Analysis

Scientists dig deep into earth's history for clues to El Niño past, present and future

  • 26 Nov 2014, 18:00
  • Roz Pidcock

The Pacific weather phenomenon known as El Niño has attracted a lot of attention this year as forecasters have puzzled over its 'will it or won't it' behaviour.

In May, scientists were confidently predicting a  90 per cent chance of an El Niño materialising by the end of the year. But it's proved elusive, with the odds of even a weak event dropping to 58 per cent earlier this month.

El Niño brings extreme rainfall to some parts of the world and drought to others. So predicting when one will make an appearance and how big the effects will be is important.

A new study just published in Nature uses a diverse array of different data sources, from corals to computer modelling, to unravel what's been driving changes in El Niño over the past 21,000 years.

Pinning down this  enigmatic phenomenon is tricky, the study concludes. But there's reason to believe climate change could lead to stronger El Niño's in the future, say the scientists.

El Niño and climate-readiness

Every five years or so, a change in the winds causes a shift to warmer than normal ocean temperatures in the  equatorial Pacific Ocean - a phenomena known as El Niño.

Together, El Niño and its cooler counterpart La Niña are known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Cycling between the two phases is responsible for much of the variation we see in global climate from one year to the next.

Knowing if and how climate change will affect El Niño and La Niña is an important scientific question, says Professor Kim Cobb, co-author on today's paper. She  told us recently:

"Preparing for large swings in temperature and rainfall is critical to adaptation strategies, especially if such variability will increase in the future."

In theory, human-caused warming could increase the strength of ENSO events, Cobb continues:

"It is important to remember that climate change is much more than "global warming" … Because ENSO involves feedbacks between the wind strength, ocean temperature, and circulation, a change in any related climate parameter would arguably have some effect on ENSO strength".

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Daily Briefing | Geoengineering schemes "could harm billions"

  • 26 Nov 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Geo-engineering: Climate fixes 'could harm billions' 
Geoengineering schemes to alter the climate could prove "disastrous for billions of people", says the BBC. But they might be required anyway to limit increasing temperatures according to a new set of studies on the topic, it reports. The Guardian also  has the story, describing geoengineering as a "solution of last resort". The Mail  reports the fears of a scientist working on the geoengineering studies. He calls the potential techniques "terrifying".       BBC News 
 

Climate and energy news

Juncker reveals giant EU investment plan 
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is giving details of a €300bn (£238bn;$374bn) investment plan to kick-start Europe's economy, reports BBC News. In a  speech Juncker included the integration of renewables into the energy system and energy efficiency in his priority areas for the funds.     BBC News 

New Carbon Market Is Key Part of Climate Agreement, UK Says 
Winning UN support for carbon markets "would be the most important part of any international agreement," UK climate minister Amber Rudd said on Wednesday. Bloomberg reports her comments at a Parliamentary hearing in which she said the UN needs not to specify what nations must do but to agree a "toolbox" for countries to choose from when tackling climate change.      Bloomberg 

China moves on carbon market as part of emissions plan 
China is planning to launch a national carbon market in 2016 that will "mature" by 2020, reports RTCC. The move is part of Chinese efforts to peak emissions by "around 2030". A senior Chinese official has said the rules for the carbon market could be published by the end of this year.       RTCC 

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Is India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, a climate leader?

  • 25 Nov 2014, 14:00
  • Mat Hope

Narendra Modi | Shutterstock

n May, Narendra Modi was sworn in as the new prime minister of India. Many hoped he would prove a  climate change champion. Six months later, those expectations have been tempered.

The next year is set to be crucial to the world's chances of agreeing a new global climate deal. The US and China recently signed  an historic deal to cut their country's emissions. But if the world is going to successfully manage the risks of climate change, it will need India to play its part too.

Given India's status as the world's third largest emitter, negotiators are eager for the country to play a productive role at climate talks. So do Modi's first six months give an indication of what stance India will take?

India's international climate policies

Modi was elected promising to revive India's economy. He sees the electrification of India as key to its economic development, and has made it a government priority to connect more than 300 million citizens to India's power grid.

As a consequence, India's electricity demand is likely to more than triple in the next thirty years, according to the International Energy Agency. That would mean India's energy-related emissions more than doubling by 2040, as this IEA projection shows:

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 09.51.41.png
Source: Data from IEA World Energy Outlook 2014. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Daily Briefing | Back-up gas plant fails winter test

  • 25 Nov 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

CC 2.0

SSE's Peterhead fails winter back-up test 
A gas power plant contracted to provide power at short notice when demand spikes has failed its first test. The  Telegraph says the Peterhead gas plant's failure to provide power as expected puts the UK's "blackout prevention plans in doubt". The plant is one of three that has been contracted by National Grid to provide emergency back-up capacity over the winter. National Grid says the failure shows the importance of testing, and is working with Peterhead to find out what went wrong. The  FT also has the story.       Utility Week 

