US emissions increase hints at limitations of Obama’s clean power plan

  • 22 Oct 2014, 17:10
  • Mat Hope

President Obama | Shutterstock

US energy sector emissions increased slightly in 2013, according to new data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). This may seem like bad news for President Obama, who has pledged to cut the country's emissions 17 per cent by 2020.

Obama unveiled his  clean power plan earlier this year to much fanfare. The centrepiece of the plan is to reduce emissions from electricity generation by 30 per cent by 2020.

The US's rising energy sector emissions seem to  suggest the policy may not be as effective as Obama hopes.

Obama's clean power plan specifically targets emissions from power generation, which accounts for   about 32 per cent of the US's total emissions. Cutting emissions from the US's homes and businesses is a much smaller part of his wider   Climate Action Plan.

The EIA's data shows the potential limitations of focusing on cutting power generation emissions without addressing the country's broader energy consumption.

Emissions increase

US energy sector emissions increased 2.5 per cent in 2013 compared to year before, the EIA's data shows. The EIA says the main reason for the increase was colder weather.

Winter temperatures at the start of 2013 were lower than a year before, and the US also experienced a particularly mild spring last year. Temperatures fell again later in the year, when the US was  engulfed by the polar vortex.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 16.15.40.png
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, average monthly temperatures. Graph by Carbon Brief.

Households and businesses turned up their thermostats in response to the lower temperatures, which meant burning a lot more gas and a bit more oil. The residential sector was responsible for 48 per cent of 2013's emissions increase, mostly due to heat demand, the EIA says.

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Factcheck: Will climate change lead to giant, man-eating snakes, tiny horses and shrunken goats?

  • 22 Oct 2014, 14:01
  • Robert McSweeney

The film 'Anaconda'. Time

Rising temperatures have caused mountain goats in the Alps to 'shrink' by up to 25 per cent, according to new research . The news follows on from recent stories of how climate change could bring us huge spiders, tiny horses and giant snakes.

Despite the slightly ridiculous headlines such research prompts, there is actually some science behind it all.

Behavioural change

So, first things first; rising temperatures haven't actually caused any goats to shrink per se. Rather the research, published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology, finds that young goats aren't as big as they were 30 years ago.

Scientists analysed records of the Alpine Chamois goat in the Italian Alps and found they were as much as 25 per cent smaller than goats of the same age in the 1980s.

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Checking Owen Paterson's figures on the cost of decarbonising the UK

  • 22 Oct 2014, 11:46
  • Simon Evans

Former environment secretary Owen Paterson continues to make headlines following his speech last week in which he  called for the UK's Climate Change Act to be scrapped.

His argument rests on the idea that decarbonising the UK economy will cost trillions of pounds: he says it will cost £1.3 trillion by 2050. This figure has been reproduced in articles for  The Telegraph, the  Spectator, the  Telegraph again The Times the Daily Mail and a  Daily Mail editorial.

But it is potentially misleading. The figure is based on a partial reading of analysis by the  European Commission and the International Energy Agency and ignores the conclusion of both studies - that far from costing trillions, decarbonising could save trillions by reducing spending on fossil fuels.

Selective quotes

In his speech, Paterson warned about the costs of the UK decarbonising: "Our current policy will cost £1,300 billion up to 2050."

The fully referenced version of Paterson's speech circulated to journalists reveals the source in a footnote, which explains that:

"There is no agreed figure on the total costs of the policy [to achieve decarbonisation], nor indeed any agreement as to what exactly the policy should comprise."

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Daily Briefing | US greenhouse gas emissions rise despite Obama's climate change push

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

US greenhouse gas emissions rise despite Obama's new climate change push 
US emissions from energy rose 2.5 per cent last year despite President Barack Obama's efforts to fight climate change, reports the Guardian. The rise in emissions from burning coal, oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels was one of the steepest on record in the last 25 years, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Think Progress  reports on Greenpeace research that found 70 per cent of recent US emissions reductions came from renewables and energy efficiency. The shale gas revolution, often credited with the fall, only contributed 30 per cent says Greenpeace.      The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

National Grid calls on businesses to join winter demand management drive
Businesses are being invited to offer to cut electricity demand during winter peaks in 2015/16 in return for payments under the National Grid's Demand Side Balancing Reserve scheme, officially launched yesterday. The grid has already tendered firms under a pilot scheme that will run this winter, with the pilot having taken on renewed significance after the closure through fire of a unit at Didcot B power station.      Business Green 

Big business and trade unions lead calls for bold EU climate change package 
The Confederation of British Industry and and the European Trade Union Confederation have both issued pleas for EU governments to deliver ambitious emissions reduction goals when they decide on 2030 climate targets tomorrow. A series of other business groups including  Shell and Coca-Cola have also called for ambitious 2030 targets. We took a look at who wants what from the 2030 deal  here.     Business Green 

