Analysis

Five weird things about the EU's cost of energy study

  • 15 Oct 2014, 11:11
  • Simon Evans

The cost of energy tends to dominate arguments about how the world should respond to climate change.

Opponents of strong climate action say that coal is cheap, and government support for renewables is expensive. Green energy advocates say that apparently 'cheap' fossil fuels are failing to pay the full costs they impose on society, including health impacts and climate change. There's an argument about which costs should count, and which shouldn't.

Getting the right answer really matters. A case in point are the climate and energy targets for 2030 that are due to be agreed by European leaders at a summit next week. Much of their attention will be taken up by whether climate ambition will lead to higher energy costs.

In the lead up to the summit the European Commission has published a  detailed study that attempts to tease apart all of the different types of energy cost. The idea is to assess fossil fuels, renewables and nuclear power on a level playing field, including government subsidies and costs not currently priced by the market.

The study contains mountains of information that took a monumental effort by consultants Ecofys to pull together. But it still leaves almost as many questions as answers.

Here are five weird things we learnt from looking at their work, that show how fiendishly difficult it is to assess the true costs of energy.

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Daily Briefing | 'Climate fears exaggerated' says former environment secretary Owen Paterson

  • 15 Oct 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Climate fears exaggerated, says ex-environment secretary Owen Paterson 
Predictions about the rate of climate change have proved to be "wildly exaggerated", former environment secretary Owen Paterson will claim in a speech to climate sceptic thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation this evening. Paterson will say he accepts carbon dioxide causes warming but that there is uncertainty over how much, the Mail reports. The BBC picks up the speech with an article on Paterson's view that the UK's lights "will go out". We looked at that claim  earlier this week.    Daily Mail

Climate and energy news

Wind farms blamed for winter power cut and rise in energy bills 
Renewable energy and carbon taxes will add £983 to household energy bills in 2030, costing £26 billion in total according to the "sound science" thinktank the Scientific Alliance. Its report is covered by the Express and also the Daily Mail, on its  front page today. The Department of Energy and Climate Change told the Express that onshore wind was the cheapest form of energy once climate and health risks are factored in. The Guardian  reports that the UK's big-six energy firms all agree the UK's lights will not be going out.      Daily Express 

Fossil fuel companies 'paying lip service' to climate risk 
Almost all oil, gas and coal companies acknowledge climate change as an issue but very few are integrating it into strategy, according to a report from the Carbon Tracker Institute. Just 7 per cent of the 82 companies it assessed were integrating climate into spending decisions, it found. We asked the fossil fuel industry what it thought about the idea that some reserves would be unburnable if climate action is taken  back in July.     Business Green 

Take on the "fatcats" or scrap EU carbon market - thinktank 
Europe's emissions trading system is failing as steel and cement companies hoard excess pollution permits, according to a report from NGO Sandbag. It identifies a series of carbon "fatcats" that are sitting on 2 billion tonnes worth of emissions credits. It says if reforms to clear out this glut are not put in place then the trading scheme should be put out of its misery and scrapped.      RTCC 

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US military outlines plan to deal with increasing climate change threat

  • 14 Oct 2014, 15:00
  • Mat Hope

Flood trucks | US Navy

"A changing climate will have real impacts on [the US] military and the way it executes its missions", US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel yesterday said. And the US military is planning how to deal with the threat now.

The Department of Defense's 2014 Climate Adaptation Roadmap, published yesterday, suggests climate change has the potential to exacerbate some of the world's most significant challenges, from disease to international conflict. It calls climate change a "threat multiplier" with the potential to increase the impact of numerous security concerns.

This  isn't the first time the US military has expressed its concerns about climate change. But the roadmap is one of the first documents to "really go into great detail about what the US military should be doing in response to climate change now" Francesco Femia, co-director of the Center for Climate and Security thinktank, tells Carbon Brief. The report shows that military has decided the risk from climate change "is great and it's immediate", Femia says.

New activities

The roadmap outlines a number of new ways climate change could cause the military to be called into action. Its findings are driven by two things, Femia says: developments in climate science and "what the military is seeing on the ground".

