Analysis

UK meets interim renewable energy target, says DECC report

  • 25 Jun 2015, 11:40
  • Simon Evans
Department for Energy and Climate Change

Carbon Brief

Contrary to recent press reports, the UK met its interim renewable energy target for 2013/14, according to a report issued earlier this morning.

The news came as ministers for the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)  defended their approach in parliament, fending off questions about the decision to end support for onshore wind early despite it being the cheapest form of renewable power.

The UK remains well short of its target under the EU Renewable Energy Directive. The UK must source 15% of its energy for heat, transport and power from renewable sources by 2020. As of 2013, the UK was  further behind its 2020 goal than any other EU member state.

Renewable progress

Last week, the Guardian  reported on progress towards the EU 2020 renewables goals under the headline, "UK misses interim renewable energy target". The headline was later amended.  ENDS Report also said the UK had missed its target.  Business Green and other publications said a European Commission report found the UK was at risk of missing its 2020 goal.

Today, a new  update from DECC says the UK actually surpassed its interim target for 2013/14. Renewables supplied 7.0% of UK energy needs in 2014, it says, up from the previously reported figure for 2013 of 5.1%. That means the UK got 6.3% of its energy from renewables averaged over 2013/14, easily passing its interim goal of 5.4%.

Renewable -energy -directiveShare of UK energy for heat, transport and power supplied by renewables. Source:  DECC

The fastest growth in 2014 was in renewable electricity, which was up 11,377 gigawatt hours (GWh) (21%) on 2013's output to 64,654GWh, according to DECC figures.  Renewables generated nearly a fifth of all UK electricity needs in 2014.

Biomass power was the largest contributor to the increase in 2014, as the Drax plant in Yorkshire converted additional units from coal to wood pellets. Drax says this conversion generates large greenhouse gas benefits. A DECC-funded research project is  investigating claims that biomass could be worse for the climate than coal.

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Daily Briefing | Dutch government ordered to speed up greenhouse gas cuts

  • 25 Jun 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Old windmill and new wind turbine in a tulip field in the Netherlands

Dutch wind power | Shutterstock

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Solar minimum could bring cold winters to Europe and US, but would not hold off climate change 
Solar cycles have a powerful effect on the world's climate but a prolonged period of lower solar output wouldn't have much impact on rising temperatures, according to new research. However, it might increase the chances of cold winters in Europe and the US.    Carbon Brief

Tackling climate change will reap benefits for human health 
Curbing climate change could be the biggest global health opportunity of the 21st century. But if we choose not to act, we could reverse all the progress made by economic development in the last 50 years towards improving global public health, concludes a new report by the Lancet Commission.     Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Dutch government ordered to speed up greenhouse gas cuts 
A Dutch district court has ordered the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions faster than it has so far promised to. A judge in the Hague ruled that as a developed country, the state should "take the lead" in averting the imminent danger of climate change by reducing emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2025, instead of the 17% that national policy currently dictates. Europe-wide, the target is a 20% reduction. The Guardian calls the victory for environmental group Urgenda Foundation a "landmark decision" while a separate article says it could "inspire a global civil movement." The Daily Mail says this is the first case in the world to use human rights as a legal basis to protect citizens against climate change. The move has strong cross party support in the Netherlands and though it can be appealed, the ruling is unlikely to be overturned, says  RTCCBBC News and The Financial Tines have more on the ruling.     Reuters 

Campaigners alarmed over plans to sell stake in Green Investment Bank 
The government is set to announce the sale of a majority stake in the Green Investment Bank later today. Environmental think tank E3G has called the move "completely reckless", saying it would cast doubt on the government's commitment to a low-carbon economy and deter private investment in green schemes. The bank was set up in 2012 with £3.8bn of government funds to invest in low-carbon energy sources but has been hampered by the Treasury's refusal to let it borrow, says The Guardian. The Telegraph and Reuters have more on the story.     The Guardian 