US needs to invest in Arctic ships, technology to prepare for climate change: envoy 
The United States needs billions of dollars of new equipment including ice-breaking ships, better satellite service and fibre-optic networks as it prepares for climate change and melting ice in the Arctic, the US special representative for the Arctic Region has said. He pointed to the challenges created by a shrinking polar ice cap.      Reuters 

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Worst case scenarios of sea level rise, and why scientists and policymakers consider them

  • 21 Oct 2014, 17:52
  • Robert McSweeney

Thames Barrier | Shutterstock

Sea levels could rise by a maximum of 190 centimetres by the end of the century, according to a new study, which examines a worst case scenario for sea level rise.

In reality, the amount of sea level rise we get is likely to be less than that. But scientists and policymakers examine such 'worst case' scenarios to safeguard against climate risks.

Upper limit

With 10 per cent of the world's population living less than 10 metres above sea level, the threat of  coastal flooding is significant. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) expects sea level rise to cause a ' significant increase' in sea levels extremes and the risk of coastal flooding.

The new study, published in  Environmental Research Letters, considers the assessment of 13 ice sheet experts. They conclude that the contribution from ice sheets is likely to be greater than projected by the IPCC. The paper suggests that sea levels could rise by as much as 190 cm this century.

Projections of sea level rise are typically constructed by working out the contribution to sea level rise from different  factors. The biggest contribution is from water expanding as it warms, followed by melting glaciers, then melting ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica.

The crucial question for sea level rise this century is how much ice will be lost from the ice sheets, the authors argue. But it remains one of the largest uncertainties. In its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the IPCC says there isn't sufficient evidence for them to give probabilities of large-scale losses of ice sheets.

The new study uses expert judgement to consider areas of ice sheet loss that are often not included in the sea level  models that the IPCC bases its assessment on. They then combine these judgements with the methods used in AR5 to produce their upper-limit figure of 190 cm.

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Why a healthy carbon market underpins the EU's 2030 climate goals

  • 21 Oct 2014, 14:50
  • Mat Hope

Trading chart | Shutterstock

European leaders are meeting this week to discuss the future of region's energy and climate policy. Among other things, countries will debate the European Commission's proposal to cut EU emissions 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Some of the most important discussions may be on an item that isn't officially on the agenda, however: how to get Europe's carbon market, the EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS), working properly.

The EU's 2030 policy framework could be key to unlocking a new global deal in Paris next year, but leaders are  yet to hammer out the details.

A draft of the policy framework's conclusions seen by Carbon Brief says "a well functioning, reformed EU ETS will be the main European instrument" for cost-effectively achieving the region's emission reductions. The commision has laid out some reforms it hopes will improve the market's effectiveness.

But yesterday, the UK government published a  positioning paper calling the commission's proposals "insufficient". We take a look at the UK government's plans to reform the struggling carbon market, and why doing so could be a key part of the EU's climate plans.


The European carbon price hit  an historic low last year. In response, the European Commission scrambled to push through short-term reforms designed to boost the carbon price, while working on a longer term plan to make the market function more effectively. Neither plan was particularly well received.

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Daily Briefing | 2014 on track to be warmest year on record

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

September was the warmest in history and 2014 is on track to be hottest year on record 
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last month was the hottest September on record, averaging 15.72 degrees across the globe. Along with May, June and August, September was the fourth monthly record set this year, leading scientists to suggest it's "pretty likely" 2014 will break the record for the hottest year.     The Daily Mail 

Climate and energy news

Fire closes UK power generation unit, squeezing electricity supply 
fire on Sunday night at Didcot B gas-fired power plant has forced the closure of an operational unit responsible for producing enough electricity to power half a million households until an investigation and repairs can take place. Some experts are raising concern as capacity margins - the spare capacity available for planned and emergency use - are already historically low as we head into winter. One more unexpected interruption to power supplies could cause a "serious" shortage and soaring prices, reportsThe Telegraph. Energy secretary Ed Davey has downplayed the impact of the fire on energy supply, echoing power plant operator RWE's comments that the UK electricity grid is resilient enough to cope, reports  BusinessGreen. We've taken a look at how National Grid copes with such unexpected events,here.      Reuters 

UK calls for aggressive ETS reform ahead of EU2030 deal 
The UK is calling for reforms to the ailing European emissions trading system (ETS) ahead of next week's EU meeting, where leaders are expected to agree a 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2030. The ETS isn't specifically on the agenda but a leaked draft assumes a reformed version will be the main way in which EU-wide emissions cuts are achieved, reports RTCC. In a  report last week, thinktank Sandbag said Europe must make "immediate and aggressive" reforms to the ETS in the next 12 months, or ditch it.      RTCC 

