The Carbon Brief Interview: Thomas Stocker

  • 28 May 2015, 17:00
  • Roz Pidcock

Thomas Stocker is a professor of climate and environmental physics at the University of Bern. He served as co-chair of working group one for the IPCC's fifth assessment report, coordinating lead author in the third and fourth assessment reports, and is now running to succeed Dr Rajendra Pachauri as IPCC chair.


On new, more realistic climate scenarios: "There are different policy stories that are being developed as we speak."

Big climate questions left to answer: "Science doesn't stop, doesn't stand still."

On 2015 being the hottest year on record: "I think it's extremely daring to - before even half of the year has completed - to come out with that statement."

Attention on the "hiatus" in the last IPCC report: "If there is a topic out there that is debated … I think it's entirely mandatory that we look at it."

Climate sensitivity: "I think climate sensitivity lies somewhere between 2.5 and 3C."

Climate targets: "It will only be a few years [before] the 2C target will become as ambitious as what we are now discussing for 1.5C."

Adaptation and mitigation: "There is a very intimate link … The more you mitigate, the less you are required to adapt."

A role for the IPCC in assessing countries' climate pledges: "On an annual basis, year to year, I don't think that's the task of IPCC."

Climate skeptics and the IPCC: "Well, it's in the nature of truth that sometimes you hate it."

Scientists speaking their mind: "As a citizen in this world, I certainly feel the urge to express my personal views."

Social media: "I simply did not have the time."

Read more

Cutting soot and methane distracts from 2C goal, says Oxford scientist

  • 28 May 2015, 14:00
  • Sophie Yeo
A sample of black carbon (soot)

Black carbon (soot) | Wikipedia

Politicians have agreed that global temperatures need to be limited to below 2C, and scientists say that this will mean drastically reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. But which one should be cut first?

Humans emitted  35.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2013 - a volume that is increasing every year, putting the world on course to exceed its goal to keep temperature increase since the start of the Industrial Age below 2C.

But this is not the only pollutant that causes the planet to warm. Methane, ozone, black carbon (soot) and hydrofluorocarbons have an even more powerful warming effect, per tonne, than CO2.

Yet unlike CO2, which can last in the atmosphere for up to millennia, these stick around in the atmosphere for a matter of years or even days. As a result, they are known as short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs).

Most countries are focusing on reducing CO2 and SLCPs at the same time.

But a  new policy paper by Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, says that reducing SLCPs while CO2 emissions are still rising could make it more difficult to hit the 2C goal.

He argues that, while there are good reasons to cut SLCPs, they should not be used as an excuse to put off cutting CO2 emissions.

The problem

Governments are currently submitting pledges to the UN about how much they intend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU, for instance, has said it will cut its emissions by at least  40% by 2030 on 1990 levels. There is no obligation for countries to say how much of their reductions will come from CO2 cuts, and how much from SLCPs.

Instead, countries group them together, meaning that their emissions reductions targets can be hit by cutting any combination of any gases.

To create a level playing field between the different pollutants, they are measured according to how much global warming they will cause over a 100-year period.

For instance, over a 100-year period, one tonne of methane will cause 28 times as much warming as one tonne of CO2. Black carbon causes 924 times as much warming.

But the lifespan of these pollutants is short.

Read more

Daily Briefing | Climate Change May Have Souped Up Record-Breaking Texas Deluge

  • 28 May 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

New study: 99% of Mount Everest's glaciers could be gone by 2100 
The glaciers around Mount Everest could be very sensitive to climate change, almost completely disappearing by 2100, new research suggests. Carbon Brief has the details. The study, also covered by Climate ProgressClimate Central and the  Washington Post, is the first detailed modelling of the large Dudh Koshi basin in Nepal's Everest region.      Carbon Brief

Climate and energy news

Climate Change May Have Souped Up Record-Breaking Texas Deluge 
Flooding in Texas and Oklahoma caused by intense rainfall on Monday night may have been exacerbated by climate change, reports ClimateWire. The New York Times says scientists are warning that such unpredictable and heavy rainfall is the sort of weather extreme we should expect more of with global warming.  Climate Progress carries views from a range of scientists on the matter. Meanwhile scientists are also asking if a huge, deadly heatwave in India has been caused or added to by climate change.      ClimateWire via Scientific American 

