Why the IPCC synthesis report is necessary but not sufficient to secure a response to climate change

  • 31 Oct 2014, 13:45
  • Simon Evans

Factory chimneys | Shutterstock

On Sunday 2nd November, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will publish its latest synthesis report, distilling the latest knowledge on what UN chief Ban Ki-Moon has  called the greatest threat ever faced by humanity.

The synthesis report will wrap up the IPCC's fifth assessment (AR5) of climate change. It draws together information from the IPCC's reports on the science of climate change, climate impacts and the  ways climate risks can be addressed.

It takes a mammoth collective effort on the part of scientists, economists and policymakers to produce these IPCC reports. Is it worth it?

We've collected a range of views on the need for, and wider significance of, the IPCC's work. These suggest it remains a necessary but not sufficient part of the job of addressing climate change.

The synthesis report is necessary

Does the world need an IPCC, asks former IPCC chair and former scientific adviser to the UK government Bob Watson. "My answer would be absolutely yes," he says. "I think it's critically important the IPCC does routinely report back on what we know."

The synthesis report collects together scientific opinion on the technical and socio-economic aspects of the causes of climate change, the risks it poses and the options for adaptation and mitigation. It is unique in taking such a wide ranging and considered view of climate.

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Daily Briefing | Russia and Ukraine reach gas deal

  • 31 Oct 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Gas pipe | Shutterstock

Russia and Ukraine reach gas deal 
Russia has agreed a deal with Ukraine to restart the flow of gas to the country. The deal was "a first glimmer of a thaw between the two countries," EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger says. Ukraine agreed to pay $378 per thousand cubic metres until the end of the year, then $365 until March. Russia dropped its demanded price from an original $485, the FT reports.      Financial Times 

Climate and energy news

European Commission Allocating $816 Million for Energy 
The European Commission has allocated €647 million to invest in power projects across the continent. It intends to spend €5.85 billion to support intra-continental power infrastructure through 2020, including an undersea cable connecting Norway's hydropower supplies to Britain.      Justin Doom 

Offshore wind farms may be scrapped due to budget cap, ScottishPower warns 
Scottish Power are scaling back the size of a planned 240 turbine windfarm due to subsidy cuts, its chief corporate officer says. Trade body RenewableUK says it expects five projects to be competing for a pot of money big enough to only fund a single 700-800 megawatt project. Scottish Power says the government's decision to only award about half the anticipated funds is putting the brakes on the industry's development.  Emily Gosden, Telegraph 

Swedish energy company Vattenfall plans sale of German coal operations 
Swedish energy company Vattenfall plans to sell off its huge mining operations in Germany. As Vattenfall's 72 million tonnes annual emissions in Germany are larger than all of Sweden's, that may seem like good news. But Greenpeace says the operations will continue, just operated by another company. That means Vattenfall will be be able to say it has cut emissions without actually doing anything, campaigners warn.     Guardian 

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Seven unexpected graphs about the UK’s energy sector

  • 30 Oct 2014, 12:45
  • Simon Evans & Mat Hope

Pylons and roads | Shutterstock

Sometimes our understanding of what's going on in the world is at odds with the facts - on issues ranging from  teen pregnancies and immigration to levels of voter turnout and the ethnic makeup of the UK.

The energy sector is no different, it seems.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) delivered one of its increasingly common  data dumps this morning.

We've delved through the  pile of stats to bring you seven graphs about energy in the UK that raise some questions about received wisdom in the area.

Energy costs aren't high, historically speaking

The media is fond of pointing out that households are paying more for  energy than they used to. This is true - but the data shows the cost of energy is a long way from being at historic highs.

The cost of electricity, gas and other fuels has been rising since it bottomed-out in 2004. Between 2002 and 2012 energy bills  increased by 55 per cent, after accounting for inflation. But the amount households spend on energy compared to other things is still relatively low. 

In the 1980s, energy bills represented over five per cent of a household's costs. In 2012, it was a little under 4 per cent:

Source:  DECC energy sector indicators 2013

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Daily Briefing | IPCC "will abolish doubt in climate politics" says Danish climate minister

  • 30 Oct 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

IPCC will abolish doubt in climate politics 
The UN's forthcoming climate report will take the doubt out of climate politics, says Denmark's minister of climate and energy. Rasmus Helveg-Petersen said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change synthesis report, which is being finalised in Copenhagen this week, would build a strong scientific basis for future political decisions.      RTCC 

Climate and energy news

Report highlights 'strong' economic case for national energy efficiency overhaul 
A more ambitious national energy efficiency programme could provide a near £14 billion boost to the UK economy by 2030, according to a report from campaign group Energy Bill Revolution and thinktank E3G. It calls for energy efficiency retrofits in six million low income homes by 2025.      BusinessGreen 

Climate change could create more Boko Haram extremists - study 
Climate change could open the door for extremist groups like Boko Haram to take control of parts of Africa and South Asia, risk analyst firm Maplecroft has warned. In its latest Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas it identifies 32 countries across the two continents where food shortages linked to drought and other natural disasters could "amplify" civil unrest.     RTCC 

