Worst case scenarios of sea level rise, and why scientists and policymakers consider them

  • 21 Oct 2014, 17:52
  • Robert McSweeney

Thames Barrier | Shutterstock

Sea levels could rise by a maximum of 190 centimetres by the end of the century, according to a new study, which examines a worst case scenario for sea level rise.

In reality, the amount of sea level rise we get is likely to be less than that. But scientists and policymakers examine such 'worst case' scenarios to safeguard against climate risks.

Upper limit

With 10 per cent of the world's population living less than 10 metres above sea level, the threat of  coastal flooding is significant. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) expects sea level rise to cause a ' significant increase' in sea levels extremes and the risk of coastal flooding.

The new study, published in  Environmental Research Letters, considers the assessment of 13 ice sheet experts. They conclude that the contribution from ice sheets is likely to be greater than projected by the IPCC. The paper suggests that sea levels could rise by as much as 190 cm this century.

Projections of sea level rise are typically constructed by working out the contribution to sea level rise from different  factors. The biggest contribution is from water expanding as it warms, followed by melting glaciers, then melting ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica.

The crucial question for sea level rise this century is how much ice will be lost from the ice sheets, the authors argue. But it remains one of the largest uncertainties. In its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the IPCC says there isn't sufficient evidence for them to give probabilities of large-scale losses of ice sheets.

The new study uses expert judgement to consider areas of ice sheet loss that are often not included in the sea level  models that the IPCC bases its assessment on. They then combine these judgements with the methods used in AR5 to produce their upper-limit figure of 190 cm.

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Why a healthy carbon market underpins the EU's 2030 climate goals

  • 21 Oct 2014, 14:50
  • Mat Hope

Trading chart | Shutterstock

European leaders are meeting this week to discuss the future of region's energy and climate policy. Among other things, countries will debate the European Commission's proposal to cut EU emissions 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Some of the most important discussions may be on an item that isn't officially on the agenda, however: how to get Europe's carbon market, the EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS), working properly.

The EU's 2030 policy framework could be key to unlocking a new global deal in Paris next year, but leaders are  yet to hammer out the details.

A draft of the policy framework's conclusions seen by Carbon Brief says "a well functioning, reformed EU ETS will be the main European instrument" for cost-effectively achieving the region's emission reductions. The commision has laid out some reforms it hopes will improve the market's effectiveness.

But yesterday, the UK government published a  positioning paper calling the commission's proposals "insufficient". We take a look at the UK government's plans to reform the struggling carbon market, and why doing so could be a key part of the EU's climate plans.


The European carbon price hit  an historic low last year. In response, the European Commission scrambled to push through short-term reforms designed to boost the carbon price, while working on a longer term plan to make the market function more effectively. Neither plan was particularly well received.

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Daily Briefing | 2014 on track to be warmest year on record

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

September was the warmest in history and 2014 is on track to be hottest year on record 
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last month was the hottest September on record, averaging 15.72 degrees across the globe. Along with May, June and August, September was the fourth monthly record set this year, leading scientists to suggest it's "pretty likely" 2014 will break the record for the hottest year.     The Daily Mail 

Climate and energy news

Fire closes UK power generation unit, squeezing electricity supply 
fire on Sunday night at Didcot B gas-fired power plant has forced the closure of an operational unit responsible for producing enough electricity to power half a million households until an investigation and repairs can take place. Some experts are raising concern as capacity margins - the spare capacity available for planned and emergency use - are already historically low as we head into winter. One more unexpected interruption to power supplies could cause a "serious" shortage and soaring prices, reportsThe Telegraph. Energy secretary Ed Davey has downplayed the impact of the fire on energy supply, echoing power plant operator RWE's comments that the UK electricity grid is resilient enough to cope, reports  BusinessGreen. We've taken a look at how National Grid copes with such unexpected events,here.      Reuters 

UK calls for aggressive ETS reform ahead of EU2030 deal 
The UK is calling for reforms to the ailing European emissions trading system (ETS) ahead of next week's EU meeting, where leaders are expected to agree a 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2030. The ETS isn't specifically on the agenda but a leaked draft assumes a reformed version will be the main way in which EU-wide emissions cuts are achieved, reports RTCC. In a  report last week, thinktank Sandbag said Europe must make "immediate and aggressive" reforms to the ETS in the next 12 months, or ditch it.      RTCC 

Tunisian sunshine could power up to 2.5 million UK homes by 2018 
A new solar farm in Tunisia aims to power up to 2.5 million UK homes by 2018, the Daily Mail reports. Investors claim electricity from the solar farm will be 20 per cent cheaper than other sources. The farm will use concentrated solar power technology to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a central point, generating heat which is converted into power. There are plans to transport the electricity through a new undersea cable to Italy, to connect to the European grid.      Mail Online 

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New study maps countries most at risk from El Niño flooding

  • 20 Oct 2014, 20:00
  • Roz Pidcock

From South America to the Sahel, scientists have for the first time mapped how flood risk rises and falls across the world each time the extreme weather phenomenon known as El Niño hits.

With an El Niño brewing in the Pacific right now, being prepared for flooding can help protect vulnerable communities and curb damages, say the researchers.

Changing rainfall

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

The warm and cool phases, together known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) affect  rainfall patterns worldwide.

While scientists have looked before at the consequences for specific countries, such as Australia, the new study is the first to take a global view, mapping flood risk right across the world.

Flood _volume (Ward Et Al)

Percentage of land experiencing changes in flood volume with return periods of 100 years, during El Niño years (top) and La Niña years (bottom). Source: Ward et al. (2014)


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How National Grid keeps the lights on when a large power station catches fire

  • 20 Oct 2014, 16:55
  • Mat Hope

Didcot power station | Andrew Smith

What happens when a major gas power station catches on fire? Well,  it certainly looks spectacular. But it appears the short term impact on the UK's power generation is pretty minimal.

Energy company RWE npower had to  unexpectedly shut down one of the Dicot B power station's 700 megawatt units last night after a fire broke out in one of the cooling towers.

Didcot's shutdown is the latest in a series of unexpected outages which National Grid has had to cope with in recent months. This has led to a  spate of headlines questioning whether National Grid will have enough power stations available to cope with high demand over the winter months.

We take a look at how National Grid copes with such unexpected events, and why it remains confident the UK will have enough power this winter.

Where does the UK's power come from?

National Grid is legally required to make sure there's always enough power to meet demand. The UK's peak demand - at around 6pm on weekdays - is currently around 45 gigawatts. This is expected to rise to about  55 gigawatts over the winter, as people spend more time indoors and use more electricity.

Big coal, gas, and nuclear power stations are responsible for meeting most of this demand. The government's  latest statistics show 30 per cent of the UK's electricity comes from gas, with 28 per cent coming from coal. Nuclear power provides about 20 per cent.

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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?

Oceanheatadjustedocean 2nologo

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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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