Why fossil fuel divestment won’t be easy

  • 27 Aug 2014, 15:45
  • Simon Evans

Sai Yeung Chan | Shutterstock

There's a growing global campaign to stop investments in the fossil fuel industry. The British Medical Association, the World Council of Churches and Stanford University are among those pledging to take their money out of oil, coal and gas firms.

But if the idea catches on, it won't just cause headaches for oil moguls. Investment managers will be scratching their heads too. If they can't invest in fossil fuel firms, where should they put their money?

Clean energy firms simply aren't big enough to soak up $5 trillion currently invested in oil and gas firms, according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). But divesting from coal would be much more feasible, it finds.


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Widespread methane leakage found on US Atlantic coast

  • 26 Aug 2014, 15:39
  • Robert McSweeney

New research has found evidence of methane leaking from under the sea floor on the Atlantic Coast of the US. Could this be the beginnings of a huge release of methane into our atmosphere? Scientists tell us probably not.

Seabed seeps

The research has identified hundreds of 'seeps' along the American Atlantic coast - places where gas bubbles out of the sea floor. This could be just the beginning, with perhaps "tens of thousands" more seeps to discover, the researchers say.

They also say it's likely the bubbling gases include methane - a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas. Methane stored under the seabed is one of the largest reserves of methane on the planet - a companion article describes the overall size of the reservoir as "staggering".

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Could an independent Scotland deliver a low carbon future?

  • 26 Aug 2014, 14:55
  • Mat Hope

Shutterstock: Scottish Borders

In a little over three weeks, Scottish voters will head to the polls to decide whether their country should remain part of the UK, and politicians have been ramping up the rhetoric as the referendum draws closer.

Energy policy has been a topic the opposing camps have repeatedly clashed over. Those wanting independence - the 'Yes' camp - claim the country's renewable electricity potential and North Sea oil and gas reserves can provide cheap, clean energy for decades to come.

In contrast, the 'No' camp claim independence could plunge Scotland into an energy crisis, with bills rocketing as the country struggles to fund its own energy sector.

So what difference will the vote make to the energy future of these isles?

Renewables: Plentiful potential, sparse funding?

Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond has enthusiastically promoted the country as the "Saudi Arabia of renewables".

The Scottish government has pledged to get the equivalent of  100 per cent of electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020. Scotland also shares the UK's EU obligation to get  15 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

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Daily Briefing | Labour wants new fracking rules

  • 26 Aug 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff
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Government facing four challenges in bid to tackle climate change, think-tank claims
The Government should carry out an assessment of how rising global temperatures will affect Britain's transport infrastructure, homes and energy resources, according to a new Low Carbon Manifesto from the IPPR think-tank. Parties should invest in decentralised energy generation, tackle fuel poverty and introduce concrete plans to avoid a repeat of last winter's flooding. 

Climate and energy news

Will climate change cause a rise in dengue fever?
New research warns of the increase risk of Dengue Fever spreading in Europe. The disease, which is spread of mosquitoes, could thrive in warmer conditions under climate change - particularly in coastal areas of southern regions of Europe. 
Mail Online

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Pacific watch: Is El Niño finding its second wind?

  • 22 Aug 2014, 14:55
  • Roz Pidcock

Scientists around the world have been watching closely to see if an El Niño develops this year - a weather phenomenon in the Pacific that drives extreme weather worldwide.

After initially predicting with  90 per cent certainty we'd see an El Niño by the end of the year, forecasters began scaling back their predictions earlier this month.

But interest in the Pacific weather phenomenon shows no sign of waning. And after much talk of El Niño cooling off, there are hints it could be rebounding, say scientists.

El Niño watch

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). Between them, they're responsible for most of the fluctuations in global temperature and rainfall we see from one year to the next.

Earlier this year, the ocean looked to be primed for an El Niño, with above average temperatures in the eastern Pacific lasting throughout March and May.

But last month, forecasters across the world began  dialling down their forecasts. The atmosphere had "largely failed to respond" to sea surface temperatures, scientists announced.

"Waiting for Godot"

This week, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  dropped the odds of an El Niño developing in autumn or winter to 65 per cent, down from 80 per cent  earlier this month. As NOAA scientist, Michelle L'Heureux,  described recently:

"Waiting for El Niño is starting to feel like Waiting for Godot"

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Daily Briefing | From the Pacific to the Atlantic, scientists investigate heat in the seas

  • 22 Aug 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

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Global warming pause 'may last for another decade', scientists suggest 
New research suggests slow warming at the earth's surface is down to heat being stored deep in the Atlantic and Southern Oceans. This contrasts with the growing body of research suggesting to answer to what's causing the hiatus lies in the Pacific, says The Guardian. The authors say the slow-moving Atlantic current could continue to divert heat into the deep seas for another decade, reports the BBC. The Daily Mail features quotes from Leeds scientist Piers Forster, who describes the new research as 'another nail in the coffin" for claims scientists' have overestimated global warming. NatureNewsRTCCThe Economist and The Conversation all have the story. We reported on the new research here

Climate and energy news

UK's warmest period record sparks call for greater climate action 
The Met Office has announced that January to July of 2014 is the UK's warmest period since records began over a century ago. They also revealed that July was the eighth month in a row of warmer than average temperatures. Bob Ward, a climate change policy expert, has called on UK politicians to increase the urgency of action on climate change. The Times also has the story. 