Climate and energy news

China's renewables could quadruple by 2030 - IRENA 
China could increase its use of renewables from seven per cent in 2010 to 26 per cent by the end of the next decade, according to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Without new policies to support such growth, the share of renewable energy will only increase to 16 per cent. That will require an investment of $145 billion every year between now and 2030, an increase of $54 billion per year on current projections, the report says.       RTCC 

How much do Brits want to see action on climate change? 
The Department of Energy and Climate Change has released the results of a new poll asking citizens how concerned they are about climate change. BusinessGreen summarises the results in five infographics. 73 per cent of respondents say world leaders should urgently agree a deal to tackle climate change, with 40 per cent believing climate change will negatively impact their lives.       BusinessGreen 

Environmental good deeds give people a 'warm glow' 
Behaving in a climate-friendly way gives people a real, physical, warm glow, researchers have found. In a series of lab tests, psychologists found that people classed as environmentally friendly estimated the temperature around them to be around one degree higher than those led to believe their behaviour was environmentally unfriendly. The findings suggest informing people they could help protect the environment by unplugging unused electronic devices may be a better strategy than telling them it will save money, the researchers say.      Press Association via The Telegraph 

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Remote-controlled submarines reveal Antarctic sea ice is thicker than previously thought

  • 24 Nov 2014, 16:14
  • Robert McSweeney

WHOI UAV | Guy Williams

New research sees scientists using remote-controlled submarines to create 3D maps of Antarctic sea ice. And the results suggest sea ice is thicker than previously thought.

The area covered by Antarctic sea ice appears to be slightly growing each year, the reasons for which are proving hard to pin down. Today's research adds another dimension to unravelling the complex goings-on around the South Pole.

Measuring ice thickness isn't easy

Scientists have been monitoring changes at Earth's poles for decades now. But the harsh conditions of the Antarctic make it difficult to get good measurements of the sea ice that surrounds the vast continent.

How and why Antarctic sea ice thickness is changing "remains one of the great unknowns in the climate system," says Dr Ted Maksym of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts.

While satellites are very good at measuring the extent, or area, of sea ice covering the ocean, they struggle when it comes to ice thickness. Satellite measurements can't distinguish between ice and the snow lying on top of it, which makes it harder for scientists get accurate readings of its true depth.

Scientists can also make estimates of thickness from visual observations or by drilling into the ice itself. But these approaches are hampered by thick sea ice during winter and spring, which prevents ships from accessing parts of the Antarctic coast.

To overcome these limitations, Dr Maksym and his colleagues deployed 'Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs)', which are specially-designed unmanned submarines that measure ice thickness to within 10 centimetres.

The data from these submarines, published in  Nature Geoscience, suggests that Antarctic sea ice is thicker than previously thought.

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World Bank: ending poverty might become impossible because of climate change

  • 24 Nov 2014, 13:54
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Lifting the world's poorest out of extreme poverty may become impossible because of climate change, according to the  World Bank's new Turn Down the Heat report.

It looks at the consequences of warming in three regions: the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and eastern Europe and central Asia. The World Bank says these areas are already feeling the effects of 0.8 degrees of warming above pre-industrial temperatures.

If warming reaches four degrees by the end of the century, "unprecedented" heatwaves could affect the large majority of the land area of the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America in the coming decades. This new climate normal could  cut crop yields by up to 70 per cent while increasing flood risks by a third in some regions and pushing up the incidence of drought by a fifth in others.

The shocks and stresses to come could undermine poverty reduction, push new groups into  poverty, lead to  population migrations and even increase the  risk of conflict, the report says.

Poverty reduction

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim writes in a foreword to the report:

"Ending poverty, increasing global prosperity and reducing global inequality, already difficult, will be much harder with two degrees of warming, but at four degrees there is serious doubt whether these goals can be achieved at all."

Today, 1.2 of the world's 7 billion people live in extreme poverty.

Unfortunately the World Bank says some of the negative impacts of climate change may now be unavoidable because the world is "locked into" warming of close to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Even very ambitious attempts to limit emissions  cannot change this.

But averting the worst projected climate impacts of a four degrees world remains technically, economically and politically feasible if global leaders are prepared to take tough choices now, Kim says.

Regional analysis

The report was prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, a Potsdam-based climate NGO and follows similar reports published in  2012 and  2013.

We've taken a look at the 300-page report's detailed findings for the Middle East, Latin America and Europe and central Asia, to see what challenges and changes a climate-changed future might hold.

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Briefing: Country pledges to the UN's Green Climate Fund

  • 24 Nov 2014, 09:00
  • Mat Hope

Credit: UNFCCC

Countries have so far pledged a little  over $9 billion to the UN's climate adaptation fund. The contributions from 22 countries are seen as a vital step towards countries agreeing a new global climate deal in Paris next year.

