Why it is too soon to call John Kerry the saviour of US climate policy

  • 31 Jan 2013, 16:30
  • Mat Hope


Green groups welcomed the appointment of John Kerry as Secretary of State on Tuesday. The appointment of the former senator from Massachusetts and one-time Presidential contender has been hailed as a new era for US climate policy. But can  Mr. Climate really engage the US on climate change?

The president of the Natural Resource Defense Council - one of the US's highest-profile green groups - describes Kerry as a "a champion for action against climate change", and a host of other environmental groups have  echoed his enthusiasm. Across the Atlantic, the EU's climate change commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, tweeted her support for the nomination, as did UK climate change minister Greg Barker.

Kerry the 'climate hawk'

Kerry has been active in supporting climate change policy over the last two decades. An attendee at the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, he recently wrote  a letter to the previous secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to pressure her into agreeing a deal at the UN's 2011 climate meeting in Durban. 

Kerry is no slouch when it comes to domestic climate politicking either. He co-sponsored a cap-and-trade bill in 2010 that would have required the US to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, although it failed to get through the Senate. And as chair of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee since 2009, he argued that climate change is a  national security threat for the US. 

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Carbon Brief review: Chasing Ice

  • 30 Jan 2013, 14:10
  • Ros Donald

Science writers are constantly on the hunt for analogies to help readers situate climate phenomena on their mental map. But nothing beats seeing something for yourself. And that's what Chasing Ice - which is still out in cinemas - is designed to do. With very beautiful footage, it makes subject matter that's dry on paper compelling.

Melting glaciers are one of the tangible areas where scientists can see the effects of a warming climate. But reading reports giving constantly-revised estimates about whether glaciers around the world are retreating by a few feet more or less a year loses a bit of impact in the telling. Even though we use trusty measurements like the length of a football field or the height of a building as a marker, it's really hard to picture. 

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BP's vision of the future, in graphs

  • 29 Jan 2013, 17:50
  • Mat Hope & Robin Webster

By 2030, the world's expected to have 1.3 billion more people. So where will all that extra energy come from? According to a recent report from oil giant BP, although renewables' share in the energy mix will grow a bit, fossil fuels will still dominate, and emissions from energy use could rise by up to 26 per cent.

At the time BP's Energy Outlook report was launched, media reports largely headlined on the view of its Group Chief Executive. He said fears that oil could run out "appear increasingly groundless", and predicted that shale gas "won't be a game changer". But what else does BP predict about our energy supplies in 2030? We take a closer look - and throw in some of the most interesting graphs.

What is the report?

Along with the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook, BP's annual report is one of the best-known analyses of future energy supplies. In comparison with the IEA's several hundred page annual doorstop, BP's effort is pretty accessible - with a slimline summary, a spreadsheet with all the numbers and an infographic animation featuring oddly cute-looking cartoons of oil wells. Well, it is BP.

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Norway climate sensitivity research not yet peer-reviewed

  • 28 Jan 2013, 17:36
  • Roz Pidcock

A press release last week appeared to present the results of new research suggesting earth's climate is not as sensitive to carbon dioxide as scientists previously thought.

But Carbon Brief has been told that the findings came from research by a PhD student in Oslo which has not yet been published or accepted for publication by a scientific journal. The results cited in the press release may change before publication, we were told.

The Research Council of Norway last week published a press release entitled ' Global warming less extreme than feared?'. It suggested it could be easier to contain global warming at the accepted target of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels than "many experts have feared".

As you might expect with a story like this, the news release sparked a deal of media interest.  The Express picked up the story, with the headline "More signs that global warming is just hot air".

In the absence of a link to a published paper, Andrew Revkin at New York Times blog  Dot Earth surmised the press release referred to an  earlier paper by the Norwegian research group, released at the end of last year.


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Carbon Brief's essential Green Deal news roundup

  • 28 Jan 2013, 13:00
  • Ros Donald

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has launched its flagship home energy efficiency programme:  Green Deal with it - to quote the new accompanying ad campaign. No, we're not sure it works either. But it's trending on Twitter and the media attention may help reverse a general  lack of public awareness of the scheme. Here's our roundup. 

What is it?

The BBC says: "Under the scheme, households can use cheap loans to spend on energy-saving improvements, such as insulation and new boilers, with no upfront cost." 

At the Guardian, Leo Hickman is running an  eco audit piece on the deal, inviting contributions from people working in the area on what the Green Deal is and what it could mean for UK energy and climate policy. 

