Analysis

Scientists set out eight essential elements for UN climate deal

  • 22 Apr 2015, 07:25
  • Sophie Yeo

andrewvec | Shutterstock

Seventeen high-profile scientists have set out eight demands for the UN negotiations on climate change in Paris at the end of this year.

These "essential elements" must be part of the UN's new agreement to ensure a climatically safe future where global temperatures are limited to below 2C and irreversible planetary changes are avoided, says the statement, compiled by the Earth League of scientists.

Released to coincide with Earth Day, the intervention is backed by scientists from across the globe, including Ottmar Edenhofer and Youba Sokona, who co-chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report into the options for avoiding dangerous climate change.

Several of the elements are more ambitious than the pathways outlined by the IPCC, however, and go beyond the level of ambition currently on the table for Paris.

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Election 2015: What the manifestos say on climate and energy

  • 21 Apr 2015, 12:35
  • Simon Evans

PlusONE |   Shutterstock

Update 21/4 - We added the DUP manifesto.

Update 20/4 - We added the SNP manifesto and Labour's Green Plan.

Update 17/4 - We added the Plaid Cymru manifesto.

Update 15/4 - We added the Liberal Democrat and UKIP manifestos.

Update 14/4 - We added the Conservative and Green Party manifestos.

The UK's closest election in a generation is now three weeks away. Carbon Brief is tracking the climate and energy content of the parties' manifestos as they are launched.

Labour went first on Monday 13 April, followed a day later by the Conservatives and Greens. The Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party launched on Wednesday 15 April. Other parties followed over the following week.

In contrast to 2010, climate change has barely featured on the campaign trail so far. That's despite - or perhaps because of - the joint climate pledge from the leaders of the three largest parties. This promised to work towards a legally-binding global climate deal, to agree new UK emissions-cutting goals and to phase out unabated coal-fired power.

Carbon Brief's climate and energy tracker will be updated through the week as the manifestos come in, allowing party policies to be compared side by side. The image below is a preview of the information available if you click through to the interactive online version.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 At 12.35.57

Carbon Brief's climate and energy election grid includes key extracts from the 2015 election manifestos along with commentary and links to further information. Click the image or this link for the full interactive version.

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Daily Briefing | Australia's climate plans probed by UN partners

  • 21 Apr 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Australia's climate plans probed by UN partners 
Australia has come under scrutiny for unambitious plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions. China, the US, Brazil and the EU have probed the country's resolve to cut CO2 by 5% from 2000 levels by 2020 through its UN forum. Countries asked Australia 36 questions through the UN's "multilateral assessment" portal, which scrutinises if overall emissions pledges are on course to hold global temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels. By comparison, the US received 33 questions, followed by Japan on 32 and Russia with 27. Australia has two months to answer the questions, while the UN's climate change body will release a review in August.         RTCC 

Climate and energy news

Businesses to unite on green agenda including carbon taxes 
A meeting of global businesses in May in Paris is set to see them reach an agreement to support a higher carbon price, more green technology in cities and greater renewable energy use, according to the FT. The summit will feature 1,200 senior figures and is supported by both the UN and business networks such as the International Chamber of Commerce. Delegates will include Tony Hayward, chairman of Glencore, and Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, and they plan to produce a "paper of recommendations".      Financial Times 

UN chief to address Vatican climate change summit 
Ban Ki-moon is set to headline a one-day meeting on climate change and sustainable development hosted by the Vatican on April 28. The UN secretary general will join top officials from the Catholic Church to discuss plans for a global pact to curb greenhouse gas emissions, before a private meeting with Pope Francis. The meeting comes ahead of the much-anticipated papal encyclical, as explained last week by Carbon Brief.        RTCC 

Is It Finally Game Over for Ethanol? 
Vice looks at the fading fortunes of the US ethanol industry setting out why the troubled sector's fortunes now hang on the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard which will soon set ethanol production mandates last set in 2005. "The time for ethanol lobbyists to strike will now be the presidential Iowa caucuses, where producers can focus on leveraging the importance of their industry within the state to win concessions from 2016 candidates," says Vice.       Vice 

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Tiny marine plants could amplify Arctic warming by 20%, new study finds

  • 20 Apr 2015, 20:00
  • Robert McSweeney

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising faster than the rest of the world. Now, new research suggests microscopic algae could speed up warming even further.

These miniscule floating plants, which do everything from storing carbon to supporting the ocean food web, could drive faster sea ice melt as the Earth heats up, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.

Microalgae are already showing signs of adapting to warmer oceans, says a second study. But this is no guarantee they'll be able to cope with future temperature increases, the researchers say.

Foundation for life

Microalgae, or phytoplankton , are tiny plants that float in the upper part of the ocean. Just like plants on land, they photosynthesise - using sunlight and carbon dioxide to generate energy for growth. In this way they take carbon dioxide out of atmosphere and help to buffer the impact of emissions from human activities.

The by-product of photosynthesis is oxygen, and microalgae are responsible for producing around half of the oxygen in the atmosphere. Microalgae are also the foundation of the food web, meaning they're ultimately the reason there's any life in the oceans at all.