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Surface warming ‘hiatus’ could stick around for another decade, say scientists

  • 21 Aug 2014, 19:00
  • Roz Pidcock

A flip-flopping natural fluctuation in the Atlantic is behind a recent slowdown in surface warming - and it's not due to reverse for another ten years, according to new research.

The theory outlined in a paper  published today in the journal Science disagrees with other research, which pins the blame for the so-called "pause" on changes in the Pacific.

We talked to some other scientists working in the field - and they don't seem convinced.

Puzzle solving

Scientists know greenhouse gases are driving up  global temperature. But data on land and  the surface of the ocean shows  slower than expected warming in the last 15 years or so.

Periods of slower and faster warming  aren't unusual. Scientists say the main reason we're seeing one now is because more heat is finding its way to the  deeper ocean, rather than staying at the surface.

But which ocean? Knowing where the heat is ending up might help scientists predict how long the hiatus will last.

Where Is Global Warming Going _infographic

More than 93 per cent of the heat reaching earth's surface goes into the oceans. Just 2.3 per cent stays in the atmosphere. Source: Skeptical Science

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Greenland and Antarctic maps reveal “unprecedented” ice loss

  • 21 Aug 2014, 17:02
  • Robert McSweeney

Greenland Iceberg | Shutterstock

A series of maps published this week show Greenland and Antarctica are losing more ice than at any time since satellite records began.

Scientists found the two vast ice sheets are losing a total of 500 cubic kilometers of ice per year, contributing to rising global sea levels.

Ice loss

The researchers used data from the European Space Agency's  CryoSat - a satellite that passes over the earth at 700 kilometers above the surface and measures the thickness of polar ice.

The satellite was launched in 2010 and has been collecting data on sea ice and ice sheets ever since. By comparing data with other satellite missions, scientists can see how quickly the ice sheets are changing.

The study, just published in the journal  The Cryosphere, reveals that since 2009, the volume of ice loss has tripled in West Antarctica and more than doubled in Greenland. This is the highest rate of ice loss since satellite records began 20 years ago.

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Is cheap coal bad news for the climate?

  • 21 Aug 2014, 10:40
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Kimon Berlin

Coal prices have halved since 2011 because of China's "anything but coal" power plans and competition from cleaner sources of energy, the Financial Times reports. Prices will probably rebound, but analysts tell the paper the recovery may be slow.

Back home, the UK has a coal problem. Use is up a fifth in four years due in part to low prices and the government has been looking at extending the life of coal plants. German use is up 13 per cent too.

Some are saying the shift to coal, the most polluting of all fossil fuels, has been at the expense of cleaner gas and nuclear. If it persists it would be a threat to EU plans to cut emissions by 40 per cent in 2030.

So is cheap coal bad news for the climate?

Supply and demand

First, let's take a look at today's coal price and why it has become so cheap.

Coal prices haven't been this low since 2009, as the chart below shows, and have almost halved since a peak in 2011. Over the same period crude oil has remained above the historically unprecedented $100 per barrel level (purple line). So low coal prices aren't being caused by generally weak demand for energy.

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 At 16.04.19

A version of this blog was originally published on 23 June.


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Daily Briefing | Is China's coal appetite diminishing?

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

CC2.0 Kimon Berlin

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Thermal coal falls victim to China's energy policy 
On commodities markets, the price of coal has fallen 50 per cent since 2011, reflecting low demand. The Financial Times reports: "Thermal coal faces oversupply challenges and a structural decline in demand brought on by decarbonisation and competition from more environmentally friendly sources of energy." One analyst tells the FT China is pursuing an "anything but coal" plan for its power sector. Nevertheless, analysts expect global coal supply to rise for a couple of years before falling. 
Financial Times 

Climate and energy news

Two Belgian nuclear reactors may be closed permanently 
Belgium stopped production at the 1,008 megawatt Tihange 2 nuclear reactor and the 1,006 megawatt Doel 3 reactor earlier this year after finding indications of weakness in their core tanks. The reactors had previously been closed in 2012 for the same reason. The reactors may remain closed until spring, or may not reopen, according to media reports. Last week EDF temporarily closed two UK nuclear power plants after defects were found. 

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