Seven climate and energy stories that will definitely/probably/maybe happen in 2014

  • 01 Jan 2014, 00:01
  • Mat Hope

Kate ter Haar

Predicting the future is a fool's game, but we'd be letting Santa down if we didn't give our brand new crystal ball a whirl. Here's our stab at pre-empting 2014's seven big stories.

1. There'll be a scuffle in Lima

It will be a relief to many that after negotiating through a Polish winter in Warsaw last time around, the annual international climate talks are being held in Lima's sunnier climes in 2014. But will delegates' moods match the weather? Probably not.

In recent years, the negotiations have sparked  tears walkouts and a (most recently) a hunger strike over the lack of tangible progress towards a new global climate change deal. Expect next year's talks to go to form, as nations try to  lay yet more 'foundations' for a new deal to be signed in Paris in 2015.

2. Britain will have the SOMETHINGEST weather in SOME YEARS

We're going to stick our necks out here, and say the UK will have some weather next year. And some of it will probably be record breaking.

In 2013, news outlets fell over themselves to report that the UK had the  hottest day for seven years, the  driest summer since 2006, and the coldest spring in 50 years. Shift the adjectives, seasons and base years around a bit and you can probably generate some of 2014's headlines yourself.

Another prediction: directly linking these weather happenings - or any other extreme weather events - to  climate change will continue to be problematic in 2014.

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Bad tidings: Carbon Brief’s best climate change reads of 2013

  • 30 Dec 2013, 10:00
  • Ros Donald

Credit: Abhi Sharma

Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, energy dilemmas ... don't they say Christmas to you? Ignore the umpteenth series of Downton Abbey and curl up with Carbon Brief's pick of the best energy and climate reads from 2013. From the big reports to the best writing, our staff recommend their standout reads of the year.

Climate: The IPCC Working Group 1 report

In case you've been living under a stone for the past few months, you'll know the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Working Group One report this autumn. The report concluded that scientists are more sure than ever- 95 per cent certain - that humans are causing extra warming. The oceans, land and atmosphere are getting warmer, snow and ice is melting and sea levels are rising.

Communicating the science

As not many people are likely to read the whole tome, communicating the report has been a key preoccupation for those of us who are interested in that sort of thing. The IPCC demonstrated laudable self-awareness in producing a 10-minute film running through the main points in the report.

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Seven energy events that surprised us in 2013

  • 27 Dec 2013, 12:00
  • Robin Webster

Source: Frack Off

Political panics about consumer energy bills, anti-fracking protests, energy company profits and a new nuclear power station built by the French: 2013 has been an interesting year for UK energy policy. Arguments about obscure government home insulation schemes, previously found on the business section, ended up on the front page. 

Along the way, unexpected events occurred, while some long-cherished dreams failed to materialise. Here's a few of the more interesting developments that surprised us in 2013. 

1. Energy efficiency does not become the new scatter cushion

In January, the government launched its flagship programme for encouraging householders to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. The Green Deal would make insulating your loft and fixing up the boiler "the  new scatter cushion" - a must-have for all forward thinking homes, energy minister Greg Barker announced. 

It didn't quite work out like that, however - at least not so far. Although  more than 100,000 homes had been assessed under the scheme by the end of October, just  813 households had taken up the offer to borrow money from the government to get improvements done - 0.6 per cent of the government's target for the  end of the year, according to thinktank IPPR. 

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Hockey sticks to huge methane burps: Five papers that shaped climate science in 2013

  • 27 Dec 2013, 11:00
  • Roz Pidcock

There's no doubt, 2013 was a busy year in climate science. As well as a bumper new climate report from the UN's official climate assessment body - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - a few bits of research caused quite a stir on their own.

We've cast our collective Carbon Brief mind back over the year to find the five science papers that had everybody talking.

1.  What hockey stick graphs tell us about recent climate change

Using fossils, corals, ice cores and tree rings, a study in the journal Science in March became the first to take a 11,300-year peek back into earth's temperature history.

Shaun Marcott and colleagues  showed global temperature rose faster in the past century than it has since the end of the last ice age, more than 11,000 years ago.

The story piqued the interest of  The Times The Independent,  The Daily Mail and  The Evening Standard. And as an extension of Michael Mann's iconic "hockey stick" graph, the paper attracted a good deal of attention from climate skeptic corners too.

Global temperature reconstructed for the past 11,300 years by Marcott et al. (purple line) and for the past 2,000 years by Mann et al. (grey lines) Source:  Skeptical Science

Marcott, S. A. et al., (2013) A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years. Science, DOI:10.1126/science.1228026

2.World's oceans are getting warmer, faster  

study led by UK researcher Magdalena Balmaseda highlighted why its important not to overlook the oceans when thinking about climate change.

Publishing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the authors showed just how much the oceans have warmed in the past 50 years - and that the pace accelerated sharply after about 2000.

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Predicting the future: The challenge of regional climate projection

  • 24 Dec 2013, 13:40
  • Professor Mat Collins

Niels Bohr, the famous Danish Physicist, once remarked 'Prediction is very difficult, especially when it's about the future'.

This quote is sometimes used to suggest that making predictions of future climate change is an impossible task. But, of course, we can predict the future. Meteorological services around the world do it every day, with ever increasing accuracy.