Norway's $900 billion sovereign fund told to reduce coal assets 
The world's largest sovereign wealth fund, Norway's with $916 billion, has been told to reduce its exposure to coal by a parliamentary committee, Reuters reports. The Financial Times says opposition and governing parties have agreed the fund should withdraw its investments from businesses that rely more than 30% on coal sales or coal-fired power sales. The plan will be put to a vote of the Norwegian parliament on Thursday and, with cross-party agreement, it is expected to pass, the paper says.      Reuters 

Exxon, Chevron holders say 'no' to adding climate experts to boards 
Calls to appoint climate experts to the boards of Exxon and Chevron have been rejected by a majority of shareholders at the firms' annual general meetings, Reuters reports. The meetings also rejected calls to stop investing in high-carbon oil projects, reports RTCCThe Guardian had a preview of the Exxon meeting, saying CEO Rex Tillerson had a history of sparring with activists. The Exxon meeting also rejected a resolution on fracking, says The Hill. However, shareholders owning more than 3% of the firm have won the right to nominate board members, says  The Financial Times.      Reuters 

Read more

Daily Briefing | Why India is captured by carbon

  • 27 May 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Indian coal mine

indian coal mine | Shutterstock

Carbon pricing schemes climb to $50bn, despite Australian backtracking 
Australia may have repealed its carbon tax last year, but thanks to new and improving schemes across the rest of the world, the total value of carbon pricing systems rose to $50 billion.     Carbon Brief

New study: 99% of Mount Everest's glaciers could be gone by 2100 
A new study reveals that a region in the Himalayas could be completely free of glaciers by the end of the century, suggesting the basin could be highly sensitive to climate change.     Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Why India is captured by carbon 
David Rose, a journalist better known for his sceptical articles in the Mail on Sunday, surprises with a long read in the Guardian on the role of coal in India. The sheer size of the country, which is determined to develop and believes it has a right to exploit its fossil fuel reserves, has a global significance at a time when IPCC scientists say the world should be adhering to a strict carbon budget in order to avoid exacerbating climate change, writes Rose. At the same time, India is aggressively pursuing solar power.    The Guardian 

Edinburgh University to divest from major fossil fuel companies 
In an apparent u-turn on a decision earlier this month not to divest from fossil fuels, Edinburgh University has said it will relinquish its shares in three of the world's largest fossil fuel companies in the next six months. The university did not name the companies, but has promised to pull out their investments by November.     BusinessGreen 

World's least-polluting nations aim to set Paris climate bar high 
Gambia, one of the world's poorest nations, is working to produce its intended contribution to the UN deal, despite being responsible for only 0.05% of global emissions. Initial consultations suggest the country might aim to reduce its emissions by 25 to 30% by 2030 from 2000 levels. A government advisor says that Gambia has a "moral obligation" to play its part.     Reuters 

Read more

New study: 99% of Mount Everest’s glaciers could be gone by 2100

  • 27 May 2015, 08:00
  • Robert McSweeney
Dudh Kosi basin

Dudh Kosi basin | Patrick Wagnon

A region of the Himalayan mountain range, home to the iconic peak of Mount Everest, could be almost completely free of glaciers by the end of the century, a new study shows.

And the findings may illustrate what could happen to glaciers across eastern and southern parts of the Himalayas, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.

Mount Everest

The Dudh Koshi river basin sits in central Nepal. It's home to some of the world's tallest mountains, including Mount Everest itself, and is one of the most popular climbing and tourist destinations in Nepal.

Around 410 square kilometers of the area is covered in glaciers, huge rivers of ice formed from snow compacted over many years. In this part of Nepal, these are monsoon-type glaciers, which both lose ice through melting and gain it through snowfall during the summer monsoon season.

In a new study, published in  The Cryosphere, researchers use past measurements of the glaciers to develop a model to analyse how they have changed and could change in the future as global temperatures rise.

The graph below shows the model simulations of changes in glacier ice in the basin. Between 1961 and 2007, the volume of ice has decreased by around 16%, while the area covered by glaciers has decreased by 20%.

Read more

Carbon pricing schemes climb to $50bn, despite Australian backtracking

  • 27 May 2015, 07:30
  • Sophie Yeo
Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott | Shutterstock

The value of carbon pricing schemes rose to $50 billion in 2015, according to a new assessment by the World Bank.

It outlines its findings in the latest edition of  Carbon Pricing Watch, which examines the state of the world's carbon markets in advance of its more detailed report due later this year.