Lancashire county council defers fracking decision 
Lancashire county council has deferred its decision on whether to allow fracking for shale gas on a site on the Fylde Coast until Monday. Councillors were minded to reject the proposal because of concerns over traffic, writes The Guardian. But after a "tense and often baffling day", the decision was delayed after legal advice apparently warned that there were no legal grounds for such a rejection.     The Guardian 

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Daily Briefing | Fall in sun’s energy will not halt global warming, say scientists

  • 24 Jun 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
The sun in space showing solar activity

Solar activity | Shutterstock

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Solar minimum could bring cold winters to Europe and US, but would not hold off climate change 
Solar cycles have a powerful effect on the world's climate but they are no match for global warming, according to new research. A prolonged period of lower solar output wouldn't have much impact on rising temperatures. However, it might increase the chances of cold winters in Europe and the US.     Carbon Brief

Climate and energy news

Fall in sun's energy will not halt global warming, say scientists 
The earth is facing a fall in solar activity like that which saw ice skating on the Thames in centuries past, says the Financial Times, but the widely reported Met Office research says the changes won't dent global warming. A 100-200 year solar cycle could be entering a low phase, says RTCC, not seen since the seventeenth century Maunder Minimum. The Times says global warming will "offset [the] big freeze". The Guardian and the  Independent also have the story.      Financial Times 

World power sector emissions seen peaking in 2029 - research 
Global greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector are expected to peak in 2029 and then start falling, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Its report predicts a solar surge, says BusinessGreen, but it won't be enough to limit dangerous climate change. RTCC says the report sees coal overshadowing the sunny outlook for solar. Greenpeace Energydesk picks out four lessons from the Bloomberg report, including that gas may have a limited role as a transition fuel between coal and renewables. The world will invest $3.7tn in solar by 2040, reports The Washington Post. But the extent of any solar surge/revolution is questioned by Carbon Counter.       Reuters 

UK officials delay shale permit decision to Wednesday 
Lancashire County Council's planning committee will reconvene this morning to decide whether the first fracking in the UK for four years should be allowed to proceed. Councillors heard evidence from locals and businesses for and against the plans put forward by shale firm Cuadrilla, but ran out of time to make a decision. They will consider a second application tomorrow and Friday. Hundreds attended a protest outside the meeting, reports The Guardian.      Reuters 

Amber Rudd: 250 onshore wind farm projects 'unlikely' to be built 
Energy and climate change secretary Amber Rudd has told parliament that 250 onshore windfarms may now not be built, following the early closure of one government subsidy scheme. Doubts continue to hang over onshore wind's place in a second, newer scheme, BusinessGreen reports. The Telegraph reports her claim that the change could save "hundreds of millions of pounds".      BusinessGreen 

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Solar minimum could bring cold winters to Europe and US, but would not hold off climate change

  • 23 Jun 2015, 16:00
  • Robert McSweeney
Low winter sun over a common

Winter sun | Flickr

Over the past few decades, our Sun has been relatively active, giving off high levels of the solar radiation that warms the Earth. However, in recent years this peak activity has tailed off, prompting scientists to wonder if the Sun is heading into a period of lower output.

A new study says even if the Sun's activity did drop off for a while, it wouldn't have much impact on rising global temperatures. But it could mean a higher chance of a chilly winter in Europe and the US, the researchers say.

Solar output

The Sun's activity rises and falls on an approximately 11-year cycle, but it can experience longer variations from one century to another. Over the past 10,000 years, the Sun has hit around 30 periods of very high or very low activity - called 'grand maxima' and 'grand minima'.

One of these occurred between 1645 and 1715, when the Sun went through a prolonged spell of low solar activity, known as the Maunder Minimum. This didn't have much of an effect on global climate, but it was linked to a number of  very cold winters in Europe.

In 2010, scientists  predicted an 8% chance that we could return to Maunder Minimum conditions within the next 40 years.

But since that study was published, solar activity has declined further, and this likelihood has increased to 15 or 20%, says new research published today in open-access journal Nature Communications.

In fact, the Sun's output has declined faster than any time in our 9,300-year record, say the researchers. And so they set out to analyse what this could mean for global and regional climate.