As algae serve such an important purpose, scientists are trying to work out how their abundance and distribution could change in the future as the Earth warms.

Positive feedback

Temperatures in the Arctic are increasing around twice as fast as the global average. The intense warming, known as Arctic amplification, is largely caused by diminishing sea ice. Energy from the sun that would have been reflected away by sea ice is instead absorbed by the ocean.

Previous research has shown that shrinking sea ice has given a boost to algae abundance. But there's a downside to this accelerated growth. A new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests the increase in algae could intensify Arctic warming, and sea ice melt, in the future.

So how could algal blooms intensify sea ice decline? As the Arctic warms up and the sea ice melts, more sunlight can penetrate into the ocean surface, triggering more growth in the algae.

With more microalgae floating around in the surface waters of the ocean, they absorb an increasing amount of the sun's energy, which causes the water to warm up. A warmer ocean means more sea ice melts, boosting algal growth even further, and creating a positive feedback loop.

Ecosystem model

The researchers looked at how this feedback loop could play out in a changing climate. They linked their marine ecosystem model to a climate model and ran simulations where carbon dioxide levels increase by 1% per year until the total amount in the atmosphere is twice what it was in 1990.

You can see the results in the maps below. These show the difference in Arctic temperature and sea ice between model runs with and without the added impacts of microalgae.

Park Et Al (2015) Fig2

Projections of Arctic changes under a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide: A) annual average temperature, B) sea ice concentration, C) number of ice-free days, and D) concentration of chlorophyll. Source: Park et al. (2015).

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Is BP's shareholder resolution really an "activist victory"?

  • 20 Apr 2015, 16:00
  • Sophie Yeo

M DOGAN / Shutterstock

Climate campaigners celebrated on Thursday as 98% of shareholders backed a  resolution forcing BP to come clean about the impact that climate change will have on its operations.

BP is a company which emits about the same volume of greenhouse gases as Norway. It has advocated for a global economy-wide price on carbon, yet also  scaled back its investments in renewable energy. Thanks to the resolution, it will have to be more transparent in the future about how it plans to move towards a greener business model.

The  Financial Times described the vote as a "major victory" for activists, while transparency pressure group  CDP called it "a game changing day".

Yet the resolution, though unusual, was not controversial. BP itself backed the motion, and it received the overwhelming support of shareholders across the board. A similar motion, backed by Shell, will be put to vote at their AGM on 19 May.

Carbon Brief looks at whether the resolution could change BP's approach to climate change for the better.

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Daily Briefing | Labour launches green manifesto nine years after Cameron hugged husky

  • 20 Apr 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Labour launches green manifesto nine years after Cameron hugged husky 
Labour has launched its green manifesto, promising to retrofit five million homes over the next decade, create a million new green jobs and make energy efficiency a "national infrastructure priority". Caroline Flint, the shadow secretary for energy and climate change, reiterated the party's promise to virtually decarbonise the UK's electricity supply by 2030, boosting investors' confidence in renewables, regulating fracking and prioritising carbon capture and storage. Labour also plans to introduce a new domestic "national adaptation programme" to protect homes and businesses from extreme weather.         The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

Nuclear power: UK 'must learn' from French reactor concerns 
Regulators have flagged a number of "manufacturing anomalies" in safety casings at Flamanville 3 power plant in Normandy, a similar reactor to the one planned for Hinkley Point, in Somerset. Developer's EDF say a new series of tests is underway, which could lead to even further delays in the construction and completion of the proposed Hinkley Point power plant, says the BBC. The Telegraph has the story.         BBC News 

Energy companies' fuel reserves contain five times the amount of carbon dioxide that can be safely burned, report says 
Private and state-owned energy companies own reserves of fuel containing more than 3,200 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide - nearly five times the amount that can be burned if the global temperature is to be kept to below 2C, according to a report. The figures by US firm Fossil Free Indexes show the carbon in privately owned reserves has gone up by 10 per cent in the last five years. The Guardian has the story.        The Independent 

Activist investors score victory at BP annual meeting 
Climate activists a claiming a victory as 98% of BP shareholders backed a resolution obliging the company to set out the potential cost of climate change. The group that tabled the resolution has proposed a similar resolution for Shell's forthcoming meeting. BP's chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, said he supported a strong global agreement in Paris, but warned that campaigners could be overestimating the power that western oil majors have over the world's remaining oil and gas reserves.        The Financial Times 

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Expert views: What the general election means for UK climate and energy policy

  • 17 Apr 2015, 15:15
  • Simon Evans

Update 21/4 - We added the views of Tim Rotheray.

Update 20/4 - We added the views of Professor Paul Ekins.

In three weeks, the UK will go to the polls in one of the closest-fought and least predictable elections in a generation. Carbon Brief has already pored over the political parties' manifesto views on climate and energy.

But the likelihood of a multi-party coalition makes extrapolating pre-election commitments into future government action a real challenge. Carbon Brief asked a range of experts for their views on the May 7 poll's implications, in particular:

  • What are the key climate and energy dividing lines for the election?

  • How do you see potential election outcomes affecting climate and energy policy, post-election and in the run-up to Paris?

