Antarctic Larsen-C ice shelf at risk of collapse, study warns

  • 13 May 2015, 00:01
  • Robert McSweeney

Larsen-C ice shelf | J. Schmaltz

In the past 20 years, warming temperatures have caused two ice shelves in Antarctica to collapse into the ocean. New research points to a third shelf, more than twice the size of Wales, which has thinned so much that it could now also face collapse.

The loss of the shelf would allow glaciers to flow more quickly into the ocean, pushing sea levels beyond current projections for this century, the researchers say.

Ice shelves

An ice shelf forms when a glacier on land reaches the coast and flows into the ocean. If the ocean is cold enough, the ice doesn't melt. Instead, it forms a permanently floating sheet of ice.

Ice Shelf Warming _labels

Ice shelf schematic. Source: British Antarctic Survey.

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Updated - Election 2015: What will a Conservative majority mean for climate and energy?

  • 12 May 2015, 10:30
  • Carbon Brief staff

​landmarkmedia | Shutterstock​

Update 13/5 - Amber Rudd has been appointed as secretary of state for energy and climate change. Rudd has been  welcomed by green groups. She will be  joined at the department by Andrea Leadsom, who has called onshore wind's benefits " hugely exaggerated". Lord Bourne is expected to replace junior minister Baroness Verma, though Verma's ministerial profile remains on the department's website.

With all 650 seats having declared their election results, the Conservatives have secured 331 seats, five more than they needed to form a majority in the House of Commons and return David Cameron to Downing Street.

The outcome defies expectations of a hung parliament and sees the UK return to single-party government after five years of Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition. The junior coalition partner had, under Ed Davey and Chris Huhne, held the secretary of state position at the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) since 2010.

The result means the UK is set for an in-out referendum on EU membership in 2017, or even sooner. Cameron wants to renegotiate the terms of membership and has promised to campaign for the UK to stay within the EU if he is successful. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has ruled out EU treaty changes before November 2019.

The other big story of the election has been the Scottish National Party's almost total victory north of the border, winning all but three seats.

Carbon Brief brings you a summary of the key Conservative manifesto pledges on climate and energy plus reactions and comments. 

Climate and energy pledges

The top line on the Conservative approach to climate and energy issues is that the party will stick to the UK's overarching carbon targets, while focusing on minimising costs. We've summarised some key messages from the Tory manifesto in this graphic:

Conservatives CB

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Daily Briefing | Greens welcome Amber Rudd as new Energy Secretary

  • 12 May 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Amber Rudd | Shutterstock

Greens welcome Amber Rudd as new Energy Secretary 
Climate change campaigners "will be relieved", said the Telegraph, by the appointment by David Cameron of Amber Rudd as the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. The Financial Times said the move had "surprised" the energy industry. The Guardian and BusinessGreen reported all the reaction.       The Telegraph 

Climate and energy news

Shell gets 'conditional' US Arctic drilling approval 
The US Department of the Interior has granted conditional approval for Shell to explore for oil in the Arctic. Shell must get the nod from other US regulators in order to proceed. Green groups attacked the plan, reports the Guardian. The decision puts Shell a significant step closer to Arctic drilling, say the Washington Post and Financial Times. The New York TimesThe HillClimate Progress and Grist all have the story.         BBC 

Sea levels are rising at faster clip as polar melt accelerates, new study shows
Sea levels are rising faster than thought, a new study has found, with polar melt part of the reason, reports the Washington Post. Coastal homes are at risk from accelerating sea level rise says The Times. The  Daily MailClimate CentralScientific American and many others had the story too. A new satellite has been launched to measure ocean height, reports the BBC.         Washington Post 

Beyond carbon pricing: Five ways to green economies 
Carbon pricing alone cannot solve the climate problem, according to a new World Bank study covered by RTCC. There are many other market failures and behavioural biases beyond failure to price emissions, it says. The bank suggests five policies that can help including energy performance standards for cars and buildings but the transition should start now, Reuters reportsBusiness Green and AFP also have the story.       RTCC 

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Ice sheet melt is driving acceleration in sea level rise, study suggests

  • 11 May 2015, 16:05
  • Robert McSweeney

Melting glaciers | Shutterstock

Global sea levels are rising faster than previously thought, according to new research.

After researchers adjusted satellite sea level data to account for the slight rise and fall of Earth's land masses, they found sea level rise has accelerated in recent years.

The cause is likely to be increasing loss of ice from the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, the researchers say.

Satellite data

Scientists first began using satellites to monitor global sea levels with the launch of the Topex/Poseidon mission in 1992. After two satellites from this mission, it was replaced by the Jason satellite missions in the early 2000s.

