on Earth Day: 'Folks don't have time' to wait 
President Obama used a visit to Florida's Everglades on Earth Day to deliver a strong message for action on climate change. "In places like this, folks don't have time, we don't have time, you don't have time to deny the effects of climate change," Obama said. "Folks are already busy dealing with it." The Washington Post The New York Times and Inside Climate News all have similar coverage, while the Mail Online focusses on the 9,000 gallons of fuel that Air Force One would have used for the trip. The MailOnline also reports that US is to announce voluntary programmes for farmers, ranchers and foresters to reduce agricultural carbon emissions. The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

Gazprom charged with market abuse by EU in challenge to Putin 
The European Union has formally charged Russian state-controlled gas company Gazprom for overcharging wholesale gas customers in Eastern Europe. Gazprom supplies Europe with about a third of its natural gas supplies but it has been under investigation since 2012 amid accusations of attempting to interrupt the flow of gas across Europe. Gazprom could now face a fine of more than £7.2bn and be forced to surrender control in markets it currently dominates. The Financial Times has a Q&A of the implications of the legal challenge. The Telegraph 

Coral Triangle key part of $24tn global ocean wealth 
A new report from WWF has valued the global ocean at £16 trillion, but warns that key assets such as coral reefs may disappear by 2050 because of global warming. Rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification are expected to damage many marine ecosystems irreparably, while 90% of fisheries worldwide are either fully exploited or overexploited, the report says. In economic terms, this amounts to a "potentially catastrophic degradation of assets". Nature has a short interview with the lead author. The Guardian 

Big Six firms use influence to dictate energy policy, claims leading environmentalist 
The influence of the Big Six energy companies in Whitehall is so strong that they are dictating policy and preventing the electricity system from getting the overhaul it needs, says leading environmentalist Sir Jonathon Porritt. "They are understandably very closely involved in maintaining something resembling the status quo," he told The Independent. They do this through "incredibly close relationships" with civil servants and outgoing ministers, Sir Jonathon argues. The Independent 

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Climate adaptation could slash cost of flood damages by 96%, study shows

  • 22 Apr 2015, 18:00
  • Roz Pidcock

River flood via Shutterstock

Without efforts to build resilience, the economic losses from global flooding are expected to rise by at least 430% by 2080, and possibly as much as 2,000%, scientists warn.

The number of global fatalities could rise by as much as 200% in the same time, according to new research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But ambitious adaptation efforts in flood-prone countries could cut the potential economic costs by 96% and reduce global fatalities by 69%, say the scientists.

The authors say the new study is the first to project how vulnerable the world's population and economies are to future flooding, and how adaptation could reduce the potential damages.

Flood risk

Between 1980 and 2012, annual reported losses from flooding exceeded $23bn with an average of 5,900 lives lost each year, according to the team of scientists from two Dutch research institutes, Columbia University, the Red Cross and insurance firm Munich Re.

The following graph from the paper shows the top 10 recorded floods with the largest economic losses globally. An event in China in 1998 tops the list with $40bn in losses.

Screenshot 2015-04-22 14.29.30

The 10 recorded global flood events with the largest total losses (blue line). In 10 out of 10 floods, the losses are greater than the average loss rate for the income group in that year (green bars). Source: Jongman et al., (2015)

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Daily Briefing | Earth day: leading scientists say 75% of known fossil fuels must stay underground

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

Night earth | Shutterstock

Earth day: leading scientists say 75% of known fossil fuels must stay underground 
17 leading scientists have published a statement outlining eight "essential elements" for a UN climate deal in Paris. The Guardian highlights their demand that 75% of known fossil fuels must stay in the ground, while the Independent leads with their warning that there is a one in 10 chance that temperatures could rise to 6C by 2100. The BBC focuses on their remark that the Paris meeting is the "last chance" to address climate change. Carbon Brief has also looked at the statement.        The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

Fossil fuels to be stranded by economics, innovation and climate 
A report from HSBC concludes that the risk of stranded assets has already become a reality for certain coal projects, and will start to affect more high carbon investments as clean technology advances. "If this trend continues or were to accelerate dramatically, this would trigger an economically driven decarbonisation of the power sector," it says.       Renew Economy 

The U.S.'s energy infrastructure will need major changes, says Obama report 
The Obama administration has released its first ever Quadrennial Energy Review, which calls for major changes to the US electricity grid to accommodate more renewables. It also cites threats to the US ageing energy infrastructure, including "more flooding, faster sea-level rise, and increasingly powerful storms from global climate change".              The Washington Post 

Beijing breathes easier as smog starts to clear 
Beijing's smog problem improved sharply during the first quarter of this year, according to data collected by Greenpeace. The group attributes this to government measures to curb air pollution coming into effect. It notes that many other big cities registered a similar drop in pollution, but Reuters adds that the issue may merely be shifting west, with provinces such as Henan, Hubei, Hunan and Sichuan now among those with the worst PM2.5 levels in the country.        The Financial Times 

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Scientists set out eight essential elements for UN climate deal

  • 22 Apr 2015, 07:25
  • Sophie Yeo

andrewvec | Shutterstock

Seventeen high-profile scientists have set out eight demands for the UN negotiations on climate change in Paris at the end of this year.

These "essential elements" must be part of the UN's new agreement to ensure a climatically safe future where global temperatures are limited to below 2C and irreversible planetary changes are avoided, says the statement, compiled by the Earth League of scientists.

Released to coincide with Earth Day, the intervention is backed by scientists from across the globe, including Ottmar Edenhofer and Youba Sokona, who co-chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report into the options for avoiding dangerous climate change.

Several of the elements are more ambitious than the pathways outlined by the IPCC, however, and go beyond the level of ambition currently on the table for Paris.

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Election 2015: What the manifestos say on climate and energy

  • 21 Apr 2015, 12:35
  • Simon Evans

PlusONE |   Shutterstock

Update 21/4 - We added the DUP manifesto.

Update 20/4 - We added the SNP manifesto and Labour's Green Plan.

Update 17/4 - We added the Plaid Cymru manifesto.

Update 15/4 - We added the Liberal Democrat and UKIP manifestos.

Update 14/4 - We added the Conservative and Green Party manifestos.

The UK's closest election in a generation is now three weeks away. Carbon Brief is tracking the climate and energy content of the parties' manifestos as they are launched.

Labour went first on Monday 13 April, followed a day later by the Conservatives and Greens. The Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party launched on Wednesday 15 April. Other parties followed over the following week.

In contrast to 2010, climate change has barely featured on the campaign trail so far. That's despite - or perhaps because of - the joint climate pledge from the leaders of the three largest parties. This promised to work towards a legally-binding global climate deal, to agree new UK emissions-cutting goals and to phase out unabated coal-fired power.

Carbon Brief's climate and energy tracker will be updated through the week as the manifestos come in, allowing party policies to be compared side by side. The image below is a preview of the information available if you click through to the interactive online version.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 At 12.35.57

Carbon Brief's climate and energy election grid includes key extracts from the 2015 election manifestos along with commentary and links to further information. Click the image or this link for the full interactive version.

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