Looking to the future: 2012 in climate news
- 09 Jan 2012, 15:00
- Bárbara Mendes-Jorge
2011 brought new versions of the same old insights into
temperature rise from the BEST project, a somewhat damp re-run of
the Climategate saga, plenty of questionable media coverage of
climate science and some truly heroic mangling of reporting on
energy bills. With 2012 now in full swing, we expect there to be
more of (some of) the same, and a few new things to keep us busy
this year. Here's our ten likely trends in climate coverage for
1. Obama's Republican challenger will be a climate
No surprise here. The swing to overt climate skepticism in the
Republican party has been well documented, and
all but one of the current Republican candidates rejects the
scientific consensus on climate change, for which they have proudly
(I'm sure) received
Forbes' Climate BS 2011 Award. ('Bad Science'
Huntsman (who wavered on the issue but seemed to come down in
favour of scientific opinion on climate) polled only 1% in the Iowa
caucus last week.
Mitt Romney and
Newt Gingrich initially pledged their support to climate
scientists' findings, but have both flip-flopped over the issue in
2. A number of UK government 'green' initiatives will be
Announced in 2010 by then-Chancellor Alistair Darling, the
creation of the Green Investment bank is supposed to encourage
private sector development in investments related to 'greening the
economy' . The 'GIB' is
moving closer to being established and is poised to begin
"direct, state-aid compliant investments" from April 2012.
(However, it has not escaped criticism for
Energy Act of 2011 included provisions for a '
Green Deal ' which aims to reduce carbon emissions by fitting
14m homes with insulation and other energy-saving measures.
Financed to the tune of
£200 million and due to be launched in October, it will enable
homeowners to take out loans for insulating their homes or
otherwise reducing energy use. Ministers have invested significant
political capital in the scheme - but green groups have attacked
the deal for not going far enough to
protect those in cold homes or the dominance of
the 'Big Six' energy companies.
3. Energy bills will stay high
There was plenty of media coverage last year focusing on rising
energy bills (although the reporting around the reasons why was not
accurate). According to the latest government
figures it appears an average domestic energy bill was
approximately £100 higher in 2011 than 2010 (p.7).
The main cause of the rising bills last year was the
rising cost of wholesale gas. International events such as the
(which pushed up the price of oil) and the Fukishima disaster
(pushing up demand for gas) contributed to this.
This effect been somewhat mitigated by a so-far mild winter
(which turned out to be a surprise for
some tabloids) - and there are reports that
bills will fall as a result of a price war between the energy
companies. But a
predicted continuing high oil price, coupled with
the estimated £110 billion investment needed in energy
infrastructure by 2020 means high domestic energy bills are
probably here to stay - green
economy or no green economy.
4. Climate skeptics will continue to attack
Media attacks on the cost of renewable energy saw a significant
upswing last year. Many of these claims
originated with climate
skeptics - most notably the Mail's " £200 on your
energy bill " front-pager, a figure which they later corrected (
twice) following PCC complaints from Carbon Brief.
Notwithstanding, it is clear that the media campaign has scored
some hits and a general recognition that there is
concern about the issue in government. DECC,
Ofgem and the
Climate Change Committee have all hit back with briefings
explaining where the energy bill price rises are currently coming
from (see above).
In 2012, the debate will undoubtedly continue to rage, but
possibly on somewhat stronger fact-base. (Which would be a relief
to our nerves). As debate about the 'green deal' continues, the
crucial role of energy efficiency measures in reducing bills is
likely to continue to come into stronger focus.
5. Shale gas marketable?
The discovery of large
shale deposits in Lancashire by mining company Cuadrilla made
the news in 2011. Climate skeptic commentators were quick to herald
it as a game changing discovery which meant we no longer
renewable energy. The drilling of exploratory wells was halted
when tremors were felt in Blackpool, which
was blamed on the controversial extraction process
Cuadrilla expects to submit
plans to the government in 2012 in order to bring British shale
gas to the market by 2013. Meanwhile, the government seems unable
to make up its mind on the issue. Potential benefits to energy
security and the
not insignificant tax revenue it promises make it a hard
proposition to turn down, but there are many unanswered questions -
not least about the
potential impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
As the government dithers, advocates will continue to promote
shale gas as the
saviour to our energy ills.
