Carbon Briefing: how energy demand could drink up global water resources

  • 23 Apr 2014, 13:30
  • Robin Webster

Increasing energy demand is set to put pressure on the world's water resources over the coming decades, according to a number of new expert studies. Even if the world shifts away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner power supplies, growing demand could help put water supplies under severe strain by the middle of the century.  

From cooling down power plants and extracting, transporting and processing fuels to growing crops used as biofuels, energy production relies on water. Altogether, the sector accounts for 15 per cent of water withdrawals around the world, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Only agriculture is more water-hungry.

Yet demand is going up - just as growing populations and climate change put the world water supplies under  even more pressure. Working out where water supplies for energy will come from in future is one of the "great challenges of our generation," the  World Resources Institute says.

Changing threats to water supplies 

Water resources are already stretched. Groundwater extraction has  tripled in the last 50 years in response to rising demand. Some underwater stores are now reaching "critically low levels", according to the latest edition of the  UN World Water Development Report, released in March.

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Daily Briefing | New wind and biomass plants get go-ahead

  • 23 Apr 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Credit: Andy S-D

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Eight renewable energy projects approved 
The BBC reports that eight major renewable energy projects have been given government approval, the first awarded under the government's energy market reforms. They comprise offshore wind farms and two biomass conversion projects at Drax and Lynemouth, although another project at Drax has not been approved. The projects still need to receive private investment. BBC News  

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Study: “plumes” of methane released into the atmosphere by a few super-emitting shale gas wells

  • 22 Apr 2014, 13:30
  • Robin Webster

Methane emissions from some shale gas wells could be up to a thousand times higher than official estimates - meaning they have a warming effect orders of magnitude higher than previously thought. But the finding only refers to a few 'super-emitter' sites, a tiny proportion of the total number of drilling locations, accordong to a recent study. 

The government argues that the UK could burn gas  instead of coal as a way of cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the energy system. That includes domestically produced shale gas

But some academics argue that gas leaks during the process of extracting shale gas from rock - known as fracking - could make the fuel far more climate-polluting than its supporters claim. 

The evidence is contested, and other researchers disagree. But a new  study from researchers at a number of American universities appears to support the idea that 'fugitive' or unplanned emissions from shale gas wells could be substantial. The study identifies a small number of sites where drilling for shale gas has released large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. 


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Daily Briefing | Spotlight on energy sources

  • 22 Apr 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Tilbury power station: Ashley Dace 

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Fracking claim on baby health 
Opening Britain up to fracking risks increasing the number of birth defects in children of mothers who live near exploration sites, a group of doctors has said. In an editorial published in the BMJ, they criticised a report in October by Public Health England that said there were minimal health implications to shale gas exploration. Times 

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IPCC review of farming and forests leaves key questions about effect on climate change "unresolved"

  • 17 Apr 2014, 12:15
  • Robin Webster

The rate at which we're chopping down the world's forests is declining - and in future, crops and newly planted forests could help prevent more climate change, according to the UN.

But uncertainties surrounding how we measure emissions, and what changing temperatures will mean for the world's forests, mean it's hard to be sure this is a good news story.

Emissions from farming, deforestation and other land use are going down, and are expected to continue doing so in the future. By the end of the century, humanity could use the land as a carbon sink, rather than a source of emissions, according to the Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s latest  report

It sounds like one piece of good news among  gloomy predictions from the IPCC. But human land use is only one part of a complex picture. 

Climate change could lead to forests  drying out, releasing more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And using trees, crops and plants as a source of energy instead of fossil fuels could also lead to more forest destruction.  

Declining emissions

Agriculture, forestry and other land use account for about a quarter (24 per cent) of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Most of these emissions come from deforestation, changes to the soil and livestock farming.

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Climate change is a political animal

  • 17 Apr 2014, 10:30
  • Guest post by Paul Tobin

Credit: Pete Souza

The UN's climate reports provide an objective summary of existing scientific research, with no remit for saying who should do what. Yet responding to climate change is a political process. 

