Analysis

Daily Briefing | Global warming is now slowing down the circulation of the oceans

  • 24 Mar 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Long Island, New York | Shutterstock

Global warming is now slowing down the circulation of the oceans - with potentially dire consequences 
The great Atlantic ocean circulation that - among other planetary roles - helps to drive the Gulf Stream is experiencing a slowdown, according to a new study out in Nature Climate Change. The consequences could be "dire" - including significant extra sea level rise for coastal cities like New York. An avalanche of cold water from the melting Greenland ice sheet appears to be slowing the ocean circulation to levels not experienced in more than 1,000 years, writes Climate Central. The gulf stream helps to stop Britain from freezing over in winter, although Britain is still likely to become warmer providing the Gulf Stream does not come to a complete stop, reports The Independent.      Washington Post 

Climate and energy news

Science Museums Urged to Cut Ties With Kochs 
Dozens of climate scientists and environmental groups are calling for museums of science and natural history to "cut all ties" with fossil fuel companies and philanthropists like the Koch brothers, in a letterreleased on Tuesday. The Smithsonian "risks damaging its reputation" as it stands by a "wildy misleading" climate change exhibit funded by the Koch Brothers, says Think Progress. Mr Koch and his family have funded conservative causes, including scientists and organisations that contest the role of humans in climate change. Inside Climate News also has the story.       New York Times 

Conservative government could weaken UK's bid in Paris climate deal, warns Ed Davey 
A future Conservative government could jeopardise the UK's negotiating position at crucial climate change talks later this year if it is simultaneously trying to renegotiate Britain's position within the EU and push through a referendum bill. That is the warning of the Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey, in an interview with BusinessGreen. A new coalition government must prioritise a global deal on climate, the Liberal Democrat minister warned.       BusinessGreen 

India in no rush to deliver UN climate pledge, says minister 
India will not be rushed into delivering its contribution to a proposed 2015 global climate change pact, its environment minister has told the Times of India. Prakash Javadekar said he wanted to see what further climate policies developed countries were proposing before making any commitments, but said that India will play its part in Paris.     Responding to Climate Change 

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Electric vehicle batteries 'already cheaper than 2020 projections'

  • 23 Mar 2015, 17:00
  • Simon Evans

The cost of electric vehicle battery packs is falling so rapidly they are probably already cheaper than expected for 2020, according to a new study in Nature Climate Change.

Electric vehicles remain more expensive than combustion-engine equivalents, largely because of battery costs. In 2013 the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated cost-parity could be reached in 2020, with battery costs reaching $300 per kilowatt hour of capacity.

But market-leading firms were probably already producing cheaper batteries last year, says today's new research. It says its figures are "two to four times lower than many recent peer-reviewed papers have suggested".

High costs, falling

Even though the EU electric vehicle market grew by 37% year on year in 2014, it still made up less than 1% of total sales. High cost is a major reason why electric vehicles have failed to break through, alongside range and a lack of recharging infrastructure.

The new research is based on a review of 85 cost estimates in peer-reviewed research, agency estimates, consultancy and industry reports, news reports covering the views of industry representatives and experts and finally estimates from leading manufacturers.

It says industry-wide costs have fallen from above $1,000 per kilowatt hour in 2007 down to around $410 in 2014, a 14% annual reduction (blue marks, below). Costs for market-leading firms have fallen by 8% per year, reaching $300 per kilowatt hour in 2014 (green marks).

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 At 14.22.10

Cost estimates and future projections for electric vehicle battery packs, measured in $US per kilowatt hour of capacity. Each mark on the chart represents a documented estimate reviewed by the study. Source: Nykvist et al. (2015).

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Cost of carbon should be 200% higher today, say economists

  • 23 Mar 2015, 16:00
  • Sophie Yeo

Amazon | Shutterstock

The "optimal" carbon price should be up to 200% more than economists currently estimate, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change. This is because, says the study, climate change could have sudden and irreversible impacts, which have not, to date, been factored into economic modelling.