Here's our guide to the fund, the pledges, and the conditions attached to the contributions.

The Green Climate Fund

The GCF was established at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 with the aim of channeling money to help developing countries implement climate policies. But it has been struggling for funds.

When the fund is fully operational, world leaders have committed to contributing $100 billion a year. That should happen by 2020.

The GCF organised  a pledging conference on November 20th. It gave countries a platform to announce their contributions to the fund's 'initial resource mobilisation period', that runs for three years between 2015 and 2018. The GCF had originally aimed to get countries to pledge $15 billion in seed funding by the end of this year, but it  lowered the target to $10 billion in September.

Pledges from the conference fell just short of that goal, totalling  $9.3 billion, according to the GCF. Many of the pledges were made in countries' national currencies, meaning the overall value alters depending on the exchange rate.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 09.40.43.png

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Daily Briefing | Extreme weather "could become normal" warns World Bank

  • 24 Nov 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Extreme weather 'could become normal', warns World Bank report 
Extreme weather events currently only seen once in hundreds of years, if ever, could become the "new climate normal" as a result of global warming, a World Bank report warns. Some future impacts of climate change, such as more extremes of heat and sea level rise, are unavoidable even if governments act fast to cut greenhouse gas emissions, says  Reuters The Financial Times reports on the accompanying statement from the World Bank president, Dr Jim Yong Kim, that a "frightening world" of global instability lies ahead unless governments tackle the threat of man-made climate change. While  The Guardian reports on Dr Yim's comments that the World Bank will invest heavily in clean energy and only fund coal projects in "circumstances of extreme need" because climate change will undermine efforts to eliminate extreme poverty.      The Telegraph 

Climate and energy news

Governments must stop 'dithering' over climate action, warns report 
Governments must provide urgently step up support for emerging low carbon technologies, such as renewable energy, in order to stop the costs of tackling climate change from "spiralling out of control". That is the conclusion of a new report by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, which calls for concerted efforts to introduce higher levels of carbon taxation in order to drive investment in clean technology.       Business Green 

Britain placed on negative watch list over cost of energy supplies 
Experts have put the UK on a watch list over concerns about the cost of its energy supplies. Despite being in the top 10 for its energy security, the World Energy Council latest World Energy Trilemma report says the UK is sliding on sustainability and affordability of supplies. The UK been placed on "negative watch" along with Japan, Germany and Italy.      Press Association via Guardian 

India, China Said to Drop Opposition to Limits on HFCs in Talks 
India and China now support efforts by the US to expand a treaty to cover a batch of refrigerants tied to climate change, according to participants in the talks. The shift is seen as a hopeful sign for advocates trying to cut the use of hydrofluorocarbons by including them in an update to the 1987 Montreal Protocol. The Protocol was originally set up to phase out chlorofluorocarbons, which caused the hole in the Ozone Layer.      Bloomberg New Energy Finance 

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Daily Briefing | Germany decides against outright fracking ban

  • 21 Nov 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Germany solar | Shutterstock

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Germany to leave door ajar for fracking: draft law 
Germany has stopped short of passing an outright ban on fracking, as neighbours France did. A draft law, seen by Reuters, shows that in exceptional cases commercial fracking could be allowed after successful test drilling and the approval of a special committee. "With this we are setting out the strictest rules for fracking that there have ever been," Germany's environment minister says. 
Reuters 

Climate and energy news

The Next Climate Policy Fight Could Be All About Airplane Emissions 
While some airlines have cut emissions, others' emissions have increased, a new report shows. As a consequence, overall aviation emissions were the same in 2013 as they were a year before. There are a number of ways airlines can improve fuel efficiency, thereby reducing carbon emissions and costs, such as adding a gear to turbofan engines, replacing engine parts, using biofuels, or market-based measures like cap and trade. Environmental groups are pledging to intensify their push on the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, Climate Progress reports. 
Climate Progress 

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How the UK's nuclear new-build plans keep getting delayed

  • 20 Nov 2014, 16:20
  • Simon Evans

Hinkley Point C | EDF

When will the UK get a new generation of nuclear power plants? Doubts surfaced again today with the Times reporting a "secret government review" into French firm EDF's plan to build a new plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

The review is costing tens of millions, the Times says, and is trying to establish whether EDF can complete the new plant by 2023 as it has promised.

The news follows an announcement from EDF that its Flamanville plant in Normandy is facing further delays. The project uses identical designs to the Hinkley scheme.

Flamanville was supposed to take five years to build and begin operating by 2012. Instead it will now take 10 years, and open in 2017. A third identical project at Olkiluoto in Finland is nearly a decade behind schedule.

New nuclear capacity is a key part of UK government plans for decarbonisation. So why is it proving so hard to predict when the UK's first new nuclear plant for a generation will start operating?

We've trawled the data going back to 2007 to find out how DECC's predictions about when we'll get new nuclear have changed.

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