Desmond Tutu: Rejoice in opportunities for a cleaner planet 
The opportunities to tackle climate change are cause for "hope and rejoicing", says Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He spoke to a service at Copenhagen Cathedral marking the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's synthesis report, due out on Sunday. God has provided new ways of generating electricity to replace dirty fossil fuels, he says.     RTCC 

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Daily Briefing | Climate change could spark conflict in emerging economies

  • 29 Oct 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Bangladeshi refugees | Shutterstock

Climate change could spark conflict in emerging economies, study finds 

Climate change vulnerability and food insecurity could damage economic growth and amplify the risk of conflict in India, Bangladesh, and a number of other major emerging markets, according to risk analysts Maplecroft.     BusinessGreen

Climate and energy news 

UK weather forecasting just got £97m better as Met Office reveals new supercomputer 
More on the Met Office unveiling of a new £97 million supercomputer capable of performing 16,000 trillion calculations per second. The new computer will accurately predict whether there will be fog on Heathrow's runways in 12 hours' time, giving the airport time to make contingency plans, says the Independent.  BusinessGreen and  The Daily Express have more on the super-computer's capabilities.     The Independent 

EU on track so far with green energy goals, 2030 a challenge 
EU nations have work to do if they are to meet the new set of green energy goals agreed last week, including reducing emissions by 40 per cent by 2030. Official figures from the European Environment Agency suggest emissions fell by 1.8 percent in 2013 compared to 2012, meaning the bloc looks on course to overachieve on its earlier 2020 goal to cut pollution by 20 percent versus 1990, reports  RTCC. An understanding with coal-dependent Poland will be key to achieving the end goal, UK energy secretary Ed Davey tells  BusinessGreen     Reuters 

Lack of wind or nuclear problems 'could wipe out UK's spare power capacity' 
A series of power plant fires and closures has cut the UK's spare capacity - the safety buffer between electricity supplies and peak demand - to just four per cent, according to new National Grid figures. But ministers have reassured households and businesses  emergency measures will ensure there is little threat of blackouts even in a cold winter, reports  The Guardian. So what happens to a country a major power outage occurs?  Channel 4 looks at some of the biggest power outages of the last 50 years.      The Telegraph 

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Nitrous oxide emissions could double by 2050, study finds

  • 28 Oct 2014, 17:42
  • Robert McSweeney

Emissions of nitrous oxide could double by the middle of the century if left unchecked, a new study finds. And nitrous oxide is the third biggest contributor to manmade climate warming. So should we be worried?

Laughing gas

Most people know nitrous oxide as 'laughing gas', used as a mild anaesthetic by doctors and dentists. But it is also a powerful greenhouse gas.

Nitrous oxide is the third-largest contributor to the manmade greenhouse effect, after carbon dioxide and methane.

A new study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, brings together all the projections for future nitrous oxide emissions from different researchers. The results show that on average emissions will increase 83 per cent by 2050, if we carry on with business as usual.

The study also looks at how emissions might be curbed between now and the middle of the century. If 'moderate' attempts are made, the study finds, nitrous oxides would still increase by around 26 per cent. But emissions could reduce by as much as 22 per cent if we really get our act together.

All the projections were made using a starting point of 2005. This means the researchers are able to see how actual nitrous oxide emissions in recent years compare to the different scenarios. And the bad news is that we're currently on the business-as-usual path, the researchers say.

Human activities

Bacteria release nitrous oxide naturally by breaking down nitrogen in the soil and oceans. Total emissions from natural sources are currently around twice those of emissions from human activities.

But while natural emissions have not changed significantly since the industrial revolution, manmade emissions have. This increase has caused nitrous oxide concentrations in the atmosphere to rise steadily since the the mid-19th century, as shown below.

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Five things we learned from National Grid's Winter Outlook report

  • 28 Oct 2014, 14:05
  • Simon Evans

Newspapers are this morning saying the UK is at increased risk of blackouts. The headlines are covering an annual report from the National Grid, which insists the lights will not be going out. Energy market regulator Ofgem and the government are also lining up behind the grid to reassure the public that the lights will stay on.

So what is the document that National Grid has published today? And does it tell us what state the UK energy system is in? We take a look at five things we learned from the National Grid Winter Outlook.

Power supply margins are tighter than last year

The UK's electricity system is in a state of flux. It's changing as power stations close down as a result of old age and more stringent pollution rules. At the same time we are building lots of renewables, mainly windfarms.

During this shift in the supply base, the buffer between peak demand for power and the maximum that can be generated (the capacity margin) is expected to shrink for a few years.

This shouldn't be a surprise. We saw very similar newspaper headlines warning of 'blackouts' in both 2012 and 2013.

National Grid has been busy planning for the change in our energy system for a while. What has been a surprise this year is the number of unexpected events, including several power station fires. These have reduced generating capacity and raised the volume of worried headlines.