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Daily Briefing | New research casts light on plants' ability to absorb carbon dioxide

  • 14 Oct 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

flickr:HNDB

Climate change: Models 'underplay plant CO2 absorption' 
Plants may have absorbed 16 per cent more carbon dioxide over the past century than was previously thought, new research suggests. The study looks at how carbon dioxide spreads slowly inside leaves, a process called mesophyll diffusion. Experts tell the BBC the study may mean some climate change models need to be moderately recalibrated, but is unlikely to impact estimates of the rate of global warming. The Daily Mail and Daily Express emphasise the study's potential impact on models' forecasts - described as "slight" in the BBC piece - in their coverage. 
BBC News   

Climate and energy news

Ecotricity considers legal challenge over EU go-ahead for Hinkley Point C 
Energy company Ecotricity has said it might join a group of "interested parties" set to challenge the UK's new nuclear subsidy scheme. Last week, the European Commission finally gave the go-ahead for a new nuclear power plant to be built at Hinkley Point in Somerset. The energy company building the plant, EDF, is set to receive a lucrative subsidy from the government in return. 
Guardian 

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Owen Paterson’s objections to the Climate Change Act: some context

  • 13 Oct 2014, 15:00
  • Simon Evans and Mat Hope

Wind & coal | Shutterstock

Former environment minister Owen Paterson has been in the papers over the weekend. In an article on the front page of yesterday's Sunday Telegraph he says we won't be able to keep the UK's lights on unless we scrap the Climate Change Act. This is a law requiring the government to cut the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, which he himself voted for.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 12.45.06.png

Paterson is due to give a lecture to climate sceptic thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation on Wednesday, where he will expand on this theme. In advance of his talk we've taken a look at what he has to say.

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Climate change and the extinction of the Aldabran banded snail

  • 13 Oct 2014, 11:45
  • Professor Georgina Mace

Aldabra banded snail | Wikicommons

On September 20th 2014, The Times published  an article, "Snail 'wiped out by climate change' is alive and well."

It reported the rediscovery of the Aldabran banded snail (Rhachistia aldabrae), which was declared extinct in 2009 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), after repeated searches in its known habitat found no sign of the snail for over a decade.

In 2007,  a scientific paper had pieced together the recent history of the snail population and the climate, and concluded that the snails extinction could be explained by the increasing frequency of dry years, leading to lower survival and reproduction.

But an expedition in August 2014 rediscovered the species in dense mixed scrub of a little-visited part of Aldabra.  Conservationists celebrated the rediscovery, while also noting that the species is still extremely rare and its persistence by no means assured.

The Times article developed the story in a completely different direction, using it to challenge the basis for conclusions that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published earlier this year on species extinctions under climate change.

The Times claims that the Aldabran banded snail was cited in another paper (which I infer to be  Cahill et al. 2013), a review of existing evidence, as "the clearest example of man-made climate change causing an extinction". It states that this was a major strand of evidence in the IPCC's conclusions on future extinction risks, which were summarised as: "A large fraction of both terrestrial and freshwater species faces increased extinction risk under projected climate change during and beyond the 21st century".

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Daily Briefing | US may make major climate fund contribution

  • 13 Oct 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

U.S. may make major climate fund contribution - Peru minister 
According to the foreign minister of Peru, the US "may announce a major injection of money into the Green Climate Fund" before the UNFCCC conference in Peru later this year. The fund has a target of securing $10 billion of money by the end of this year - so far $2.3 billion has been pledged, Reuters reports. A two day conference is being held at the end of November for further pledges to be made.     Reuters 

Climate and energy news

Warming will drive fish to northern seas 
According to new research, warming oceans as a result of climate change mean that fish species are expected to migrate towards the poles over the course of this century, meaning "new fishing opportunities in the north, but that the tropics could become hotspots for fish extinction", the Times reports.      The Times 

Scrap the Climate Change Act to keep the lights on, says Owen Paterson 
Former environment minister and climate skeptic Owen Paterson will call for the climate change act to be scrapped later this week. In a speech to for skeptic lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, trailed over the weekend by the Telegraph, he will argue that instead of building more renewable power, the country should get its electricity from a large number of small nuclear reactors. This article was the front page headline for the Sunday Telegraph - other right-wing media have also carried the story, including  the Sunday Times and  the Mail, which warns that the UK will run out of electricity unless green targets are scrapped. Christopher Booker in teh Sunday Telegraphwrites in the Telegraph that "having seen the mass of expert research on which his lecture is based", Paterson will suggest building "hundreds of mini-reactors" to power the UK.  Today's Telegraph editorial lends support to scrapping the climate change act, suggesting that the UK should only address climate change "in a more sensible and coherent way [and not] through the pursuit of ... arbitrary, unattainable and ultimately self-defeating targets."      The Sunday Telegraph 