Small decrease

The researchers used a climate model to run two scenarios where solar activity declines to a grand minimum. They then compared the results with a control scenario where the Sun continues on its regular cycle.

For all model runs they used the RCP8.5 scenario to account for future climate change - this is the scenario with the highest greenhouse gas emissions of those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC). Global emissions are currently tracking just above this scenario.

You can see the modelling results in the maps below. Overall, a grand solar minimum could see global average temperature rise trimmed by around 0.12C for the second half of this century, the researchers say. Larger changes (shown as dark greens and blues) are seen in some parts of the northern hemisphere.Ineson Et Al (2015) Fig2Projected difference in annual average surface temperature for 2050-99 between RCP8.5 emissions scenario and a) Solar scenario 1 and b) Solar scenario 2. Areas of blue and green show regions projected to be cooler because of the solar minimum. Source: Ineson, S. et al. (2015)

 

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Daily Briefing | ‘Climate change a medical emergency,’ says commission chairman

  • 23 Jun 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

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Tackling climate change will reap benefits for human health 
Curbing climate change could be the biggest global health opportunity of the 21st century. But if we choose not to act, we could reverse all the progress made by economic development in the last 50 years towards improving global public health, concludes a new report by the Lancet Commission out today. Curbing air pollution, phasing out coal, access to clean energy worldwide and promoting healthier lifestyles would have "immediate gains" for human health, says the report.    Carbon Brief

Climate change attribution studies are asking the wrong questions, study says 
The latest in so-called attribution studies is to examine each individual extreme weather event by itself, looking for how climate change may have made it stronger or more likely. But a new paper says the methods used in many of these studies underestimate the influence of climate change, and suggests a new approach to identify the "true likelihood of human influence".    Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

'Climate change a medical emergency,' says commission chairman 
Climate change poses such a threat to human health that it could undermine all the gains in global development during the past 50 years, an independent international commission reports today. Led by experts on medicine and economics at University College London and published in the Lancet, it says immediate action is needed to avert the direct health impacts of climate change through extreme weather such as heatwaves, the spread of infectious diseases - and indirect effects such as forced migration and crop failures. "Climate change is a medical emergency," said the director of the UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance, who co-chaired the commission. Current predictions by the World Health Organisation suggest that 250,000 people a year could die worldwide by 2030 as a direct result of climate change, the Telegraph reports, but without taking into account factors like an ageing population. The review also found that the risk of extreme weather is to rise over the next century, says the New York Times. The commission recommends getting off coal as soon as possible: "The prescription for patient Earth is that we've got a limited amount of time to fix things," co-chair Dr Anthony Costello told Associated Press. The study also says that a healthier lifestyle will help fight climate change, writes the Independent. The story was widely covered, including in the GuardianTimeEnergy Live News and New Scientist. Read  Carbon Brief's coverage.    Financial Times 

Study sees a 'new normal' for how climate change is affecting weather extremes - The Washington Post 
Every time the world witnesses a weather related disaster, an attribution battle begins, says Chris Mooney, where some scientists seek to explain how the event could have been worsened by climate change and others dismiss it. A new paper in Nature Climate Change wants to change this whole process - by changing its assumptions, and not starting with the null hypothesis that there's no influence of humans. "We've proved over and over that there is [a human influence], so why do we do it that way?", said lead author Kevin Trenberth. Human warming both changes the odds that any given extreme event will occur and more importantly it makes the events more severe, writes the Guardian. "The climate is changing: we have a new normal," they write in the study. Carbon Brief also covered the story.    Washington Post 

E.P.A. Warns of High Cost of Climate Change 
In the absence of global action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the US may face up to $180 billion in economic losses by the end of the century because of drought and water shortages, according to a report released yesterday by the White House and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The report analyses the economic costs of a changing climate across 20 sectors of the American economy, and comes as Obama is trying to build political support both at home and abroad for an ambitious climate change agenda.    New York Times 

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Tackling climate change will reap benefits for human health

  • 23 Jun 2015, 00:01
  • Roz Pidcock

Curbing climate change could be the biggest global health opportunity of the 21st century. But if we choose not to act, we could reverse all the progress made by economic development in the last 50 years towards improving global public health.

