Why the UK's politics are incapable of governing energy

  • 30 Sep 2013, 11:00
  • Guest blog by Caroline Kuzemko

Labour leader Ed Miliband's conference party announcement about freezing electricity prices has prompted some commentators to claim UK energy policy is now in crisis. And they're probably right - but crises can present opportunities for profound policy change. This might just be what is required to fix the UK's dysfunctional energy system.   

Part of the crisis is that UK energy policy has not been able to deliver on core objectives -  climate change mitigation, energy security and affordability - for some time now. 

Growing tensions 

UK energy policy has become increasingly complex and full of inherent tensions - between addressing price issues, delivering renewables and other important investments and security of supply - for some time now. 

My book, 'The Energy Security-Climate Nexus',  aims to explain these complexities by tracing energy policy changes through three phases, assessing catalysts for change as well as responses.  

What becomes clear is that changes have been informed by three different, and sometimes contradictory, perspectives on energy and how it should be governed: the security of supply perspective, the climate change perspective and the pro-market perspective.  

This suggest an energy policy that is full of internal tensions - tensions that arguably leave it open to further, perhaps more radical, change. 

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Newslinks - 30th September • Miliband's plans "spark green war", investors call for carbon-free power target & newspapers respond to climate report

  • 30 Sep 2013, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Red Ed Miliband sparks green war 
In the wake of Ed Miliband's proposal last week to freeze energy bills, Centrica and SSE are pushing for a new deal with the Government where it delays some green targets. According to the Sunday Telegraph there are suggestions the complicated Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) scheme could be watered down.
Sunday Telegraph 

Climate & energy news:

Green energy confusion 'stalling UK investment' 
A group of power investors representing £1trillion assets worldwide have written to George Osborne in advance of his speech at the Conservative party conference today. They demand a set decarbonisation target to be inserted into the Energy Bill to give investment certainty to power and manufacturing companies.
Daily Telegraph 

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Scientists react to today’s UN climate report

  • 27 Sep 2013, 17:45
  • Roz Pidcock

Today an international group of hundreds of climate scientists released a report covering how and why the earth's climate is changing, and how it may change in the future.

We wrote a summary of the report's top findings and a simple background for everyone. But how has the report been received by the scientists involved? We asked a few for their reaction.

Scientists are 95 per cent confident that humans are changing the climate

The topline from the new report - and one many media outlets have picked up on - is that scientists can now say with extremely high confidence the world is warming and that humans have been the dominant cause of that warming since the 1950s.

Dr John King from the British Antarctic Survey tells us:

"[T]he message I would want people to take home is increasing certainty that human activity has been having an impact on climate and will continue to do so into the future, that we are now able to make predictions with increased confidence"

King adds a note about how confidence in this message has grown stronger in recent times, saying:

"I think it's interesting to look at this in the context of the whole series of IPCC assessments that have come out. We're now on the fifth one and over time the message that has become stronger and stronger that there is a measurable human impact on climate ...The message hasn't changed, it's just being delivered with greater and greater confidence as the evidence base has accumulated"

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IPCC: Six graphs that explain how the climate is changing

  • 27 Sep 2013, 16:30
  • Freya Roberts

After a week spent meticulously agreeing the exact wording, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released a summary of the first part of its major report reviewing the science of climate change.

Known as the '  Summary for Policymakers' (SPM), the document describes the physical science behind climate change - whittling down the latest findings about how and why earth's climate is changing to just 36 pages.

It also makes predictions about how temperatures and sea levels might change in the future - relative to their average levels between 1986 and 2005. The two main ones we'll touch on here are RCP2.6, a low emissions scenario where carbon emissions are rapidly cut, and RCP8.5, a high emissions scenario with no carbon cuts.

But who can be bothered to read a 36 page document? So here are 6 pictures (okay, graphs…) to give you the gist.

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Carbon Brief's guide to the IPCC report

  • 27 Sep 2013, 13:45
  • Freya Roberts

As global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the earth is warming, snow and ice is melting, and sea levels are rising. These are the confident conclusions from a brand  new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The full report runs to several thousand pages, but scientists have distilled its contents into a 36-page summary - intended to capture the findings most relevant to policymakers. Here are the bits you need to know about:

Temperatures

One of the clearest signs of climate change is rising temperatures. Between 1880 and 2012, earth's surface warmed by approximately 0.85°C, and the first decade of the 21st century was the hottest since modern records began in 1850. Scientists are 95 per cent certain humans' influence on the climate is the dominant reason earth warmed between 1951 and 2010.

The report notes that within the long term warming trend, short periods of slower surface warming have occurred. Between 1998 and 2012, for example, earth's surface has warmed at a rate of 0.05°C per decade - which is slower than the trend since 1951 of 0.12°C per decade.