Germany says it can't exit coal-fired energy at same time as nuclear 
German newspaper Der Spiegel had reported that Germany planned to close 10 gigawatts of coal power plants in order to reduce carbon emissions. But the German government has denied the report, saying exiting nuclear power and coal power at the same time "would not be possible". Coal power generated 45 per cent of Germany's electricity in 2013, Reuters reports.     Reuters 

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Scientists stay poised for imminent arrival of El Niño

  • 10 Oct 2014, 12:30
  • Roz Pidcock

The Pacific weather phenomenon known as El Niño looks to be firmly on its way. After a slow start, forecasters yesterday confirmed an El Niño should be making an appearance in the next month or two, though it's likely to be a weak one.

Pacific fluctuations

Every five years or so, a change in the winds causes a shift to warmer than normal ocean temperatures in the  equatorial Pacific Ocean - known as El Niño, or cooler than normal - known as La Niña, moving briefly back to normal in between.

The warm and cool phases together are known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and are responsible for most of the fluctuations in global weather we see from one year to the next.

Each time a switch occurs, changes in the ocean and atmosphere above affect   global temperature and rainfall patterns worldwide.

ENSO

Sea surface temperature during El Niño (left) and La Niña (right). Red and blue show warmer and cooler temperatures than the long term average. [Credit: Steve Albers, NOAA]

 

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Daily Briefing | UK looks to Dutch model to make 100,000 homes carbon neutral

  • 10 Oct 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

CC 2.0

UK looks to Dutch model to make 100,000 homes carbon-neutral by 2020 

Dutch energy efficiency group Energiesprong could give zero carbon retrofits to social homes across England if EU funding is approved, the Guardian reports. A pilot scheme could start within a year to clad homes in insulated panel-facades and insulated, solar panelled roofs. The concept is already beingrolled out in the Netherlands. A separate report for the UK's Green Investment Bank has  found growing demand for energy saving measures in the nation's homes, offices and public buildings.     The Guardian 

Reports: Germany mulls legal action over EU's nuclear Hinkley ruling 
The German government could join that of Austria in challenging a European Commission decision to approve state support for new UK nuclear reactors, according to a report in Norwegian market news service Montel. Following the state aid decision French nuclear firm EDF said it aims to make a final investment decision later this year, even though legal challenges could follow early next year.     BusinessGreen 

IGas plans third UK shale gas drill next month 
The UK"s largest shale gas explorer, IGas, plans to drill its third exploration well next month in northwest England. It is also due to publish estimates of shale resources in its east Midlands concession and the first test results of drilling at its Barton Moss site near Manchester.      Reuters 

US weather forecaster says El Niño expected to begin in 1-2 months 
The El Niño weather phenomenon is now expected to occur in the next couple of months and last into next spring in the northern Hemisphere, the US National Weather Service says. The Pacific ocean phenomenon drives extreme weather worldwide and has been expected for much of the summer. We've been keeping a  close watch. Climate Central  takes a look at why it matters.     Reuters 

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How much of China's carbon dioxide emissions is the rest of the world responsible for?

  • 09 Oct 2014, 15:00
  • Mat Hope

China smog | Shutterstock

China is the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, by far. The country produces more than a quarter of the planet's annual greenhouse gas emissions.

World leaders increasingly reference China's spiralling emissions as a reason why it should commit to dealing with climate change.

But is it fair to ask China to lead the way? After all, a hefty share of the pollution rising out of China's smokestacks comes from factories churning out TVs, mobile phones and cheap toys for the rest of the world.

China's emissions

In 2006, China became the  world's largest emitter, overtaking the US. By 2013, 28 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions came from China, according to data from the Global Carbon Project.

This graph shows the dramatic step change in the growth of China's carbon dioxide emissions that's taken place in the last 15 years:

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Source: Data from the Global Carbon Project, Global Carbon Atlas. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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