Tunisian sunshine could power up to 2.5 million UK homes by 2018 
A new solar farm in Tunisia aims to power up to 2.5 million UK homes by 2018, the Daily Mail reports. Investors claim electricity from the solar farm will be 20 per cent cheaper than other sources. The farm will use concentrated solar power technology to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a central point, generating heat which is converted into power. There are plans to transport the electricity through a new undersea cable to Italy, to connect to the European grid.      Mail Online 

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New study maps countries most at risk from El Niño flooding

  • 20 Oct 2014, 20:00
  • Roz Pidcock

From South America to the Sahel, scientists have for the first time mapped how flood risk rises and falls across the world each time the extreme weather phenomenon known as El Niño hits.

With an El Niño brewing in the Pacific right now, being prepared for flooding can help protect vulnerable communities and curb damages, say the researchers.

Changing rainfall

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

The warm and cool phases, together known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) affect  rainfall patterns worldwide.

While scientists have looked before at the consequences for specific countries, such as Australia, the new study is the first to take a global view, mapping flood risk right across the world.

Flood _volume (Ward Et Al)

Percentage of land experiencing changes in flood volume with return periods of 100 years, during El Niño years (top) and La Niña years (bottom). Source: Ward et al. (2014)


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How National Grid keeps the lights on when a large power station catches fire

  • 20 Oct 2014, 16:55
  • Mat Hope

Didcot power station | Andrew Smith

What happens when a major gas power station catches on fire? Well,  it certainly looks spectacular. But it appears the short term impact on the UK's power generation is pretty minimal.

Energy company RWE npower had to  unexpectedly shut down one of the Dicot B power station's 700 megawatt units last night after a fire broke out in one of the cooling towers.

Didcot's shutdown is the latest in a series of unexpected outages which National Grid has had to cope with in recent months. This has led to a  spate of headlines questioning whether National Grid will have enough power stations available to cope with high demand over the winter months.

We take a look at how National Grid copes with such unexpected events, and why it remains confident the UK will have enough power this winter.

Where does the UK's power come from?

National Grid is legally required to make sure there's always enough power to meet demand. The UK's peak demand - at around 6pm on weekdays - is currently around 45 gigawatts. This is expected to rise to about  55 gigawatts over the winter, as people spend more time indoors and use more electricity.

Big coal, gas, and nuclear power stations are responsible for meeting most of this demand. The government's  latest statistics show 30 per cent of the UK's electricity comes from gas, with 28 per cent coming from coal. Nuclear power provides about 20 per cent.

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Daily Briefing | Major fire at Didcot B power station

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

Didcot power station | Shutterstock 

Major fire at gas-fired Didcot B power station 
A 1.3 gigawatt gas power plant caught fire last night. Fire crews have doused the blaze and confirmed noone was injured. National Grid says the plant's shutdown will not interrupt electricity supplies. The unexpected outage comes months after two nuclear reactors also unexpectedly had to be taken offline for repairs. The reactors are likely to be restarted in the coming months at 70 to 80 per cent of their normal output, the  Telegraph reports, to prevent cracks in the boilers forming.     BBC News

Climate and energy news

Eclipse of the solar farms: Environment Secretary Liz Truss tells farmers 'no more handouts for ugly fields of glass...grow veg!' 
Land earmarked for new solar panels would be better used for growing apples, environment secretary Liz Truss argues. She says solar farms are ugly and the land they sit on could be better used for agriculture. She confirms plans to cut subsidies to farmers for hosting the solar farms. There is currently a £100-an-acre grant scheme in place, worth £2 million a year. The  BBC Times, and  Independent also have the story.     Mail on Sunday 

Powering up the poor shouldn't hurt the climate 
Fears over rising emissions should not obstruct efforts to connect rural communities to the electrical grid, new research suggests. A case study looking at new connections in India shows their electricity use accounted for only four per cent of the country's emissions rise in a year. Industry and cities were responsible for the vast majority of those emissions, it shows.     Scientific American 

Britain needs political climate change to cut soaring energy bills 
Three Telegraph articles look at former environment secretary Owen Paterson's calls to scrap the Climate Change Act. The first, by Charles Moore, reflects Paterson's view that the law supports economically ruinous renewable energy. Another looks at why Paterson is arguing for the changes now, once he's left office. Paterson says it's because  he didn't realise the Act's "brutal" impact at the time. Finally, climate skeptic columnist Christopher Booker  juxtaposes Paterson's position with that of Labour leader Ed Miliband and an architect of the act, Baroness Worthington. "Mr Paterson has at last set off a proper debate on our energy future", he says, "one that is years overdue".      Telegraph 

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