As of 1 April 2015, emissions trading schemes were valued at $34 billion, up from $32 billion the previous year. This was despite the repeal of Australia's carbon pricing mechanism in July 2014 at the hands of prime minister  Tony Abbott.

Emissions trading schemes are not the only way to put a price on carbon. For the first time, the World Bank has also valued carbon taxes across the world, which it finds amount to $14 billion.

The World Bank calculated the value of emissions trading schemes by multiplying the allowances issued for each scheme, multiplied by the price. Estimates of the price of carbon taxes were based on government budgets for 2015, or by the greenhouse gas emissions covered by the carbon price on 1 April 2015.

All in all, emissions are currently being priced in 39 nations and 23 subnational jurisdictions, as the World Bank map shows below.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 At 13.11.18

Read more

Daily Briefing | Flurry of record temperatures as world heats up

  • 26 May 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Thermometer on a beach shows high temperatures

Thermometer on a beach | Shutterstock

Climate change could bring new hay fever misery to the UK 
Hay fever affects 18 million people in the UK, but a new study suggests a warming climate means worse may be on the way. The culprit is the common ragweed, an invasive species that's expanding across Europe, which means up to 12 times as much of its potent pollen.     Carbon Brief

Analysis: Regional attitudes to climate change across the UK 
Do people across Britain think differently about climate change? Or does the UK speak as one voice? Data on regional attitudes to climate change is pretty thin on the ground, but Carbon Brief takes you through the information that exists from the UK and further afield to unpack this intriguing story.      Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Flurry of record temperatures as world heats up to new high 
Featured on the front page, The Times reports the past 12-month period has been the warmest on record, and temperatures this year have set a record for January to April, at 0.68C above normal. With other milestones being broken round the world, The Times asks Prof Adam Scaife at the Met Office whether this means the end of the slowdown in global surface temperature rise. "The pause may be over but we can't say that for sure after only two years of data," he says. "We need a few more years of global temperature data."      The Times 

Hay fever misery to increase with global warming 
Climate change could help a notorious invasive weed known to trigger severe allergy attacks to spread and bring misery to hay fever sufferers, experts have warned. Ragweed is native to North America but has been spreading rapidly across warmer parts of Europe. It is still rare in the UK, but researchers predict by 2050 it could be scattering pollen throughout much of Britain and northern Europe. Ragweed is already the biggest cause of hay fever in the US, reports The Daily Express, who put the story on their front page. The Guardian also cover the research, and you can read Carbon Brief's coverage here.     Mail Online 

Third Energy seeks permission to frack in Yorkshire 
UK shale explorer Third Energy has applied to frack for gas near the Yorkshire town of Malton, the second company to seek permission to drill in Britain. The group has applied to North Yorkshire county council to frack an existing well at Kirby Misperton, near to theme park Flamingo Land. Local planning officers will take up to 13 weeks to decide on their recommendation, followed by a decision from the council. The Guardian also covers the story.      The Financial Times 

Read more

Climate change could bring new hay fever misery to the UK

  • 25 May 2015, 16:00
  • Robert McSweeney
Common ragweed

Common ragweed | Nature Bureau

With spring in full swing, there's much to enjoy about sunny days and warmer temperatures. But this time of year also brings the hay fever season, when itchy eyes and sneezing beset around  18 million people in the UK.

Now a new study suggests a warming climate means worse may be on the way. The culprit is the common ragweed, an invasive species that's expanding across Europe with unpleasant consequences for hay fever sufferers.

What is ragweed?

Common ragweed is a green, leafy plant that is native to North America but has taken root in Europe, Australia, East Asia and South America since the end of the 19th century.

Ragweed typically grows around farmland and construction sites, and along riverbanks and railway embankments. It flowers through the summer and into the autumn and produces large amounts of pollen, which can be carried by the wind from one country to another.

The UK is currently a bit too cold for the plant to flourish. And while ragweed pollen is blown over from Europe, it's rarely in high enough quantities to cause hay fever symptoms.

But that could be set to change. New research, published in Nature Climate Change, estimates the amount of ragweed pollen in the air across Europe will be four times higher by 2050. And it could even be as much as 12 times higher, the study shows.

This means a lot more ragweed pollen reaching the UK, the researchers say.

The study is part of a Europe-wide project on how changes in climate, land use and air pollution will affect the spread of pollen and its impact on human health.