The data collected from satellites is verified against measurements taken directly from tide gauges on the sea surface. Tide gauges measure the height of the sea with reference to a fixed point, which is usually on land. As you can see from the red dots in the map below, most measurements are taken along coastlines.

Watson Et Al (2015) Fig1

Map showing tide gauges used in the study (red dots) to adjust satellite data. Black and blue dots show guages that the researchers ruled out for quality control reasons. Source: Watson et al. (2015).

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Investigation: Does the UK's biomass burning help solve climate change?

  • 11 May 2015, 12:00
  • Simon Evans

In the name of tackling climate change, the UK has become the largest importer of wood pellets in the world in just five years.

The UK's demand for wood pellets is set to break five million tonnes this year and perhaps 10 million within a few years, fuelling a growing global trade and vociferous debate between energy firms and NGOs.

Accounting methods mandated by government show burning wood in place of coal is shaving millions of tonnes off UK emissions, yet NGOs say separate government research shows the opposite.

So, does the UK's growing use of biomass for power generation help solve climate change or not? Carbon Brief guides you through the dense thicket of debate in search of answers.

Biomass Britain Infographic

The UK is the world's largest wood pellet importer and its increasing demand is fuelling a growing global trade in pellets. Drax power station, the largest UK user of these pellets, says most of its biomass comes from thinnings and residues. Source: Drax biomass supply report 2014, Ofgem figures and Carbon Brief analysis of UN Food and Agriculture Organization figures. Credit: Rosamund Pearce, Carbon Brief.

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Daily Briefing | Tory victory a huge blow to UK green energy industry, campaigners warn

  • 11 May 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

10 Downing St | Shutterstock

Tory victory a huge blow to UK green energy industry, campaigners warn

With its new majority in Parliament, the Conservative party could deal a blow to the renewables industry if it goes forward with a manifesto pledge to halt the spread of onshore wind farms, green campaigners have warned. Scrapping the Department of Energy and Climate Change is another potential threat to UK climate efforts, says E3G's Tom Burke. The Financial Times points out that the department has now lost the influence of Lib Dems like Ed Davey, leaving the Conservatives to pursue their own agenda.     The Independent


Climate and energy news

Energy shares soar as Conservatives win majority

Following the Conservative's victory in last week's general election, shares in energy companies jumped. Centrica made the biggest gains, with its shares trading at 9% higher. The Big Six were relieved that they would not have to deal with the price freeze promised by Labour, while city analysts said they expected the Conservative government to be less renewables friendly than Labour would have been.      The Financial Times

China oil imports surpass those of US for first time

China's crude oil imports hit a new high of 7.4 million barrels a day in April, surpassing the 7.2 million imported by the US. This is because the exploitation of shale resources in the US has reduced the need for imports, but also because China is increasing its refining capacity as its economy grows. More efficient motor vehicles also helped to curb consumption in the US after the financial crisis.       The Financial Times

Brazil plans to 'nationalise' rainforest in pioneering plan to protect Amazon

Brazilian MPs are considering a bill that would effectively nationalise the Amazon, giving the government a monopoly over its resources. This would mean companies wanting to work in the area would require the permission of a new state council. While the bill was proposed as a means to halt destruction, campaigners have warned that it ignores the rights of indigenous people and creates unnecessary bureaucracy.       The Independent

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Daily Briefing | Election results: Conservatives on course for majority

  • 08 May 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

10 Downing St | Shutterstock

Election results: Conservatives on course for majority 
After results in 627 of 650 seats, the Conservatives look set to secure an outright majority in the UK general election, defying pollsters' predictions of a hung parliament. Green MP Caroline Lucas retained her seat. Former energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey was among those losing their seat.Business Green says the wind industry is "braced for disaster". You can remind yourself of the Conservative manifesto pledges on climate and energy in Carbon Brief's election grid and read somepre-election expert speculation on what the result might mean for the UK in the run up to Paris.         BBC News 

Climate and energy news

Modi: India can offer "natural leadership" on climate change 
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi says that his country - the fourth largest polluter - can provide leadership on climate change, although he stopped short of saying whether his government would cap or peak emissions ahead of the UN's climate deal this December. He told TIME magazine that India's renewables programme was an "immense and huge initiative".          RTCC 

Brazil's climate plans stall as historic drought hits country 
Brazil is no closer to revealing its contribution to the UN's intended climate deal, according to experts close to the negotiations. Diplomats have indicated that the submission could now come in October, instead of June, as the foreign ministry suggested last year. Brazil is currently suffering one of its worst droughts on record.         RTCC 