While rising temperatures will affect many parts of the planet in a steady and predictable way, some places on the planet could be pushed beyond a "tipping point" by just a small change in temperature, with severe consequences for people and ecosystems.

There is a lot of uncertainty among scientists about if and when these tipping points will occur. Yet the potential for such serious damage at some point in the future means that polluters should pay a lot more today in order to avoid such an event, the report says.

Carbon Brief looks at the suggestion that an uncertain future should mean imposing a higher price on carbon today.

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Daily Briefing | China official warns of 'huge impact' of climate change

  • 23 Mar 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief staff

Climate change: China official warns of 'huge impact' 
Climate change could reduce Chinese crop yields and increase disaster risk, the country's top weather scientist Zheng Guogang told Xinhua news agency, the BBC reports. Speaking in Beijing on Friday, US climate envoy Todd Stern said greater cooperation with China was building "strong momentum" towards the Paris climate talks, Reuters reports. Separately Reuters says Beijing has closed the third of its four coal plants, with falling demand for coal pushing prices to new lows. BBC News 

Climate and energy news

Climate-sceptic US senator given funds by BP political action committee 
US senator and climate sceptic Jim Inhofe received $10,000 from BP for his election campaign, the Guardian reveals. The oil major's Political Action Committee is funded by senior staff, including chief executive Bob Dudley. While BP has called for tougher regulation to be imposed on the fossil fuel industry, Inhofe has been a staunch opponent to climate action, and last month made headlines by throwing a snowball across the Senate in an attempt to disprove global warming. Guardian

Climate change could see deadly tropical diseases spread to the UK 
The UK could see a rise in malaria, dengue fever and other tropical diseases, as climate change makes it easier for insects to thrive in the country. Public health experts warned that it is already warm enough for Asian tiger mosquitoes to survive in the UK, and it has already arrived in 25 other European countries. Carbon Brief looked last month at the risk the UK faces from invading insects. Independent 

Global warming poses 'biggest challenge' to National Trust 
Climate change is making it more difficult for the National Trust to conserve its properties, says Dame Helen Ghosh, the charity's leader. Year round infestations of bugs, land erosion and more frequent storms are damaging collections of books and historic buildings, she said, as the body prepared to launch its 10-year strategy. The organisation has already installed renewable power at some of its properties, but has also opposed wind farms in certain areas. Financial Times

BHP chief: stop saying gas is cleaner than coal 
Oil and gas firms should stop claiming to better for the climate than coal, according to Andrew Mackenzie, head of top coal mining firm BHP Billiton. He accepts the value of a drift from coal to gas but says fossil fuel firms should work together to develop carbon capture and storage, reports the Financial Times. The paper says the World Coal Association is also calling for fossil fuel firms to stick together. Financial Times 

Warming oceans will commit world to long term climate impacts, says WMO 
The majority of warming linked to rising greenhouse gases is being stored in the oceans, according to the UN World Meteorological Organization's Status of the Global Climate report. WMO secretary general Michel Jarraud said that the world needed to act on climate change "before we run out of time". The report says that sea surface temperatures were much warmer than average in the north Pacific, southwest Pacific, Indian Ocean as well as the polar region of the North Atlantic. RTCC

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Arctic sea ice hits lowest winter peak on record

  • 20 Mar 2015, 12:15
  • Robert McSweeney and Sophie Yeo

Arctic | Shutterstock

The latest satellite data shows the winter maximum extent of Arctic sea ice this year is the lowest recorded since measurements began in 1979. Provisional data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in the US shows 2015 has broken the previous record set in 2011 by 130,000 square kilometers.

Warm air temperatures in the Arctic have been a key reason why less ice has formed this winter, the NSIDC says.

It's around this time of year when the freeze-up of Arctic sea ice through the winter hits a peak, and signals the start of the melt season in spring and summer.

Using satellites, scientists can mark this point every year, recording when the Arctic sea ice hit its largest extent and the size it reached.