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Daily Briefing | Met Office to build £97m supercomputer

  • 28 Oct 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Met Office to build £97m supercomputer 
The Met Office is building a new supercomputer, and it's very excited by the prospect. The computer should allow it to better model the impacts of climate change at a regional level in the UK, the Met Office told BBC's Today programme. The machine will have 480,000 central processing units, 12 times as many as the current Met Office supercomputer.     BBC News 

Climate and energy news

Drying Amazon Could Be Major Carbon Concern 
Since 2000, drier conditions have limited the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the Amazon rainforest, a new study shows. Rainfall has decreased by up to 25 percent across a vast swath of the southeastern Amazon over the last 14 years, according to the new satellite analysis. Dry years can lead to huge carbon losses, Climate Central reports. During a severe drought in 2005 - an El Niño year - the Amazon lost an estimated 1.6 gigatonnes of carbon, slightly less than Russia's annual carbon dioxide emissions, it says.      Climate Central 

U.N. climate change draft sees risks of irreversible damage 
The first bits of coverage of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting to finalise its synthesis report emerged yesterday. Reuters says the report will say climate change will have "serious, pervasive and irreversible" impacts on human society and nature.  Climate Progress rounds up what countries want the report to contain - mainly for it to be written in plain English, with an emphasis on the impacts of climate change. The IPCC's chair said this latest instalment of the its major climate research review completes the "roadmap" for a new global deal, due to be agreed next year,  RTCC reports. He also urged negotiators to remain hopeful of such a deal, despite scientists warning that time is running out,  AP reports.      Reuters 

Great Barrier Reef protection plan 'ignores the threat of climate change' 
The Australian Academy of Science says the government's plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef is "inadequate". Although a recent government assessment found climate change is the leading threat to a declining reef, the Australian Academy of Science states there is "no adequate recognition" in the 2050 plan of the importance of curbing greenhouse gases. The academy says the government needs to recognise it cannot protect the reef in the long-term without cutting its carbon dioxide emissions.     Guardian 

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What is the emissions impact of switching from coal to gas?

  • 27 Oct 2014, 14:00
  • Mat Hope

Arizona gas | Shutterstock

The US's shale gas boom is credited with helping the country cut power sector emissions 16 per cent since 2007.  Official figures released earlier this week suggest a switch from coal to gas was largely responsible for the drop.

But there are competing theories. Last week,  Greenpeace released analysis with the headline 'Renewables cutting US emissions more than gas as coal consumption drops'.  Business Green and  Thinkprogress reported the finding, amongst others.  

So why are the US's emissions falling?

Fuel 'switching'

Figuring out why the power sector's emissions change is quite hard, and relies on lots of assumptions about how the energy market works.

The US gets power mainly from coal, gas, renewables and nuclear. By analysing changes in this mix, it should be possible to work out how switching from one fuel to another affects emissions.

Data from the US's Energy Information Administration shows how much power each fuel generated over a particular timeframe.

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Daily Briefing | Global Warming has doubled risk of harsh winters in Eurasia

  • 27 Oct 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Global warming has doubled risk of harsh winters in Eurasia, research finds 
The Guardian reports on new research that shows the risk of severe winters in Europe and northern Asia has been doubled by global warming. The counter-intuitive finding is the result of climate change melting the Arctic ice cap and causing new wind patterns that push freezing air and snow southwards.The Independent also has the story, while Carbon Brief has more on the research  here.     The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

Ed Davey hails EU energy deal as blow to Vladimir Putin 
Britain's energy secretary, Ed Davey, has hailed a European deal on climate change as a blow to Vladimir Putin as it will reduce the region's dependence on Russian gas imports. "This is a big shot across his bows," Davey said, referring to the Russian president. "We are strategically moving away. Europe will not be as dependent on Mr Putin as before and I think that's a very important national security and energy security message."      The Financial Times 

Climate change: Carbon trading edges closer as UN brokers deal 
A deal to use market forces in the fight against climate change on a truly global scale is close, United Nations officials have claimed. So far, 74 countries, including the EU, China and Russia (but not the US, Canada, Japan or Australia) have signed up to a UN declaration in support of carbon pricing. It is also supported by 1,000 businesses, from oil firms BP and Statoil to giant corporations such as Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Unilever. This means that an international carbon market - in which companies buy and sell the right to produce harmful emissions - is now close to becoming a reality.     The Independent 

The ocean AND the atmosphere are equally to blame for one of the biggest changes in climate in Earth's history, researchers find 
The Mail reports on a new study that says the major cooling of Earth and continental ice build-up in the Northern Hemisphere 2.7 million years ago coincided with a shift in the circulation of the ocean. The research suggests that changes in the storage of heat in the deep ocean could be as important to climate change as other hypotheses - tectonic activity or a drop in the carbon dioxide level - and likely led to one of the major climate transitions of the past 30 million years.      Mail Online 

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