Here's what they had to say:

Jim Watson, research director of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) and professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex Science and Technology Policy Research Centre (SPRU):

"The large uncertainty about the outcome of the election, particularly the different coalitions that may emerge, makes it hard to predict what the next government's policy will look like. An important lesson of the 2010 election is that strong manifesto commitments by some parties could be traded off in post-election negotiations if the result is close.

"However, given the recent joint statement by Miliband, Cameron and Clegg, a strong commitment to continued emissions reductions is likely. There is much more uncertainty about specifics. If the Conservatives lead the next government, there would be more pressure to reduce funding for some low carbon technologies - including cost effective options like onshore wind. If a Labour-led government sees its plans through, this would mean significant regulatory upheaval - and a reinforcement of the more interventionist policies we have seen in the past few years."

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Darkening ice speeds up Greenland melt, new research suggests

  • 17 Apr 2015, 12:35
  • Robert McSweeney

Glacier in Greenland | Shutterstock

Scientists have noticed a curious thing happening as rising temperatures melt the Greenland ice sheet. The ice that's left is getting darker, making it more susceptible to further melting, according to new research presented at the  European Geosciences Union (EGU) conference in Vienna.

Scientists have identified three ways in which the gleaming white ice sheet is getting darker, each contributing to the normally-reflective ice sheet absorbing more of the sun's energy.

A darkening mood

Second only to the Antarctic ice sheet in terms of size, the Greenland ice sheet spans about 1.7 million square kilometres. This bright white sheet of ice reflects much of the sun's energy that hits it. This is called the albedo effect, derived from the Latin word 'albus', meaning 'white'. Albedo is measured as a percentage or fraction of the sun's energy that is reflected.

The albedo effect has a cooling effect on the planet. Ice on land and sea at both poles reflects away energy that would be absorbed had it landed on land and ocean instead.

But in recent years, scientists have found that the Greenland ice sheet is becoming darker. Darker ice absorbs more of the sun's energy instead of reflecting it away, causing the ice to warm up and melt further.

In an  EGU press conferenceProf Marco Tedesco, professor of Earth and Atmospheric Science at the City College of New York presented the graph below, showing that Greenland albedo has decreased significantly since the mid-nineties.

Tedesco _Fig1

Summer albedo over Greenland. Red line shows decreasing albedo (darkening) between 1996 and 2012. Dotted lines show the trend. Source: Tedesco et al. (2015)

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Daily Briefing | Judges sceptical of challenge to proposed EPA Rule on climate change

  • 17 Apr 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

US Congress | Shutterstock

Judges Skeptical of Challenge to Proposed E.P.A. Rule on Climate Change 
The legal challenges to Obama's proposed rules to curb emissions from coal plants have faced an early setback after two of the three judges handling the case expressed scepticism about the complaint. Since the rule is not yet finalised, the legal case against the EPA is premature, they said. Reuters and the Guardian also have the story.      The New York Times 

Climate and energy news

BP promises more transparency on climate change issues 
A shareholder resolution on climate change won 98% of votes at BP's AGM yesterday, forcing the oil giant to become more transparent about the impact that carbon dioxide regulations could have on the value of its oil and gas reserves, and a number of other issues linked to climate change. However, BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said the company would not set targets to curb its own emissions, arguing that it could be "counterproductive". RTCC also has the story.     The Guardian 

AGL vows to exit coal-fired power plants as sun shines on solar 
Energy firm AGL, Australia's largest greenhouse gas emitter, has promised to shut all its coal-fired power plants by 2050. It has also said it will not buy or build any new conventional plants in the mean time. The Business Spectator questions whether the pledge is meaningful or just rhetoric.      Sydney Morning Herald 

Company bosses pledge emission cuts, call for strong Paris climate deal 
The CEOs of 43 companies managing $1.2 trillion have signed an open letter calling on negotiators to sign a UN climate change deal in Paris this December, while also pledging to cut their own emissions. Signatories include Unilever, IKEA and Volvo. Bloomberg also has the story.       Reuters 

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Explainer: What we know about the Pope's encyclical

  • 16 Apr 2015, 16:47
  • Sophie Yeo

giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

In just under two weeks' time, Vatican City will welcome an august selection of guests for a one-day conference on climate change.

The meeting, entitled  "Protect the earth, dignify humanity: the moral dimensions of climate change and sustainable development", will take place on the 28 April.

An agenda released by the Vatican on Tuesday lists appearances from UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and US economist Jeffrey Sachs.

According to the website, the summit has three goals:

  • to raise awareness and build a consensus that the values of sustainable development cohere with the values of the leading religious traditions, with a special focus on the most vulnerable;

  • to elevate the debate on the moral dimensions of protecting the environment in advance of the papal encyclical [explained below];

  • and to help build a global movement across all religions for sustainable development and climate change throughout 2015 and beyond.

The summit marks another intervention from Pope Francis, whose position as a key influencer in the world of climate change will likely be cemented in a couple of months' time by an encyclical concerning man's relationship with nature.

The development of this encyclical has been a secretive process, but clues have slowly been filtering out on what it might contain. Carbon Brief looks at what we know so far.

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