Read more

Analysis: Regional attitudes to climate change across the UK

  • 22 May 2015, 11:00
  • Rosamund Pearce
UK flooding

UK flooding | Shutterstock

Do people across Britain think differently about climate change? Or does the UK speak as one voice? Data on regional attitudes to climate change is pretty thin on the ground, but the information that exists from the UK and further afield seems to tell an intriguing story.

A study published earlier this year in  Nature Climate Change found differences in Americans' views on climate change, depending on where they lived.

Based on survey data gathered between 2008 and 2014, people living in the central US tended to be less worried about global warming than the national average, while residents of drought-stricken California showed noticeably more concern.

UK opinion on causes of climate change

Crossing the Atlantic to the UK, YouGov recently  arried out a poll for the Sunday Times, showing how public perception of climate change varies across five regions: London, the South, Wales and the Midlands, the North and Scotland.

Participants were asked which of the following statements they agreed with: the climate is changing as a result of human activity, it's changing but not because of human activity, it's not changing, or they're unsure.

Read more

Daily Briefing | Kingdom built on oil foresees fossil fuel phase-out this century

  • 22 May 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
A candle tower burning off excess gas at an oil refinery in the desert.

Desert oil refinery | Shutterstock

Satellites reveal rapid acceleration of Antarctic glacier ice loss 
Thinning of glaciers in one of the most vulnerable parts of Antarctica has accelerated at a "remarkable rate" since 2009, a new study finds. Stable through the 2000s, the glaciers began losing large quantities of ice within just a year or two, the lead author tells Carbon Brief. This shows the surprising speed with which Antarctica's glaciers can react to rising ocean temperatures, and without warning, he says.     Carbon Brief 

Limiting global warming to 1.5C is still possible say scientists 
It's still technically possible to limit global warming to below 1.5C this century, according to new research, using negative emissions technologies such as biomass with carbon capture and storage and afforestation. But as the scale of these technologies implied by the scenarios is very large, what does 'possible' actually mean? Carbon Brief puts the new study's findings in context.     Carbon Brief

Mismatched graph creates confusion in Canada's UN climate pledge 
Updated: we've tried to make sense of further verdicts coming in on Canada's confusing UN contribution. Conflicting views of Canada's 2030 target show the complex nature of INDCs in general: issues such as different baselines, target years and accounting rules for land use and forestry mean that it will be difficult to assess the aggregate impacts of national contributions to the UN's climate deal.     Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Kingdom built on oil foresees fossil fuel phase-out this century 
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest crude exporter, could phase out the use of fossil fuels by the middle of this century, the kingdom's oil minister said yesterday. He told a conference in Paris: "In Saudi Arabia, we recognise that eventually, one of these days, we are not going to need fossil fuels. I don't know when, in 2040, 2050 or thereafter." Instead, Saudi Arabia plans to become a "global power in solar and wind energy". The statement represents a "stunning admission" by a nation whose wealth and influence in the world are predicated on its vast reserves of crude oil, the Financial Times writes. Bloomberg Newsalso reported the story.     Pillita Clark, Financial Times 

Business leaders prepare for limited UN climate deal in Paris 
More than 1,000 business leaders attended a business summit on tackling climate change in Paris this week. They called on policymakers to agree on carbon pricing mechanisms, closer collaboration between business and government on climate policies and a joint public and private sector fund for investing in low-carbon technology. The private sector could help close the expected shortfall in emissions reductions necessary to stop 2C of global warming warming, suggested Unilever's CEO Paul Polman. Meanwhile, the chairman of Glencore Tony Hayward called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, but also rejected suggestions that solar could replace coal. The heads of fossil fuel giants Statoil, Glencore and Total, dismissed the idea that their assets are dangerous RTCC reports. "We are going to produce oil and gas for a long time and I see no scenarios where that is not the case," said Statoil's Eldar Saetre.     Guardian Sustainable Business Blog 

Antarctic Peninsula in 'dramatic' ice loss 
Satellites have seen a sudden dramatic change in the behaviour of glaciers on the Antarctica Peninsula, according to a study led by the University of Bristol. The ice streams were broadly stable up until 2009, since when they have been losing around 56 billion tonnes of ice a year to the ocean. Warm waters from the deep sea may be driving the changes, the UK-based team says. Scientific Americanthe Guardianand the Daily Mail also have the story. Read Carbon Brief's coverage of the study here.     BBC News 

Read more