Little Chance to Restrain Global Warming to 2 Degrees, Critic Argues 
A UN deal in Paris will not put the world on track to keeping temperature rise below 2C, and scientists and economists must stop spreading "false optimism", says Oliver Geden from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in a Nature article. Concepts such as negative emissions that could reduce carbon dioxide levels later are "dubious", he says. Grist and RTCC have also covered his views.        ClimateWire via Scientific American 

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19 reasons why the world is missing the 2C climate change limit

  • 07 May 2015, 09:45
  • Simon Evans

Pylons and roads | Shutterstock

The world is falling further behind the goal to avoid more than 2C of global warming despite rapid progress in renewables and other areas, according to a new assessment from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

For the first time since it started tracking progress, none of 19 key areas for tackling climate change are on track to meet their contribution towards a sub-2C world, says the IEA's Energy Technology Perspectives 2015, published on 4 May. It says five technologies or sectors are off track, and the outlook for the remaining 14 is failing to improve fast enough.

Carbon Brief has summarised the mammoth 412-page assessment in a single graphic, which shows where progress is falling furthest behind the path to 2C, and where there are rays of hope.


Progress in key technologies and sectors against climate milestones for a below-2C future. Source: IEA Energy Technology Perspectives 2015. Summary chart by Carbon Brief.

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Daily Briefing | Global carbon dioxide levels break 400ppm milestone

  • 07 May 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

London skyline | Shutterstock

Global carbon dioxide levels break 400ppm milestone 
Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere averaged out at a record 400 parts per million for the whole month of March, US scientists announced yesterday. The 400 ppm milestone is largely a symbolic one, says Climate Central. But reaching levels unprecedented in millions of years is a stark signal to global governments ahead of the Paris climate talks in December, says The Guardian. APquotes NOAA scientist Pieter Tans calling the 400 ppm milestone "disturbing and daunting," while Greenpeace's chief scientist Doug Parr tells RTCC that despite progress on low-carbon technology, passing 400ppm should serve as a reminder that "there remains a huge amount to do." The fact that emissions from energy sources stabilised in 2014 could be a good sign that we are starting to reverse the relentless upward trend in emissions, suggests Grist.       The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

EU agrees 'landmark' carbon market deal 
Environmental campaigners are hailing a decision to withdraw hundreds of millions of carbon allowances from Europe's emissions trading scheme as a landmark moment. The new market reserve scheme, which will start to remove surplus allowances from 2019, is expected to inject new life into the carbon market, says Damien Morris from campaign group Sandbag. A Green Party spokesperson branded the agreement little more than "a band aid" covering the need for much more fundamental reform. BusinessGreen and Reuters have more on the story.        The Guardian 

Alberta's oil patch now in uncharted waters with NDP premier 
The left wing New Democrats have won an extraordinary majority government in Alberta, ending 44 years of of Progressive Conservative rule. Guaranteed to shake up the province's dominant energy sector, new Premier Rachel Notley has pledged to strengthen environmental rules and bolster Alberta's reputation on climate change. Notley has also promised to put an end to government promotion of the Keystone XL pipeline, reports The Hill . A campaign spokesperson said voters were angry with a government that proposed tax increases on the middle class to deal with falling oil prices, reports The Financial TimesReuters has more on the story.          The Globe and The Mail 

General Election 2015: Greens 'still talking about the environment', says Caroline Lucas 
On the eve of the general election, the Green Party's Caroline Lucas rebutted accusations that the party had failed to mention environmental issues enough in its election campaigning. Calling the charge "unfair", Lucas said that when it comes to talking about the environment "you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't."         The Independent 

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Monthly global carbon dioxide tops 400ppm for first time

  • 06 May 2015, 22:30
  • Roz Pidcock

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today announced that  the monthly global average concentration of carbon dioxide surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) in March 2015 for the first time since measurements began.

The average carbon dioxide concentration across the globe was 400.83 ppm,  reported NOAA.

If this news sounds familiar, it might be because this isn't the first time you've heard scientists mention the 400 ppm mark in recent years.

In the spring of 2012, NOAA reported all of its Arctic stations were measuring local concentrations of more than 400 ppm.

In 2013, the daily carbon dioxide concentration  surpassed 400 ppm mark at the Mauna Loa Observatory, where scientists have been monitoring levels since the 1950s.

But March 2015 is the first time the average carbon dioxide concentration right across the globe has been more than 400 ppm for an entire month.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 At 22.03.29

Global monthly carbon dioxide concentration. The dashed red line represents monthly mean values while the black line has had the seasonal cycle removed. Source: NOAA/ESRL

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