Daily Briefing | Obama moves to allow drilling in Atlantic, but limit it in Arctic

  • 28 Jan 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Obama's Plan: Allow Drilling in Atlantic, but Limit It in Arctic 
The Obama administration moved on Tuesday to open up a vast stretch of waters off the American East Coast to oil and gas drilling. The decision could have a profound impact on the economic and environmental future of states from Georgia to Virginia, the New York Times says. Meanwhile, in a political balancing act to appease environmentalists, the Obama administration will ban drilling in portions of the Arctic Ocean. The overall 5 year-leasing plan mean that nearly 80% of oil and gas resources on the US continental shelf are available to explore, reports RTCC.     New York Times 

Climate and energy news

Pennsylvania Fracking Companies Regularly Commit Serious Environmental Violations 
Pennsylvania fracking companies commit environmental violations once a day, on average, campaign group Environment America finds. The violations include land spills, well failures, surface water contamination, and site restoration problems. A separate report from UK researchers found one-third of a set of 3,533 wells in Pennsylvania had been reported for environmental violations between 2008 and 2011.      Climate Progress 

What a Warming World Means for Snowstorms 
More than 5,000 flights have already been cancelled as America prepares for a potentially record-breaking blizzard. It may seem strange to talk about a major winter storm in the context of a warming world, but as the climate changes we are likely to get fewer but more extreme storms. This is because a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, which can mean more snow as long as temperatures remain cold enough. Grist also reports on the seemingly counter-intuitive weather.     Scientific American 

No US-India deal on climate change 
Since Obama's "historic" climate deal with China last November there have been hopes that India - the world's third largest emitter - would follow a similar route during the US President's visit. Despite reports that the US was keen for a similar deal with Delhi, the Indian government was not willing to make any major commitments, particularly about when its emissions may peak. Despite making little headway on climate change progress was made on clean energy, with deals to boost nuclear and solar. The Daily Mail also has the story.      BBC News 

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Global Calculator shows how the world can 'prosper' while tackling climate change

  • 28 Jan 2015, 07:20
  • Simon Evans

The world's population could live a prosperous, European-style lifestyle by 2050 at the same time as avoiding dangerous climate change, according to a new Global Calculator developed by the UK's Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The online tool shows how global prosperity can increase, even as emissions fall by 60 per cent from current levels in line with climate targets. This feat, according to the calculator, would require a series of massive changes to how we use energy, such as a shift from fossil fuels towards nuclear and renewables, and much wider use of electric heat and transport.

DECC's tool shows this transition might be slightly more, or slightly less expensive than the cost of doing nothing to tackle emissions. Either way, the difference in costs would be minimal, relative to expected growth in global wealth.

The new global tool has already been used by organisations, including DECC, Shell, the International Energy Agency and Friends of the Earth, to imagine the world in 2050. However, not all of these future scenarios are compatible with a safe climate.

Carbon Brief takes you through the nuts and bolts of the tool, DECC's version of a prosperous two-degrees world and how the calculator can be used to compare competing visions of the future within a common frame of reference.

How the tool works

Anyone can use the web-based Global Calculator tool to model the world in 2050, by making a series of choices about lifestyle (such as diet and appliance use), transport, buildings, industry, land use and energy. The tool then shows whether these choices are consistent with meeting the internationally agreed target to limit warming to two degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.

The summary dashboard for DECC's Global Calculator. Credit:

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Warming Arctic to break down barriers between Atlantic and Pacific fish, study finds

  • 27 Jan 2015, 16:23
  • Robert McSweeney

Fishing off Greenland | Shutterstock

For millions of years, fish species in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans have stuck resolutely to where they belong, kept from venturing between oceans by the cold water of the Arctic.

But new research suggests a warming Arctic could soon see fish putting aside their differences and bridging this chilly divide. And this could have implications for native species and commercial fisheries, the researchers say.

A natural barrier

For most of the last 2.6 million years, the cold temperatures and low nutrient levels of the Arctic have deterred fish species from crossing between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The cold conditions mean at present only 135 of more than 800 known fish species are found in latitudes north of where the UK sits, in either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean.

But a new study, published in Nature Climate Change, finds that with Arctic temperatures increasing almost twice as fast as the global average, this natural barrier is set to weaken.

Melting sea ice will mean ocean currents can carry warmer water and nutrients into Arctic water, taking fish further north and potentially allowing them to mix between oceans.

'Rapid explosion in fish biodiversity'

The researchers use computer models to forecast future ocean conditions such as surface temperatures, salinity, and currents, and project how the distribution of different fish species could respond to climate change.

They analysed how suitable the Arctic seas would be for over 500 fish species during this century if greenhouse gas emissions continue at current rates.

The maps below show that many species will gradually progress north, eventually reaching the northern coasts of Canada and Russia, where fish from each ocean can mix. Their modelling shows that by 2100, 44 species could enter the Atlantic from the Pacific, with 41 species potentially crossing back the other way.

Wisz Et Al . (2015) Fig 1 Fish Interchange

Projected number of fish species in high latitudes under business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions. Results shown for 2015, 2050 and 2100. The dark blue show areas with the most species present. Source: Wisz et al. (2015).

