Daily Briefing | Major fire at Didcot B power station

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

Didcot power station | Shutterstock 

Major fire at gas-fired Didcot B power station 
A 1.3 gigawatt gas power plant caught fire last night. Fire crews have doused the blaze and confirmed noone was injured. National Grid says the plant's shutdown will not interrupt electricity supplies. The unexpected outage comes months after two nuclear reactors also unexpectedly had to be taken offline for repairs. The reactors are likely to be restarted in the coming months at 70 to 80 per cent of their normal output, the  Telegraph reports, to prevent cracks in the boilers forming.     BBC News

Climate and energy news

Eclipse of the solar farms: Environment Secretary Liz Truss tells farmers 'no more handouts for ugly fields of glass...grow veg!' 
Land earmarked for new solar panels would be better used for growing apples, environment secretary Liz Truss argues. She says solar farms are ugly and the land they sit on could be better used for agriculture. She confirms plans to cut subsidies to farmers for hosting the solar farms. There is currently a £100-an-acre grant scheme in place, worth £2 million a year. The  BBC Times, and  Independent also have the story.     Mail on Sunday 

Powering up the poor shouldn't hurt the climate 
Fears over rising emissions should not obstruct efforts to connect rural communities to the electrical grid, new research suggests. A case study looking at new connections in India shows their electricity use accounted for only four per cent of the country's emissions rise in a year. Industry and cities were responsible for the vast majority of those emissions, it shows.     Scientific American 

Britain needs political climate change to cut soaring energy bills 
Three Telegraph articles look at former environment secretary Owen Paterson's calls to scrap the Climate Change Act. The first, by Charles Moore, reflects Paterson's view that the law supports economically ruinous renewable energy. Another looks at why Paterson is arguing for the changes now, once he's left office. Paterson says it's because  he didn't realise the Act's "brutal" impact at the time. Finally, climate skeptic columnist Christopher Booker  juxtaposes Paterson's position with that of Labour leader Ed Miliband and an architect of the act, Baroness Worthington. "Mr Paterson has at last set off a proper debate on our energy future", he says, "one that is years overdue".      Telegraph 

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Probing the deep: An in-depth look at the oceans, climate change and the hiatus

  • 20 Oct 2014, 08:40
  • Roz Pidcock and Rosamund Pearce

Waves in ocean via Shutterstock

Oceans cover more of the planet than anything else. So it makes sense that we need to know what's happening to them to understand how humans are changing the climate. 

If you follow climate science, you'd be forgiven for being a little confused recently by different news reports suggesting the oceans are warming, slightly  cooling or doing  nothing at all.

So are the oceans hotting up or aren't they? And how does what happens beneath the waves influence what we feel up here on earth's surface? Here's our top to bottom look at the oceans and climate change.

More heat in, less heat out

Scientists have known for centuries that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide and methane, trap heat and warm the planet. This is known as the greenhouse effect.

Scientists use satellite measurements to monitor how much of the sun's energy enters earth's atmosphere. A different set of measurements tells them how much finds its way out again.

The difference between those numbers is increasing, which means the earth is  trapping more heat than it used to. And that means the planet  must be warming.

A hiatus in surface warming

An interesting question is why temperatures at earth's surface - that's the air above land and the very top of the ocean - don't always reflect what's happening to the planet as a whole.

Over the last 15 years or so, surface temperatures have risen  much slower than in previous decades, even though we're emitting greenhouse gases  faster than we were before.

This is what's become known as the "hiatus", "slowdown" or even "pause" in surface warming.

This raises an obvious question. If earth is  gaining heat but the surface isn't warming very much, where is the heat going instead?

Where does the heat go?

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Analysis: Who wants what from the EU 2030 climate framework

  • 17 Oct 2014, 12:45
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Number 10

Ambitious EU 2030 climate targets could be crucial to unlocking a global climate deal in Paris next year. Yet EU leaders still can't agree the details, with just days to go.

Uncertainty remains because different EU member states want different things from the 2030 policy framework, which will set the trajectory for EU climate and energy policy for the next 15 years. Some countries want three targets - to cut emissions, increase use of renewable energy and boost take up of energy efficiency. Others want an emissions target only. And a few say they will only accept targets with sweeteners.

So who wants what from the EU 2030 climate framework, and what does that mean for how ambitious it will be?

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Daily Briefing | Nuclear fusion breakthrough hailed by Lockheed Martin

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

Nuclear fusion breakthrough hailed by Lockheed Martin 
A facility in California yesterday announced it had reached a milestone in its nuclear fusion research, which aims to extract the vast quantities of energy released when light hydrogen atoms are fused together to form a heavier helium atom. Reactors could be ready for commercial use within ten years, says the company. But don't get too excited, nobody's cracked nuclear fusion just yet, says Australian scientist Matthew Hole for The Conversation.    BusinessGreen 

Climate and energy news

Sweden calls on EU to agree 50% carbon cuts for 2030 
Sweden has called on the European Union to adopt a greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 50 per cent by the 2030s, a full ten percentage points higher than current proposals. The proposals could gain support from other Scandinavian countries and the UK but are likely to be blocked by Poland, which says the current 40 per cent goal is already too high.     RTCC 

U.K. Opposition May Drop Energy Price Freeze, Says Davey 
The Labour party would drop its pledge to freeze energy prices "like a hot potato" in the event of a coalition government after the next election, said energy minister Ed Davey in a Bloomberg debate with Labour's Caroline Flint yesterday. Flint insisted Labour's policy would stick, despite criticism from Davey that it would undermine competition and be "very bad for going green".     Bloomberg 