To predict future changes in climate, scientists use climate models. We feed in assumptions about future levels of greenhouses gases, then run the models forward in time and diagnose the output. We usually speak of "projections" to indicate that our predictions are not definitive, they are conditional on those economic, social and technological assumptions about future greenhouse gas levels.

All of this activity takes place in modelling centres around the world. A recent revolution in the field has been to collect the output from experiments performed at different modelling centres into a central repository, making the data available to a larger community of climate researchers. This is called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP).

A changing climate

With a changing climate, there's demand for information about the changes we can expect at scales that might affect particular populations, ecosystems and economies. So how confident can we be about changes projected for a given region?

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Daily Briefing | 50 nuclear plants, airport emissions, and Greenland resevoirs

  • 23 Dec 2013, 09:30
  • Carbon Brief staff

Fifty new nuclear plants could be goal in official energy plans 
In a submission to a consultation on geological waste disposal, the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management has said an upper limit of 75 gigawatts of nuclear power is "being examined" by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). In a 2011 report, DECC suggested 75 gigawatts could be brought on line by 2050. 

Climate and energy news:

Go-ahead for fracking after Brussels vows no regulation 
A spokesperson for the European Commission has said that the Commission will present "firm guidance" on fracking next year, but "as envisaged for a long time, the Commission will not propose draft legislation." The Mirror reports that the EU has "shelved" plans for fracking regulation. 

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Climate rhetoric: What's an energy trilemma?

  • 23 Dec 2013, 09:00
  • Kate Pond

Abhi Sharma

The idea of an 'energy trilemma' is a one that now pops up frequently in energy industry literature and in politicians' speeches.

It's most usually used to describes a balance between energy security, social impact and environmental sensitivity. These three things are presented as conflicting aspects of energy production.

But does the concept make sense, and is it as straightforward as its widespread use might suggest? Perhaps not. Examining speeches given at this year's Energy UK conference shows that there is at best disagreement about what the trilemma actually is, and at worst an appropriation of the term to serve vested interests.

When a dilemma is not enough

In philosophy, a trilemma is a choice between three unfavourable options. In economics it is also known as the 'impossible trinity': a trade-off between three goals, in which two are pursued at the expense of the third.

But the energy trilemma appears to be different: meeting it requires achieving all three goals, although within the parameters of the particular wishes or interests of the actor in question.

In her opening speech to the Energy UK conference, the industry lobby's CEO Angela Knight talked about "the old trilemma" of the energy industry: "decarbonisation, energy security and affordability".

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AGU 101: A guide to the US’s biggest geoscience conference

  • 20 Dec 2013, 11:45
  • Guest post by Dr Mark Brandon

Rebecca Morelle

Two giant, week-long, geoscience meetings mark the calendar. In Europe the European Geoscience Union (EGU) General Assembly is around Easter, and in North America just before Christmas is the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting. These two conferences are huge, with 10-20,000 scientists gathering to talk about their work. But how does such a vast science meeting work for the participants? It's all about "sessions", posters and talks.

Last week was the AGU Fall meeting and I was one of probably hundreds of UK geoscientists who made the journey to San Francisco. Big meetings create media interest and the BBC sent two science journalists to write stories.

Their output captures part of the range of science at the meeting - but it's worth noting  they highlighted only about 20 stories from the many thousands presented. My favourites were from Jonathan Amos on the new "coldest place on earth" and the methane seas of Titan, and I loved Rebecca Morell's stories on "missing earthquakes" from the historical record and water spouts on Europa.

Any member of AGU can propose a session subject and title usually by April in the year of the meeting. The organisation committee selects sessions to create  a varied programme  ( PDF  here ) - but given that there are around 1500 sessions over the week you would have to be hard pushed to seriously suggest there is some sort of "gatekeeping" going on with what gets discussed.

When the session lists are published online in early summer, any member of AGU can submit an abstract describing an element of science that fits in a particular session. Then it's down to the conveners of the session to choose abstracts that they would like to see as a talk, or a poster showcased in AGU's gargantuan poster room.

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Daily Briefing | Solar panels, fracking water, and a crystal ball

  • 20 Dec 2013, 09:45
  • Carbon Brief staff

Source: Tom Thiel

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Solar panels on half a million homes by end of the year 

Government data show half a million UK homes will have solar panels installed on their roofs by the end of this year - and the Solar Trade Association says that figure could double by 2015. 

Climate and energy news

Putin calls Russia response to Greenpeace Arctic protest a lesson 
Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended his country's treatment of Greenpeace activists detained for a protest at a drilling platform. He added, "This is a serious thing for us. And we do not plan to soften (our stance), we will only be toughening it". 

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Government expects new policies to reduce household electricity bills by £41

  • 19 Dec 2013, 14:30
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Ds10

Household energy bills are rising, and some have been quick to blame 'green' levies for the rising costs. But the government disagrees. It says supporting low carbon energy generation will reduce electricity bills on average by £41 by 2030.

The government recently announced plans to  cut £50 from the average energy bill by shuffling the way energy efficiency schemes are funded - moving payments onto general taxation. Some levies still remain, however. People still pay to subsidise low carbon energy generation through their bills.

This doesn't necessarily mean electricity will be cheaper than today, however. The government compares the cost of its policies to a 'counterfactual' - a world where different policies achieve the same aim of decarbonising the UK's energy system.

Saving £41

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) published its electricity market reform  delivery plan this morning, outlining how it expects policies contained within the recently passed energy bill to affect household electricity costs.

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