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In depth: Infrastructure bill amendments on fracking, fossil fuels, and zero carbon homes

  • 27 Jan 2015, 12:15
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Docklandsboy

  • MPs vote to increase restrictions on fracking.
  • Conservatives and Labour claim credit for creating a positive investment environment for UK shale gas industry.
  • Government agrees to obligation to outline how fracking fits within the UK's climate targets.
  • Industry react positively to amendments. Environmental groups fear changes are superficial.
  • Opposition fails to remove a clause obligating the UK to "maximise" oil and gas extraction.
  • Infrastructure bill leaves House of Commons with watered-down proposal for building new zero-carbon homes.

MPs yesterday voted to increase restrictions on fracking while continuing to try and maximise exploitation of the UK's oil and gas reserves. They also voted to water down a commitment to provide zero-carbon homes.

All three items were contained in the mammoth  infrastructure bill. The energy and climate provisions were the focus of what has become an increasingly partisan fight to dictate the future direction of the UK's energy and climate policy.


The most high-profile amendments to the bill were around the issue of whether the UK should go "all out" for shale gas. After several hours of debating, amendments were included to increase the stringency of regulations dictating where shale-gas companies can explore, and place further obligations on the government to explain how fracking fits with the UK's broader climate-change goals.

Before the debate, the parties made clear their positions on whether the government should support the nascent industry. Conservatives MPs, and  the chancellor in particular, are  very keen. Labour is willing to permit fracking with some additional checks. Some Liberal Democrats and the Greens remain staunchly against any fracking.

An amendment put forward by Labour for a fracking moratorium was rejected by 308 votes to 52. The government accepted an opposition amendment to allow fracking with "appropriate regulation and monitoring", broadly in line with recommendations from an  Environmental Audit Committee report released yesterday.


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Daily Briefing | Fracking moratorium rejected by MPs

  • 27 Jan 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Fracking moratorium rejected by MPs 
MPs have overwhelmingly rejected a bid to suspend fracking for shale gas, but have agreed to Labour proposals for 13 new conditions before shale gas extraction can take place. The proposed 30-month fracking moratorium was defeated by 308 votes to 52 after Labour MPs abstained having agreed a range of amendments to the Infrastructure Bill, including an "outright ban" on fracking in national parks. Other amendments agreed include tougher environmental monitoring, wider consultation, and a legal compulsion on companies to provide community benefit schemes, reports The Financial Times. However, Labour did not oppose the change to trespass laws, which allow fracking under people's home without their permission, says The Guardian. While The Telegraph described the Commons debate as a "series of u-turns that will significantly restrict where fracking can take place".     BBC News 

Climate and energy news

Keystone votes fail in Senate 
Democrat senators yesterday successfully filibustered a vote to force the approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. The filibuster worked partly because eight Republican senators were absent due to snow disrupting travel. The bill now goes back to committee.      Politico 

Charles warns of 'last chance' on climate 
World leaders will be condemned by their grandchildren if they fail to take action to save rainforests and prevent dangerous climate change, the Prince of Wales has said. Speaking at a meeting in London of the International Sustainability Unit, his environmental charity, the prince said that this year could be the "last chance before we end up in an irreversible situation".      The Times 

Greece: Syriza juggles coal, pipelines and climate ambitions 
Syriza's election victory in Greece has kindled hopes of an environmental champion pushing for greater climate ambition on the European stage, but the party will need to balance its green credentials, says The Guardian. Syriza are in favour of renewables, energy efficiency and decentralised energy production but it faces internal tensions over plans for new coal plants and, potentially, the world biggest gas pipeline.     The Guardian 

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Survey shows partisan split among MPs on climate and energy issues

  • 26 Jan 2015, 16:55
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Docklandsboy

With one hundred days to go until the election, analysts are eagerly looking for ways to differentiate between the parties. New data suggests MPs' views on energy and climate change could do just that.

Political analysts Dods asked 100 MPs what they thought about the scientific consensus around climate change and their energy preferences. Here's what they had to say.

Climate change

A large majority of the MPs surveyed, 72 out of 100, said they thought more than 75 per cent of scientists attributed climate change mainly to human activities. It was by far the most common answer for MPs from all the parties.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 16.15.24.png
Source:  Dods Energy Preference Briefing. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Expect twice as many extreme La Niña events under climate change, study warns

  • 26 Jan 2015, 16:00
  • Robert McSweeney

2011 La Nina in Bangkok | Shutterstock

The Pacific weather phenomenon known as El Niño or 'The Little Boy' is regularly in the news. Scientists keep a close eye on its status as events can cause devastating extreme weather around the world.

But El Niño has a lesser-known sister, La Niña, which also has a dramatic impact on global weather. Now a new study suggests that we could see La Niña events occurring twice as often as the climate warms.

The lesser-known sibling

Every five years or so, weakening trade winds causes a shift to warmer than normal ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, a phenomena known as El Niño.