If you're not into fancy liveblogging, though, the  Telegraph and  Guardian both include a good, old-fashioned guides for anyone wanting to know more.

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World getting warmer and wetter, new dataset shows

  • 28 Jan 2013, 11:15
  • Roz Pidcock

The world has got warmer and generally wetter since the beginning of the 20th century, according to new data just released by the Met Office and a global team of experts. With an extra 50 years worth of observations, the new data tracks how high temperatures and heavy rainfall extremes are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

The UK's Met Office has  just published observations from over 6000 temperature and 11,000 precipitation stations around the world, which look specifically at how extreme events have changed between 1901 and 2010.

The new dataset - called HadEX2 - is an update to a previous one that only covered the second half of the 20th century. The analysis is published online in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres.


Extreme temperature or rainfall events are roughly classed as anything that falls outside normal fluctuation around a long term average.

The scientists look at global temperature data to spot extremes, such as particularly hot days. They also measure cold extremes, like how the minimum night time temperature has changed over time.

In all 17 parameters the scientists measure, they find a shift towards warmer temperatures over the 20th century.

Averaged across the globe, the number of cool nights - when the temperature dropped a certain amount below the local average - halved in the last 60 years to 18 days per year. The number of warm nights increased by 55 per cent - to 20 days per year.

The number of anomalously warm days also increased over the 60-year period, but with more variation according to location.


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That picture of One Direction won’t save your climate comms - and other lessons

  • 25 Jan 2013, 14:49
  • Ros Donald and Christian Hunt

Beth Rudge

New  research from universities in the US, Australia and the UK has tested how different pictures make people feel about whether climate change is important, and whether they can do something about it.

Inspired, we have decided to conduct our own experiment on you, dear readers.

Researchers showed people images used to illustrate newspaper climate change stories. They mostly split into three categories: pictures of climate impacts, energy futures - meaning new energy sources like solar panels, and pictures of celebrities and politicians. 

Images of climate impacts made people feel like climate change is important, but they also made them feel like there's not much they can do to stop it.


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The UK's EU climate policy car crash

  • 25 Jan 2013, 14:45
  • Mat Hope

It's been a gloomy week for UK climate change policy in Europe. In the last seven days the carbon price twice crashed to record lows, the UK prime minister called for a revision of key environmental regulations, and the European Commission landed the UK with a large fine over mishandled energy policy.

Carbon price hits record lows

The European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is reeling after a large permit auction failed earlier in the week, and the European Parliament then rejected a measure to bolster the scheme. The scheme has been struggling after months of low prices.

Companies buy and sell permits to emit carbon dioxide under the EU ETS. If companies emit less than their permits allow, they can sell the excess for a profit. The scheme is meant to reward those that cut their emissions, and it relies on a shortage of permits.

But on Monday prices crashed to below €5 per tonne of carbon dioxide for the first time following a failed auction in Germany. Almost four million permits went unsold as bidders failed to meet the reserve price.

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Carbon Brief weekly update 24/01/2013

  • 24 Jan 2013, 16:30
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Leaders speak up on climate change

The leaders of two of the world's greatest economies made statements about climate change this week. Barack Obama, President of the United States, wowed weary environmentalists with a  commitment to tackle climate change  in his  inaugural speech. The  New York Timessays the campaign will be an "aggressive campaign built around the use of his executive powers to sidestep Congressional opposition" - a point  CNN also notes. According to the Guardian, Obama said more about climate change in the speech than he has for a very long time.

Meanwhile, Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wrote a  comment piece for the Telegraph explaining why the recent snow in the capital meant he was keeping an open mind on whether the UK was heading for a new ice age.  Carbon Brief asked scientists why fringe views don't shake mainstream science. The  Guardian and  New Statesman also picked up on the story. 

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Can the Green Deal make energy efficiency the next big thing in home improvement?

  • 24 Jan 2013, 15:00
  • Robin Webster

The government is due to launch its flagship energy efficiency scheme, the Green Deal, on Monday. At a press conference yesterday, climate change minister Greg Barker insisted that the programme will make energy efficiency measures the next big thing in home improvement. But others seem less than enthusiastic. We cast an appraising eye over the government's big green baby. 

The Green Deal is basically a loan scheme. It will allow householders to take out a loan from the government to fund measures to improve the energy efficiency of their home - these could include double glazing, an upgraded boiler, or cavity wall insulation. The works will be delivered by registered suppliers and the householder pays the loan off through a surcharge on their energy bill.

There appear to be some teething problems the media has picked up on in recent weeks, and here we take a look at them.


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