Ed Davey: compromise possible on EU energy efficiency target 
UK energy minister Davey is showing flexibility over targets to improve energy efficiency, due to be agreed as part of a package by EU leaders next week. Saying he prefers not to talk about "red lines", Davey told the Guardian, "It is important that we listen to others and find a way forward." Currently, the UK supports an increase in energy efficiency of 30 per cent by 2030.    The Guardian 

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Daily Briefing | MP Owen Paterson gives speech to climate sceptic lobby group

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

Arctic North Pole | Shutterstock

Owen Paterson gives his views on climate and energy 

Former environment secretary Owen Paterson MP's speech to climate skeptic lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation last night is prominent in the UK media today. Paterson argues that the Climate Change Act, which provides the framework by which the UK is committed to cutting emissions and addressing climate change, should be repealed. He argues that climate change has been 'exaggerated'. This is the line the Telegraph takes -  Climate change forecasts 'exaggerated', ex-environment secretary Owen Paterson claims - and also stressed by the BBC in its broadcast coverage and  online. The Daily Mail highlights Paterson's claim that ministers have  raised costs for the poor by seeking to address climate change. A Mail  editorial says "The Climate Change Act must surely be amended or repealed," calling it "the most crippling commitment in our peacetime history." The FTfocuses on what Paterson does want - a network of small nuclear reactors supplying power across the country. But Paterson "declined to say where such nuclear systems might be sited in or around London," it reports. The Times chooses the headline  Climate change lobby 'has African blood on its hands'. Energy and climate secretary Ed Davey says Owen Paterson doesn't seem to understand very much about energy policy,  Business Green reports. The Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government on climate science and policy,  flatly rejects the accuracy of Paterson's main claims.According to metadata on a version of the speech that was circulated to journalists, the author of the document was climate skeptic peer Matt Ridley. We look at his claims  here.    Various 

Climate and energy news

Wind blows away fossil power in the Nordics, the Baltics next | Reuters 
In Norway and Sweden, "the arrival of wind power on a large scale has ... pushed electricity prices down, eroding profitability of fossil power stations," Reuters reports. Demand for coal in the Nordic market has decreased, and power prices have almost halved since 2010, as demand stalls and energy use decreases. Coal and gas plants in the region are slated for mothballing if the situation continues.    Reuters 

Will Climate Change Denial Become a Political Liability? U.S. Treaty Envoy Thinks So 
Inside Climate News reports: "Climate change denial will switch from being a litmus test for major Republican politicians to a liability in the near future", according to chief US climate negotiator Todd Stern. "I doubt, even a year from now, whether major political candidates will consider it viable to deny the existence of climate change."     Inside Climate News

Gas boom from unrestrained fracking linked to emissions rise 
According to a new paper in the journal Nature, developing shale gas would lead to an increase in overall carbon emissions. The Guardian reports that according to the research "only new interventions, such as a long-sought international climate change deal or significant global price on carbon pollution, would be effective in tackling warming."     The Guardian 

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Owen Paterson on scrapping the UK’s commitment to reducing emissions

  • 15 Oct 2014, 20:50
  • Mat Hope & Simon Evans

Former environment secretary Owen Paterson tonight delivered a lecture to climate skeptic thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation. In his speech, he called on the government to suspend the UK's legally binding obligation to cut emissions and abandon its pursuit of renewable energy in favour of submarine-style nuclear power.

Paterson's speech was  heavily trailed in the media earlier this week, which we  analysed in detail here. Here's a summary, with some extra context on what Paterson had to say on...

The science

Paterson suggests forecasts of climate change's impacts have been "consistently and widely exaggerated", adding that the atmosphere has failed "to warm at all over the past 18 years".

This is incorrect. The atmosphere has warmed by about 0.05 degrees since the end of the 1990s. This is slower than in previous decades, but when what's happening to the oceans is also considered, scientists are clear that the planet as a whole is warming.

Scientists expect air temperatures to rise quickly again when natural cycles that are currently pushing heat into the deep ocean reverse. This kind of natural fluctuation has happened many times in earth's history - and when you take the ups and downs out, the long term trend is one of warming since industrialisation.

Paterson doesn't dispute that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but he says there is "considerable uncertainty" over how much warming we'll see.

Scientists haven't pinned down exactly how much temperatures rise per doubling of carbon dioxide - known as the climate sensitivity. But importantly, if we continue emitting greenhouse gases as fast as we are, we'll see serious warming this century wherever climate sensitivity sits within the range scientists have identified.

The lights going out

Cutting emissions and decarbonising the energy sector means "the lights would eventually go out".

While the idea of the lights going out is an attractive shorthand for journalists and commentators, it  isn't seriously expected to become reality.

However, the government has long recognised the need for significant investment to replace the UK's aging energy infrastructure. Many of the UK's power stations are  very old and are due to  reach the end of their natural life over the coming decades. There are  particular concerns about generating capacity over the next few winters.

That's why the government is planning to pay firms to  reduce demand at peak times, and is creating a  capacity market. This will pay power companies money to ensure there is always enough capacity to cover peak demand, so that the lights will always stay on, even if we have to pay to make sure.

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Factcheck: Daily Express claims windfarms will add £1,000 to household bills

  • 15 Oct 2014, 16:00
  • Simon Evans and Mat Hope

Utility bill | Shutterstock

Wind farms will be responsible for adding £1,000 to household energy bills, the Daily Express's frontpage today claims.

The figure is based on a submission by campaign group the Scientific Alliance to the House of Lords Science and Technology committee. The committee is exploring different ways the UK can cut energy sector emissions while making sure the lights stay on.

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 13.58.14.png

But the alliance takes an outdated approach to calculating how many power stations the UK needs, leading it to come up with numbers that are significantly out of step with other experts.

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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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