La Niña, or 'The Little Girl', is El Niño's cold water counterpart. During La Niña events the trade winds strengthen, and the central and eastern Pacific Ocean becomes even colder than normal. La Niñas are known to bring drought to the southwestern US, floods to Central America, and hurricanes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Together, the warm and cold events form the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and cause most of the fluctuations in global weather we see from one year to the next.

Understanding how extreme La Niña will change as global temperatures rise has challenged scientists for the past three decades. A new paper, published in Nature Climate Change, suggests that extreme La Niña events will occur almost twice as often in the twenty-first century than they did in the twentieth.

La -nina

Credit: Rosamund Pearce, Carbon Brief

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Briefing: India’s energy and climate change challenge

  • 26 Jan 2015, 11:45
  • Mat Hope

Old Delhi | Shutterstock

The US and India have signed a deal to "enhance cooperation" on cutting emissions and investing in low carbon energy sources. The countries agreed the deal during President Obama's  state visit to meet India's prime minister Narendra Modi this weekend.

Last time the president visited one of the world's foremost developing economies, China, he signed an  historic deal on climate change. As the world's third largest emitter, India is coming under increasing pressure to  follow suit.

The new US-India pact is weaker than the agreement Obama signed in Beijing. But there are a number of good reasons India is reluctant to take strong action to curb its emissions in the short term.

Carbon Brief takes a look at the factors likely to shape India's energy and climate choices in the coming years, and what it means for the world's efforts to tackle climate change.

india challenges

Population and poverty

India has become noticeably more progressive on climate change under  prime minister Narendra Modi. It remains adamant that the world's developed economies must shoulder most of the responsibility for curbing emissions, however.

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Met Office confirms 2014 among hottest years on record

  • 26 Jan 2015, 11:20
  • Roz Pidcock

The UK Met Office has announced that 2014 was one of the warmest years since 1850.

Average air temperature over the land and sea surface was 0.56 degrees Celsius above the long-term average, tied with 2010 as the joint warmest year on record.

The Met Office is the fourth major meteorological organisation to release data confirming 2014 was a particularly warm year,  despite not experiencing an El Niño.

A hot year

The average temperature across the globe in 2014 was 0.56 degrees Celsius above the 1961-90 long-term average, according to HadCRUT4, a dataset jointly put together by the UK Met Office and the Climatic Research Centre at the University of East Anglia.

This is very close to the central estimate of 0.57°C from the  Met Office global temperature forecast for 2014, which was  issued in late 2013.

Lots of factors make measuring global temperature a difficult task, such as sparse data in remote places, random measurement errors and changes in instrumentation over time.

That means the uncertainty in temperature measurements can be larger than the difference between individual years, which typically comes down to just a few hundredths of a degree.

It's for this reason, the Met Office can't say for absolute certain which year was the warmest, Colin Morice explains:

"Uncertainties in the estimates of global temperature are larger than the differences between the warmest years. This limits what we can say about rankings of individual years. We can say with confidence that 2014 is one of ten warmest years in the series and that it adds to the set of near-record temperatures we have seen over the last two decades."

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Daily Briefing | Obama and Modi share nuclear "breakthrough" in landmark visit

  • 26 Jan 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

India flag | Shutterstock

Obama and Modi share nuclear 'breakthrough' in landmark visit 
Barack Obama and the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi reached a "breakthrough in understanding" this weekend on investing in nuclear power in India. While not a concrete emissions reductions agreement like the one Obama reached with China this past November, the two countries have pledged to work together on clean energy and low greenhouse gas emissions technologies, reports Think Progress.      The Times 

Climate and energy news

MPs: Ban fracking to meet carbon targets 
The UK's Environmental Audit Committee today issued a report calling for a moratorium on fracking for shale gas, stating that the practice would be "incompatible" with the UK's legally-binding climate change targets. On top of a greater reliance on fossil fuels, the cross-party committee cited "remaining concerns" over deleterious impacts on water supplies, air quality and public health, despite assurances from Environment Agency that no hazardous substances will be permitted. The MP's also called for fracking to be "prohibited outright" from national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, reportsThe Express. But petroleum academics and the fracking industry have accused the committee of rushing the report and listening to "ill-informed" green groups instead of scientific evidence, says The Telegraph. The Financial Times and the frontpage of The Scotsman also have the story.     BBC News 

George Osborne urges ministers to fast-track fracking measures in leaked letter 
A leaked letter from George Osborne to his cabinet colleagues requests that ministers make dozens of interventions to fast-track fracking for shale gas a "personal priority". The letter calls for "rapid progress" on "reducing risks and delays to drilling". This comes hours after a cross-party committee of MP's called for a moratorium on fracking and ahead of today's Commons vote on shale gas exploration.     The Guardian 

Watch sea ice vanishing in the Arctic over 27 years 
Researchers from the US National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration have put together a new time-lapse animation showing how quickly Arctic sea ice has disappeared over the last 27 years. In the 1980s, ice four years and older made up a quarter of the ice pack but as of March 2014, this was just 10 per cent. Today, ice more than seven years old is extremely rare, says The Telegraph.     The Daily Mail 

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