Money for mangroves

  • 31 Jul 2012, 09:19
  • Freya Roberts

Mangroves spanning the world's tropical waters perform many functions, including locking up carbon. By working out how much carbon they store, and how much it would cost to preserve them, a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that protecting mangroves is actually cheaper - for each tonne of carbon dioxide emissions avoided -  than buying into the EU's  Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). 

Or at least it was. But since the research was completed, the carbon price - the cost of emitting one tonne of carbon dioxide under the Emissions Trading Scheme,  has fallen. So, purely in terms of avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, is preserving mangroves still the cheaper option of the two?

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Out of date statistics make Christopher Booker's wind power maths a bit shaky

  • 30 Jul 2012, 17:38
  • Christian Hunt

Government plans to meet renewable energy targets are unrealistic, argues Christopher Booker in  yesterday's Sunday Telegraph. But the statistics he's using to back up his argument suggest that renewables aren't actually as useless as he thinks.

Renewable electricity

Last week, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)  set out how much electricity the UK will have to produce from renewables in order to meet 2020 EU renewable energy targets. We need to generate 79 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity a year from renewables in 2017, and 108 TWh a year in 2020, DECC says.

But Christopher Booker argues that given how little electricity wind power currently produces, such plans are hopelessly over-optimistic:

"In 2010, the last year for which we have figures, we used 378 TWh of electricity, of which only 10 TWh, or 2.6 per cent, came from wind … [T]o meet that ... target within eight years, almost all the increase would have to come from new wind turbines."

Newer energy statistics show growth in renewables

Booker is taking figures from DECC's  2011 Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) report, which provides UK energy statistics for 2010. But although he says these are the most recent figures available,  the new edition of DUKES was published last week, providing information on what happened in 2011.

These new figures show the year saw fairly significant growth in the amount of electricity coming from renewable sources. The amount of electricity generated by wind power rose from 10.2 terawatt hours in 2010 to 15.75 TWh in 2011 - a rise of 5.53 TWh.

This made up much of a wider growth in renewable power - renewables generated 34.4 TWh of electricity in 2011, a rise of about 8.6 TWh compared to 2010.

(See page 135.)


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BEST: The science behind Richard Muller's 'conversion'

  • 30 Jul 2012, 16:40
  • Verity Payne

The Earth's average land temperature has warmed by around 0.9 degrees Celsius, probably down to manmade greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project. Given that much of the  media interest focuses on  Muller's suggestion that he is a converted skeptic, the findings of the work have been somewhat obscured. Here's our guide to the research behind Muller's self-described conversion.

What is BEST?

The BEST project was launched and chaired by Professor Richard Muller, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley. It aims to address criticisms raised by climate skeptics about how existing records of the Earth's average surface temperature have been compiled. Team members include physicist Robert Rohde, climatologist Judith Curry, and other physicists and statisticians.

Previous research from the BEST group, released in October 2011, addressed concerns raised by skeptics about records of surface temperatures, including the urban heat island effect and poor weather station siting. These issues were not found to have a significant effect on the global land surface temperature record.

What does the latest BEST research show?

This latest research from the BEST team confirms that the Earth's average land temperature has risen by roughly 0.9 degrees Celsius since the 1950s, and by 1.5 degrees Celsius over the last 250 years. This is in line with existing records, which put average global land temperature rise over the last 50 years at 0.81 - 0.93 degrees Celsius.

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Sun writers disagree on windpower

  • 27 Jul 2012, 16:00
  • Chris Peters

George Osborne and Ed Davey aren't the only ones to argue over the future of UK energy. An article in The Sun yesterday pits its political columnist Trevor Kavanagh against its environmental editor Ben Jackson. Kavanagh argues it's time to "scale back support of windfarms" while Jackson "warns a dash for gas would cost us dear".

It's an interesting juxtaposition, and it's welcome to see the Sun giving more than one angle on the debate over energy choices in a single article. It's unfortunate that Kavanagh's argument, which is a lengthy rejection of "windmills" - contains some inaccurate facts and figures which Jackson is not really given the space to address.

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Carbon Brief’s shamelessly tenuous Olympics Friday Five

  • 27 Jul 2012, 13:30
  • Christian Hunt and Ros Donald

Yes, it's Olympics day! (Apparently it's actually going on for weeks.)

Despite the fact that our editor was generally picked last at sports, if at all, a wave of Olympic fervour has swept the Carbon Brief office.

Inspired by the games, here is our attempt to guide you through the (tenuous) need-to-know links between the Olympics and climate.

1. Might an Olympic deluge bring Team GB victory?

Kenyans are good at altitude, Australians can cope with heat, and we... play a lot of sport in the rain. Might UK athletes lose their home advantage if the sun shines?