For 2015, the NSIDC thinks this point was on 25 February, when sea ice covered 14.54 million sq km. At 1.1 million sq km smaller than the 1981-2010 average, this year has set a new record for the lowest winter peak.

Arctic Sea Ice Winter Extent _NSIDC

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Daily Briefing | Arctic sea ice extent hits record low for winter

  • 20 Mar 2015, 10:45
  • Carbon Brief staff

Arctic sunset | Shutterstock

Arctic sea ice extent hits record low for winter 
Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has fallen to the lowest recorded level for the winter season, according to US scientists. The maximum this year was 14.5 million sq km, said the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), which is the lowest since records began in 1979. The peak occurred on 25 February, which the NSIDC's senior research scientist Ted Scambos said was "very early but not unprecedented", reports The Guardian. This winter, warmer seas combined with mild weather to create exceptionally poor conditions for the annual freeze, says Scambos. The TimesReutersScientific American andClimate Central also have the story. BBC News 

Climate and energy news

UK prepares for solar eclipse impact on electricity grid 
The UK is preparing for the impact of today's eclipse on electricity supply and demand, which will knock out the country's solar power production. The National Grid says the sun will disappear behind the moon at around 9.30am and "we have to factor in the extra generation we need to find to replace the solar, which won't be back to normal until 10.30." The event is also expected to trigger a huge downturn in the need for power as people rush outside to watch, followed by a big increase, the Grid says. RTCC,ReutersBusinessGreen and The Financial Times all have similar coverage. The Guardian 

Obama to Order Cuts in Federal Greenhouse Gas Emissions 
President Obama has signed an executive order to set new goals for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of federal agencies. The directive demands cuts in emissions of 40% compared to 2008, and a 30% increase in renewable electricity - all in the next decade. However, as government's share of total US emissions is only 1%, the cuts won't make a major dent in the president's broader goals to cut emissions, says the New York Times. "Today, America once again is going to be leading by example. These are ambitious goals, but we know they're achievable goals," announced Obama, as reported inThe GuardianReuters and Climate Progress also cover the story. The New York Times 

Coalition branded climate-change deniers over North Sea oil boost 
Plans to boost the North Sea oil industry, announced in the budget, could lead to the UK emitting tens of millions more tonnes of carbon dioxide over the next five years, according to analysis by The Guardian. The budget document states the £1.3 billion provision will help boost production by at least 120m barrels "of oil equivalent, of additional production". Burning this oil would emit 50 million tonnes of extra carbon dioxide, says The Guardian. The Guardian 

Energy Minister downplays blackout threat from Longannet closure 
Energy minister Matt Hancock has rejected claims by ScottishPower that the UK could experience energy blackouts if it closes Scotland's last coal-fired power plant within the year. ScottishPower has decided not to upgrade Longannet power station in Fife under the European Industrial Emissions Directive and has threatened to shut the facility by the end of March 2016 unless it wins a contract to provide back-up supply. Scottish generators, including Longannet, supply around 12% of the UK's energy and ScottishPower has repeatedly warned that its closure could lead to blackouts. BusinessGreen 

Power grid operators aim to get smart as Europe turns green 
The owners of Europe's electricity grids say they need an injection of investment and a fresh look at regulation if they are to build and operate new, high-tech networks that can channel green energy sources into homes across the region. So-called smart grids that can handle the intermittent flow of solar and wind energy are vital, say energy firms, if the EU is to meet its renewable energy and carbon emissions targets. Reuters 

Germany plans to force oldest coal plants to cut CO2 
Germany plans to force operators of coal plants to curb production at their oldest and most-polluting power stations, as part of efforts to achieve its climate targets, senior government sources said yesterday. Under the measures, the government plans to allow coal plants to produce 7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per gigawatt of installed capacity, but any produced above that level would be subject to a fine of 18 to 20 euros per ton. Reuters 

Tidal energy: Swansea project 'could lead to 70,000 jobs' 
The company behind the world's first tidal energy scheme at Swansea Bay in south Wales hopes to create 70,000 jobs in the construction phase alone, if it can roll the programme out to five other, larger schemes at a total cost of £30 billion. Tidal Lagoon Power, which received the green light in the budget to start talks with the government on subsidies, wants the £1 billion Swansea project to be the start of a "game-changing" industry. The Guardian 

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Are the UK's emissions really falling or has it outsourced them to China?