These are the conclusions of a new report by the Lancet Commission out today.

Curbing air pollution, phasing out coal, access to clean energy worldwide and promoting healthier lifestyles would have "immediate gains" for human health, says the report. 

The authors also call for a global price on carbon and a scaling-up of adaptation financing.

The Lancet Commission is a body set up to map out the impacts of climate change on health, and make recommendations to improve health standards worldwide.

Today's report is a collaboration between European and Chinese academics across the physical, health, political and social sciences, economics, energy policy and engineering.

Impacts are here and now

The risks posed by climate change are already unacceptably high, today's report begins:

"After only 0.85C warming, many anticipated threats have already become real-world impacts."

And if we continue to track the highest emissions scenarios - taking us to  4C or 5C by the end of the century - the risk of potentially catastrophic impacts rises even higher, the report adds.

Screenshot 2015-06-22 17.21.32

Changing exposure in over 65s to heatwaves by 2090 for RCP8.5 (left). Growth in annual heatwave exposure for over 65s with and without accounting for a growing and ageing population (right). Source: Lancet Commission report on health and climate change (2015)

The impacts of climate change on human health are all-pervading. Small risks can interact to produce larger-than-expected chances of catastrophic outcomes, the report notes.

As well as the  direct effects of rising temperatures on heat stress, floods, drought and other extreme weather, climate change increases air pollution, alters the spread of disease and raises the risk of food insecurity, malnutrition, migration and conflict.

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Climate change attribution studies are asking the wrong questions, study says

  • 22 Jun 2015, 16:30
  • Robert McSweeney
Devastation after cyclone Pam

Cyclone Pam | Wikimedia

Scientists are calling for a rethink in the way we seek to understand how climate change affects extreme weather.

The latest in so-called attribution studies is to study each  individual event by itself, looking for how climate change may have made it stronger or more likely.

But a new paper says the methods used in many of these studies underestimate the influence of climate change, and suggests a new approach to identify the "true likelihood of human influence".

Single-event attribution

One of the first studies to attribute a single extreme weather event to climate change was published just over a decade ago. Researchers  showed that climate change had doubled the chances of the record heatwave Europe experienced in 2003.

In the years that followed, many more studies have aimed to provide answers on how climate change is affecting our most brutal weather.

But while scientists have been able to attribute events caused by temperature extremes, linking other extreme events like storms and heavy rainfall events has proved more difficult, says a new paper in Nature Climate Change.

Canicule _Europe _2003Difference in temperature for 20 July to 20 August 2003 compared to long-term average. Source: Reto Stockli and Robert Simmon (NASA).

In our chaotic weather system, the complex dynamics of the atmosphere mean the size and path of a storm or heavy rainfall event has a large element of chance, the authors say. This can make it tricky to identify where climate change fits in.

But rather than analysing the wind patterns that bring a storm to an area, scientists should be looking at how the impact of that storm has been boosted by temperature changes -  known as thermodynamic effects.

Temperature increases mean more moisture evaporates into the atmosphere and more ice melts into our warming oceans, raising their levels. These are changes that scientists can be confident of, the authors say, and so should be the basis for attribution studies - rather than looking at changes to circulation patterns in the atmosphere.

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Daily Briefing | Earth 'entering new extinction phase' - US study

  • 22 Jun 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Cracked earth of a desert

Desert | Pixabay

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In-depth: the science behind the papal encyclical 
Last week, Pope Francis issued his long awaited encyclical on climate change and the environment. The document was the product of a year of consultation between scientists and the Vatican. Carbon Brief uncovers that process.     Carbon Brief

The Atlantic 'conveyor belt' and climate: 10 years of the RAPID project 
On its 10th birthday, Carbon Brief looks back at the history of a scientific project to measure how heat moves around the Atlantic Ocean.      Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Earth 'entering new extinction phase' - US study 
The Earth is currently entering a new phase of mass extinction, with species dying out 100 times faster than during a normal period, says a new study from the universities of Stanford, Princeton and Berkeley. Humans would likely be one of the early casualties, says the report. Climate change, pollution and deforestation are some of the reasons for the increased extinction rate. The story was widely covered, with The Guardian listing other periods of mass extinction. The Express and The Daily Mail also have the story.     BBC 

