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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From RCP to WG3: A climate change acronym cheat sheet

  • 15 Apr 2014, 11:15
  • Mat Hope

Know your AFOLU from your LULUCF? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made great efforts to  cut the "weirdo words" and put its big climate reports into terms everyone can understand. But that hasn't stopped it from occasionally befuddling readers with a range of complex acronyms.

We decode some of the most common.


IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The IPCC is an international group of scientists set up in 1988 under the auspices of the United Nations. It doesn't do any of its own research, but aims "to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge" about climate change through a series of reports released every six or seven years.

UNFCCC - United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
In 1992, hundreds of heads of state signed up to the UNFCCC. Under the convention, countries aim to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human-induced] interference with the climate system."


AR1/2/3/4/5 - Assessment Reports 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
The IPCC has so far produced five reports reviewing the latest climate change research. The most recent - AR5 - is due to be released in its entirety before the end of April 2014.

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Excitement over ‘clean’ underground coal gasification masks technical reality

  • 15 Apr 2014, 10:50
  • Mat Hope

Credit: US Department of Energy

Coal is cheap, abundant, and responsible for about 40 per cent of the world's electricity generation. That's a problem, because it also has some of the highest greenhouse gas emissions of any energy source. It's no wonder that a technology that could allow the world to continue burning coal - but cleanly - is being met with some excitement, then.

Writing in the  Telegraph at the end of last year, Algy Cluff, chief executive of energy company Cluff Natural Resources, said 'underground coal gasification' could "provide a vital energy solution and produce abundant and cheap gas for generations". The technology briefly put its head above the parapet again today, as the  BBC asked whether it be "the clean energy of the future".

The prospect has certainly piqued the government's interest, with energy minister Michael Fallon  establishing a working group to explore its feasibility.

But is it too good to be true? We explore underground coal gasification's prospects and try to separate the theory from the reality.

What is underground coal gasification?

Underground coal gasification (UCG) involves drilling down into coal - normally deep underground - then igniting it. The resulting gas then runs up another borehole and is collected on the surface, as the diagram below shows:


underground coal gasification diagram

Once the gas is collected, companies can use it to run power stations, or convert it into transport fuel. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology can be added, reducing the process' emissions, and making it relatively 'clean'.

As such, the government now sees the "exciting potential" of UCG as means to generate abundant, domestically-sourced, ostensibly fairly low carbon power in the UK, the Telegraph  reported.

So, what are UCG's prospects in the UK?

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Daily Briefing | The end of business as usual for fossil fuel users?

  • 15 Apr 2014, 09:20
  • Carbon Brief staff

Author: Alan Murray-Rust

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March Was 4th Warmest on Record Globally 
"March 2014 was the fourth-warmest March on record globally, according to recently released NASA data, making it the 349th month - more than 29 years - in which global temperatures were above the historic average." 
Climate Central 

Climate and energy news:

Europe speeds up gas storage to prepare for Russian cut 
Reuters reports: "European utilities are filling up gas storage sites to prepare for a potential Russian supply cut to Ukraine, an important transit route to Europe, taking advantage of mild weather and healthy flows from alternative sources such as Norway." 

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Does the IPCC endorse fracking?

  • 14 Apr 2014, 17:00
  • Ros Donald

Credit: Daniel Foster 

Nations must cut their emissions very quickly if they are to limit the extent of global emissions: that's the conclusion of a new report out yesterday from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  

Some media outlets have focused on an IPCC spokesperson's apparent endorsement of shale gas as a way to mitigate global warming. But a look at the summary reveals gas has to be deployed with caution if countries are to reduce emissions and limit the extent of climate change.

New report

The report is the third and final in a series assessing the state of climate change. It tackles the measures nations will have to take to limit climate change to the internationally-agreed threshold of two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

At present, the IPCC has only released its  Summary for Policymakers (SPM) - a document intended to distil the main messages of the full report for global decisionmakers. More detailed chapters are due to be released later this week.

The energy sector will have to play a big part in emissions reduction, the IPCC says, indicating that the amount of power generated by renewable and low-carbon sources of energy must increase dramatically.

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