  • 19 Mar 2015, 18:00
  • Simon Evans

Government claims to be leading the world on emissions reductions have been challenged by new research, the BBC reports today.

The BBC says UK emissions are rising, not falling, once pollution in imported goods from the likes of China are included. In fact, UK emissions including imports are below 1990 levels, while a larger share of the UK's imported emissions come from Europe than from China.

Carbon Brief explores the new research on the UK's imported emissions, and considers the implications for global climate politics.

Consumption versus production

Traditional emissions accounting only considers the greenhouse gases generated within a country's own borders. In other words, emissions produced in the UK are allocated to the UK. On this measure, UK emissions have fallen dramatically to around 25% below 1990 levels.

But this impressive record is illusory, the BBC report says, because of emissions embedded in imported goods. This is not a new idea. For instance, this 2012 Guardian article reports MPs' claims that the UK has "merely outsourced emissions to China".

Consumption-based accounting attempts to acknowledge this issue, adding up its impact on the UK's total climate footprint. It adds emissions embedded in imports to the UK's footprint by tracking global trade from the point of purchase of goods and services back to their origin.

If someone in the UK buys an Audi or an iPhone, then the UK is handed responsibility for the emissions needed to make them. Using this method, new research from the University of Leeds finds the UK's record looks less impressive, with emissions in 2012 just 7% below 1990 levels.

Imports mostly not from China

The UK's imported emissions have increased over the past two decades so that they now make up around half of the UK's climate footprint, as the chart below shows. The UK's production emissions have fallen fast (dark blue area), but imports have offset much of the gain (lighter blues, purples and grey area).

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 At 14.49.32

Source: University of Leeds Sustainability Research Institute. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Daily Briefing | Budget: North Sea oil to benefit from tax cuts

  • 19 Mar 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Budget 2015: North Sea oil to benefit from tax cuts 
Two climate and energy items grabbed headlines after the chancellor's last pre-election budget. First, what the Financial Times calls a "sharp" £1.3 billion tax cut for North Sea oil. This was also covered by The Telegraph, which separately calls the cuts "too little too late". Energy firm shares were lifted by the news, reports Reuters. Second, Osborne's support for a start to formal talks over a tidal energy lagoon at Swansea reported by the Financial Timesthe BBCthe Telegraph and Mail Online. The lagoon would be a world first, reports Bloomberg. Business Green rounds up the mixed reaction from green business and disappointment from green groups. It also reports Ed Miliband's accusation that Osborne has been a "malign influence" on climate policy and carries an opinion piece from Labour's Barry Gardiner who says the government has "mounted a wholesale attack" on the Climate Change Act. Carbon Brief has a budget round-up here.  Financial Times 

Climate and energy news

Countries agree plan in Sendai to save lives from disasters 
187 countries forged an agreement yesterday towards protecting people and assets from global disasters. The Sendai Framework includes the target to "substantially reduce" loss of life from 2005-15 levels in 2020-30 and to reduce economic losses in relation to global GDP by 2030. Aid agencies have criticised the agreement as vaguely worded with no specific numbers, says RTCC. Reuters says some experts have hailed the agreement as "a leap forward". RTCC 

Amazon's trees removed nearly a third less carbon in last decade 
Manmade carbon emissions will need to be cut more deeply to tackle climate change after scientists found the amount of carbon Amazon trees removed from the atmosphere fell by almost a third last decade, reports The Guardian. Lead author Roel Brienen of the University of Leeds tells Reuters that forest growth has flatlined over the last decade as trees are growing faster but also dying faster. Carbon Brief covered the new research here. The Guardian