If so, climate skeptic weather forecaster Piers Corbyn has good news - the astrophysicist's secret forecasting formula has brought forth  dire warnings. Says Corbyn: "We're very confident that there will be a lot of rain - a deluge, really - during the entire Olympics period and we are 80 percent sure that the Opening Ceremony itself will feature heavy rains, including hail and thunder."

He's got potential future Prime Minister Boris Johnson convinced, although our glorious Mayor is confident that Corbyn's  predictions of a new mini Ice Age won't dilute London's Olympic spirit.


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What's DECC's plan on gas?

  • 26 Jul 2012, 15:00
  • Robin Webster

Amidst the reaction to the government's announcement of renewables subsidies yesterday, there was some confusion about the accompanying statement of support for gas power - both over what DECC is proposing, and what it means for greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy secretary Ed Davey argued modelling from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) shows we can burn significant amounts of gas and still hit our climate targets. But when we asked, it emerged that DECC has not published the relevant scenarios, and isn't going to.

DECC's press release, in which it announced new levels of renewable subsidy and made a statement of support for gas power, said:

"The Government … is today confirming that it sees gas continuing to play an important part in the energy mix well into and beyond 2030, while meeting our carbon budgets."

The phrase "well into and beyond 2030" is vague, but suggests to us that DECC believes gas can have a significant role well into the 2030s without exceeding the UK's carbon budgets.

Is that right?

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Greenland 97 per cent surface melting - what does it mean?

  • 25 Jul 2012, 15:00
  • Verity Payne

Over several days at the start of July this year nearly the whole surface of the Greenland ice sheet thawed, according to new  NASA satellite data.

Typically around half of the ice sheet's surface melts during summer, so scientists were surprised when by July 12th this year an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface had thawed:

NASA Greenland surface ice melt

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Onshore wind subsidies spared with 10% cut, as DECC also announces gas power has a 'key role' beyond 2030

  • 25 Jul 2012, 08:13
  • The Carbon Brief Staff

This morning the government announced levels of subsidy for renewable power over the next few years. It plans to slightly reduce the Renewables Obligation subsidy for most renewable power technologies, including a 10% cut in subsidies for onshore wind which was consulted on earlier in the year and was widely expected.

In the same statement, DECC has signalled its stronger support for continued electricity production from gas power.

Subsidies to onshore wind have been the subject of disagreement between DECC and the Treasury over the past few months. The 10% cut will be presented as a victory for either DECC, energy secretary Ed Davey or the Lib Dems - the Chancellor George Osborne reportedly wanted a deeper 25% cut in subsidies, and the Telegraph had effectively announced that this was already a done deal. Apparently not.


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The Carbon Briefing: Do the UK’s green taxes make its industry uncompetitive?

  • 24 Jul 2012, 14:00
  • Ros Donald

The Spectator and Sunday Telegraph have both run pieces claiming that the UK's environmental taxes are harming our industries' chances of competing internationally. They're quoting a report  the Department of Business Industry and Skills (BIS) released last week suggesting that UK energy intensive industries will pay more for electricity than their counterparts in other countries, mostly due to the government's green policies. The study has added weight to energy intensives' complaints that they are being pushed abroad by punitive green costs in the UK - but is this the whole story?

The report, carried out for the government by consultancy ICF International compared the steel, cement, chemicals and aluminium industries in 11 countries - of which most have renewables policies. And it found that UK-based energy intensives will pay up to double what European counterparts pay for electricity by 2020.     

Energy intensive industries in the UK have been lobbying for relief from environmental taxes. Head of Tata Steel's European division, Karl-Ulrich Kohler recently said the UK's "over the top" climate change policies put at risk its planned £1.2bn investment, and the company blamed green policies for its decision to cut 1,500 jobs in the UK last year.

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Energy cold war goes hot

  • 23 Jul 2012, 17:00
  • Robin Webster

Some political fights go on under the table, in corridors and behind the scenes. Some don't, and over the last few weeks, a cold war between the Treasury and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) over energy policy has 'gone hot'.

The latest salvo comes from Parliament's  Energy and Climate Change (ECC) Committee, which has released a report  describing the latest energy reforms as "unworkable" and "vacuous" and accusing the Treasury of "  imposing policies with perverse consequences". Meanwhile chancellor George Osborne has mounted an  all-out push for expanding gas power as a 'core' part of the UK's future energy strategy.

The issue: Britain's future energy mix

What at first appeared to be a fairly a niche tussle over the level of reductions in renewable subsidies to wind power has been revealed over the weekend to be a rather large argument between elements of government - apparently over whether they subscribe to the legally-binding emissions targets contained in the Climate Change Act.


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