The final part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s latest report - outlining 'mitigation' or prevention of climate change - is likely to be the most politically sensitive and contentious of the three current reports.

The IPCC's report informs the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which  was formed in 1992, under which hundreds of governments agreed to act on climate change. 

22 years later, time is running out: the latest report argues that if a two degrees Celsius temperature increase is to be avoided - the level beyond which climate change is expected to become much more severe - significant changes must be made in the next 15 years. 

The only thing that will achieve this goal is a successful political process. 

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Daily Briefing | The return of the fracking debate

  • 17 Apr 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Source: Frack Off

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Study Finds Methane Leaks 1,000 Times EPA Estimates During Marcellus Drilling 
The first paper to directly measure methane plumes above shale gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania has recorded methane leaks far more powerful than government estimates. Methane is especially important because its global warming effects are at their strongest during the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere - in other words, during the small window of time available for reducing emissions, desmogblog reports. Desmogblog 

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Tackling global warming could slow global growth - by 0.06 per cent, IPCC predicts

  • 16 Apr 2014, 14:00
  • Mat Hope

Economists and policymakers have spent decades debating how much the world will have to pay to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and whether it's worth the cost. A key finding in the UN's latest big climate report should help move that debate along: tackling climate change could slow economic growth by just 0.06 per cent a year, it says.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the third instalment of its review of latest climate change research last Sunday. While the first two instalments aimed to better define the climate change problem, the third report focuses on potential solutions - from ramping up wind and solar power, to halting deforestation.

But governments don't just want to know what they must do to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, they also want to know how much it will cost. So the IPCC's latest report spells out the choice: governments either pay a bit to curb emissions now, or risk much larger costs in the future.

Or, as IPCC co-chair Ottmar Edenhofer put it during the report's launch, "Climate policy isn't a free lunch but could be lunch [that's] worthwhile to buy".

Taking action is relatively cheap

In 1992, countries agreed they would curb emissions to prevent temperatures rising by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels. 22 years on, after more than two decades of increasing emissions, that goal looks ever more ambitious.

So it may come as a surprise to find that the IPCC says the cost of keeping the pledge may be relatively low.

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Daily Briefing | Energy policy pendulum

  • 16 Apr 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

World must act quickly to reverse buildup of heat-trapping gases, UN climate change panel says 
The cost of keeping global warming in check is "relatively modest," but only if the world acts quickly to reverse the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, reports Fox News. The piece quotes IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri, saying "the cost is not something that's going to bring about a major disruption of economic systems. It's well within our reach." 
Associated Press via Fox News 

Climate and energy news:

Beijing says one third of its pollution comes from outside the city 
The chief of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau has said that about 28-36 per cent of hazardous airborne particles comes from surrounding provinces, home to seven of China's top ten most polluted cities. Of the smog generated in Beijing, 22.4 per cent is from coal burning - but the city plans to cut coal consumption by 13 million tonnes by 2017, down from about 23 million tonnes in 2013.

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Degrees of change: the IPCC’s projections for future temperature rise

  • 15 Apr 2014, 12:00
  • Robin Webster

Many governments are trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But unless policymakers raise their ambition significantly, temperatures are likely to rise beyond safe levels. We examine the pathways that could take us towards a two degrees temperature rise by the end of the century - or considerably higher. 

On Sunday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the last in a series of three reports, which together assess the physical evidence that climate change is happening, the  expected impacts over the course of this century and what would need to happen to curb the rise in greenhouse gases.

Embedded in the reports are the scientists' predictions for how high temperatures are likely to rise this century - and what that's likely to mean for ecosystems and societies around the world. 

Comparing scenarios 

The IPCC bases its projections for future temperature rise on two different techniques. 

First, the IPCC has created its own storylines, or scenarios, describing how high temperatures are likely to rise in the future and what that might mean. The scenarios vary according to different predictions for how societies develop and how much effort we make to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the course of this century.

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