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The IPCC report: A summary for everyone

  • 27 Sep 2013, 12:00
  • Ros Donald

Source:

Today an international group  of hundreds of climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a report covering how and why the earth's climate is changing, and how it may change in the future. 

Greenhouse gases 

Scientists have known over two hundred years that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, meaning it traps heat in the atmosphere and oceans. 

Over time, scientists have come to understand more about how the gases that are emitted when people burn fossil fuels like oil and gas affect the climate.  

Scientists are more sure than ever - 95 per cent certain - that humans are causing extra warming, today's report concludes. The oceans, land and atmosphere are getting warmer, snow and ice is melting and sea levels are rising. 

For another way of thinking about this, one news  report this week explains that scientists are now as sure human activity is warming the climate as they are that smoking causes lung cancer. 

 

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Newslinks - 27th September • IPCC day • Warming causes more certain, temperature pause explained & all the graphs you need to see

  • 27 Sep 2013, 09:30
  • Carbon Brief staff

Man-made climate change causes 'even more certain' 
A new BBC video outlines what it says is the key finding of the IPCC's new report: that scientists now state with even greater certainty than before that present-day, rapid warming of the planet is man-made.
BBC News 

Climate & energy news:

Climate panel 'is heavy and bland' - says supporter 
The Times reports comments by Lord Stern - who says the new IPCC report leaves no doubt that delaying action on climate change is dangerous - that the reporting process is cumbersome. 
The Times 

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Profits, green policies and the return of socialism: a roundup of reaction to Miliband’s energy price freeze

  • 26 Sep 2013, 12:45
  • Robin Webster

Ed Miliband's proposal to set a temporary freeze on consumer energy bills and "fix" the energy market has certainly set the cat amongst pigeons, attracting a torrent of comment from across the political spectrum. Here's our roundup of who's saying what.  

Miliband accompanied his  conference speech with an open letter to energy companies - in which he promised to "reset the [energy] market" - replacing regulator Ofgem with a new stronger body (um, Ofgem 2?). More excitingly, if Labour gets into power, he plans to freeze energy prices for 20 months from 2015.

Miliband says he appreciates energy companies "will not welcome all aspects of this package". That's putting it mildly: British Gas's owner Centrica responded by  threatening to leave the country. Yesterday, shares in Centrica and energy company SSE lost more than £1billion in value as they absorbed the announcement. 

It's probably not surprising energy companies don't approve - but there's objection from elsewhere too. 

1. Profits, investment and subsidies 

Labour accuses energy companies of overcharging their customers. It  calculates the big six made a total profit of £3.7 billion in 2012 - 73 per cent more than in 2009.  

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Roulette, insurance policies and loading the dice: What could the IPCC learn about risk? A Q&A with James Painter

  • 26 Sep 2013, 10:30
  • Ros Donald

Credit:Conor Ogle

How can  smart use of the language of risk help those communicating the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s new blockbuster assessment? Oxford University's James Painter tells us how recommendations in his new book can help science communicators and policymakers explain the IPCC's findings.  

Painter's new book, ' Climate change in the media - reporting risk and uncertainty', analyses media coverage of climate science. Among the book's conclusions is that talking about risk may help shift the conversation away from less certain areas of science and start people talking about what society needs to do to avoid the worst effects of climate change. 

What does the reporting of risk and uncertainty mean in the context of the book, and how does it relate to climate science? 

In the book, we looked at what we already know about how the media report risk and uncertainty in general, and then looked specifically at climate science and how the print media in six countries reported the uncertainties and risks around it.  

To analyse the content of media reports, we used indicators of uncertainty such as ranges of projections, use of words like 'may' 'could' and 'might', and dissenting voices including the different types of sceptics. 

For risk, we assessed how much the media and scientists explicitly use the word 'risk', or risk concepts such as assigning probabilities and confidence levels to possible outcomes, or every day risk language such as 'loading the dice', 'taking out an insurance policy', or 'playing Russian roulette with the climate'.  

One of the findings of the book was that nearly half of all the 350 articles we looked at included a quote from a scientist or science report indicating some manifestation of uncertainty. Much fewer used risk language.  

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Newslinks - 26th September • Anti-fracking MP, Miliband's power pledge & agricultural emissions

  • 26 Sep 2013, 09:30
  • Carbon Brief staff

British Green MP charged over part in fracking protest 
Britain's only elected member of parliament from the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, has been charged with public order offences after taking part in a protest last month against the shale gas extraction process known as fracking. 
Reuters 

Climate & energy news:

Peter Mandelson criticises Ed Miliband's energy plan 
Lord Mandelson has criticised Ed Miliband's call for a 20-month freeze on gas and electricity prices. Mandelson says the Labour leader's demand could create the impression that the party's industrial policy was going backwards. The former business secretary said he believed the party had moved on from the days of having to choose "between state control and laissez-faire". 
The Guardian 

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