Forecasters reveal this winter was actually the warmest on record 
The three-month period from December to February was the warmest winter on record, according to new data from the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. This suggests the record warm year of 2014 was no fluke and, together with a weak El Niño underway in the Pacific, 2015 has a decent shot at exceeding the 2014 record, predicts MashableUK's Andrew FreedmanThe Daily Mail 

CO2 cuts claim sees ministers challenged by experts 
A report by Leeds University researchers says the UK is responsible for more emissions than government estimates suggest, because the figures don't take into account emissions embodied in the manufacture of goods that are imported to the UK. Today's report calls for consumption-based emissions to be published alongside official domestic ones to give a more accurate picture of countries' responsibility for outsourced emissions ahead of Paris talks later his year. BBC News 

Chernobyl: Containing the world's worst nuclear accident 
The first stages of construction have begin on a huge dome to encapsulate the nuclear reactor that exploded at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986. The structure, the height of St Paul's cathedral and designed to withstand a category 6 earthquake, should provide protection for a century from the 100 tonnes of uranium, one tonne of plutonium and other radioactive elements contained inside the reactor. BBC News

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Amazon rainforest is taking up a third less carbon than a decade ago

  • 18 Mar 2015, 18:05
  • Robert McSweeney

Amazon at dawn | P. van der Sleen

The amount of carbon that the Amazon rainforest is absorbing from the atmosphere and storing each year has fallen by around a third in the last decade, says a new 30-year study by almost 100 researchers.

This decline in the Amazon carbon sink amounts to one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide - equivalent to over twice the UK's annual emissions, the researchers say.

If this pattern exists in other forests around the world, deeper cuts in human-caused carbon dioxide emissions are needed to meet climate targets, the researchers say.

Three billion trees

The Amazon rainforest is the largest rainforest in the world. Spanning nine countries in South America, it's 25 times the size of the UK.

Using a process known as photosynthesis, the Amazon's three billion trees convert carbon dioxide, water and sunlight into the fuel they need to grow, locking up carbon in their trunks and branches.

As they grow, Amazon trees account for a quarter of the carbon dioxide absorbed by the land each year. Studies suggest that as human-caused carbon dioxide emissions increase, forests will absorb and store more carbon, assuming they have enough water and nutrients to grow.

But a new study, published today in Nature , suggests the Amazon has passed saturation point for how much extra carbon it can take up.

Diminishing carbon sink

A team of almost 500 people monitored trees in more than 300 sites across eight countries. Between 1983 and 2011, the researchers measured the trees in each plot, recording the number, size and density to calculate how much carbon each one stored.

The trees took up more carbon and grew more quickly during the 1990s, before levelling off since the year 2000. You can see this in the middle chart below.

Brienen Et Al (2015) Fig1

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Why is a disaster risk reduction deal important for climate change?

  • 18 Mar 2015, 18:00
  • Sophie Yeo

Disasters | Shutterstock

In Japan today, representatives from 186 governments signed a new UN framework on disaster risk reduction.

It is the first in a triad of 2015 agreements that will determine how the world deals with development in the face of climate change, inequality and rising urbanisation. This is likely to include the UN's new Sustainable Development Goals in September, followed by a new climate change agreement in December.

Carbon Brief explains why today's deal is important for climate change, and how it fits in with the two deals expected later this year. 

The deal signed today replaces the Hyogo Framework for Action, the UN's previous disaster risk reduction deal, which expires this year.

Since this agreement was signed in 2005, disasters have killed more than 700,000 people, and made 23 million homeless, and caused total economic losses of more than $1.3 trillion, the new treaty points out.

Not all disasters relate to climate change, though. For instance, some are attributable to, say, earthquakes and volcanic activity. However, a new UN report calculates that 87% of disasters are caused by hazards of the air and oceans, including cyclones, floods, heat waves and storm surges.

 

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