6. Peer-reviewed Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST)
The release of the initial analysis by the
Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) team kicked off something
of a media kerfuffle in October 2011 - although its key finding -
that there has been a warming trend of around 1°C since the last
century - was
hardly news to researchers.
In 2012, we can expect to see the BEST results published in peer
reviewed journals - and climate skeptic commentators who initially
welcomed and then turned on the project will accordingly launch a
few hundred more attempts to discredit the
results. Skeptics currently continue to make hay with its
figurehead Professor Muller's
personal doubts about whether the warming trend is
human-induced (a topic the BEST project did not look at). Perhaps
Professor Muller will step up and take that one on next? We'd be
surprised if there are any substantially new results when BEST
publish, but on the evidence of 2011, the media would enjoy
7. Climate change coverage - still falling off a
Daily Climate's analysis of their archive of global media
showed that media coverage of climate change continued to "
fall off the map" in 2011, declining roughly 20 percent
from levels in 2010 - and down 42 percent from the peak in 2009.
Interestingly though , as one journalist
argues in response: "most media surveys don't look at
journalism in India, China, Brazil, Mexico or Africa, where
coverage of the issue has recently - and rapidly -
Will climate change come back on the media agenda in 2012? Perhaps
we should be careful what we wish for - Australia
bucked the trend to less media coverage over the last year, but
largely as a result of a
vitriolic, and at times
highly misleading, debate around a proposed carbon tax.
We predict that online debate around climate change (for which
there is a
clear demand), will continue to increase, broaden and
strengthen in 2012, increasing in accuracy and diversity as more
people explore the different angles.
Whether climate returns to the mainstream media to a significant
extent is dependent on Events, dear boy, Events.
8. More 'warmest ever'?
2010 tied with 2005 and 1998 as
the warmest year on record. 2011 came
tenth. The lower temperatures last year arose from a La Niña
event which was,
according to the WMO, "one of the strongest of the last 60
years". Despite this, 2011 was the warmest ever La Niña year.
According to the
Met Office, 2012 is also set to be in the top ten warmest year
on record, around 0.48°C warmer than the long-term (1961-1990)
global average of 14.0°C . The La Niña has returned, but is not as
strong as last year. Therefore 2012 is expected to be "slightly
warmer than last year but not as warm as 2010."
It's always good to remember though - it doesn't really matter
that much what an individual year does, it's the long-term
trend (see above) that tells us what's going on.
9. Climategate 3.0
You may have missed it, but
another batch of hacked UEA emails were released at the end of
2011 (a story largely ignored by
the UK media and
elsewhere). However, there are allegedly 220,000 emails hidden
behind a password, which were not
So for 2012, it's not impossible that the password will get broken
or leaked. We predict the remainder of the encrypted emails don't
reveal a grand UN conspiracy to mislead the world about climate
change, and that no-one will take a blind bit of notice.
10. Follow-up of decisions made in Durban
There was a
mixed reaction to the question of whether climate talks in
Durban were a success, but aside from the main advance - agreement
to create an international climate change treaty that would include
developed as well developing countries for the first time - a few
other decisions were made that are due to become operational in
There's the Green Climate Fund, which aims to mobilize $100
billion annually by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation efforts, is
now operational, with the first meeting later this year aiming
to provide start-up financing. The UN's Reducing Emissions from
Deforestation and forest Degradation
(REDD) programme also finalised technical guidelines which
means that it is also
now eligible for international financing.
Despite progress, the rhetoric of some of the biggest emitter
a number of issues ) as well as the impasse on how to deal with
emissions from shipping and aviation, it can be somewhat
difficult to be optimistic about Durban's legacy.
Oh, and the
world will end, obviously, and we'll be liveblogging it.