New US standards will improve fuel efficiency for trucks and cut pollution 
US president Barack Obama has proposed a new rule to improve fuel efficiency for medium and heavy-duty trucks in a further effort to cut US emissions. The new standards are expected to reduce CO2 emissions by around a billion tonnes and reduce oil consumption by up to 1.8 billion barrels over the lifetime of vehicles sold under the rule. Put forward by the Environmental Protection Agency, it will now go to public comment. The story was covered widely by the US press, including in The Hill   and The New York Times.     Associated Press via The Guardian

The challenge of picking climate change winners and losers 
Investors must take action to protect their portfolios against climate change, according to a new report by consultancy firm Mercer. Depending on the extent of global warming, annual returns from investments in oil and coal companies could be reduced by up to 4 and 5 percentage points respectively over the next 35 years, it says. Meanwhile, nuclear power and renewable energy companies could benefit, with annual returns increased by up to 1.8 and 3.5 percentage points respectively, it adds.      The Financial Times 

Miliband seeks global warming role 
Former Labour leader Ed Miliband hopes to have a role in the forthcoming UN climate talks in Paris this December, the Times reports, and has held "informal talks" connected to this. Miliband was UK energy and climate change minister during the 2009 talks in Copenhagen, the last time the UN attempted to strike a global climate deal.     The Times 

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The Atlantic 'conveyor belt' and climate: 10 years of the RAPID project

  • 19 Jun 2015, 18:40
  • Roz Pidcock and Robert McSweeney

A global project that's been instrumental in shaping scientists' understanding of how the oceans affect our climate celebrated its tenth birthday recently.

A new paper published in  Science looks back at 10 years of the  RAPID project, which has been keeping tabs on how heat moves around in the Atlantic Ocean since 2004.

Over its short lifetime, the project has thrown up a few surprises. Parts of the Atlantic circulation seem to have slowed down, though whether that's down to human activity remains to be seen.

Carbon Brief talks to one of RAPID's founding scientists, Prof Harry Bryden from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, about the project's past and future.

Global heat transport

Above about 1,000 metres in the North Atlantic, warm water flows northwards from the equator towards the poles, releasing heat as it goes. The water cools and sinks at high latitudes, returning southwards towards the equator at much deeper depths.

This is known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and forms part of a global ocean conveyor belt that transports heat all around the world.

                 Screenshot 2015-06-19 18.22.21

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Warm water flows north in the upper ocean (red arrows) then sinks and returns south as deep cold water (blue arrows) Source: Srokosz & Bryden (  2015) Supplementary material

The Gulf Stream - another component of the AMOC - is driven by the wind. Heat released to the atmosphere as the warm Gulf Stream moves northward gives northwest Europe its mild climate.

All components of the AMOC together transport about 18 million cubic metres of water per second - equivalent to a hundred times the flow from the Amazon river. The heat carried with it means North Atlantic sea surface temperature is about  5C warmer than in the North Pacific at similar latitudes.

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In-depth: the science behind the papal encyclical

  • 19 Jun 2015, 18:00
  • Sophie Yeo

giulio napolitano | Shutterstock

Pope Francis attempted to start a global conversation yesterday with his new  encyclical on the environment. Unlike most encyclicals, it was addressed not to Catholics, but to "every person living on this planet".

There was one group, however, that received particular attention: scientists. For a select number, including climatologists, botanists, and oceanographers, the conversation began long before the Vatican presented its much-anticipated document in Rome yesterday.

Their influence can be found throughout the 184-page document, which some had  speculated could be filled with theological obscurities rather than an empirical call to action on climate change.

They needn't have worried. The apostolic exhortations and catechisms were relegated to second place behind the Pope's concerns about melting ice caps, methane gas and carbon credits.

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