Daily Briefing | Seals, cows, and really hot weather

  • 22 Jul 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

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Climate models that accidentally got El Niño right also show warming slowdown 
Depending on which story you read, a new paper published in Nature Climate Change is either about models "accidentally" predicting surface warming slowdown or "climate models are indeed reliable". Ars Technica has the former view, the Guardian's Climate Consensus blog the latter. The paper finds that, simply by chance, a few of the models do produce an accurate El Nino/Southern Oscillation pattern thought to be a "major player" in temperature changes from one decade to the next, Ars Technica reports. We explain the paper's findings, here. 
Ars Technica 

Climate and energy news

Dirty coal plants undermine EU climate leadership - report 
While EU policy looks set to curb the use of coal plants in the long term, the highly-polluting fuel is currently enjoying something of a revival. Countries' failure to tackle this short-term spike is undermining efforts to tackle climate change, a report from a coalition of environmental groups says. The EU needs to ensure there are strict controls in place to ensure coal plants are phased out over the next decade, the report says. BusinessGreen also has the story. 

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Slow surface warming since 1998 is “not exceptional”, say scientists

  • 21 Jul 2014, 19:30
  • Roz Pidcock

Scientists know greenhouse gases are causing the world to warm. But an interesting question is why warming at earth's surface speeds up and slows down.

new paper shows surface temperature "slowdowns" like we're experiencing now aren't unusual - and capturing the timing of natural ups and down in the climate is key to predicting them.

But as a  second paper explains, the planet as a whole has warmed up in the last decade even as surface temperature rise has been sluggish.

Model mismatch

Temperatures are rising due to long term greenhouse gas warming. But natural variability causes temperatures to go up and down from one year to the next.

Natural variability can at least partly explain slower surface warming in the last 15 years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  concluded in its latest report. Recent evidence  points to changes in the  Pacific causing the deep oceans to absorb more heat.

But most climate models didn't predict the slowdown. And as a  new paper in Nature Climate Change explains, some parts of the media have argued that since models don't replicate recent temperatures, we shouldn't trust their predictions for future warming.

But the paper, lead by Australian climate scientist Dr James Risbey, finds that 15 years of temperatures rising slower than models predict "does not constitute evidence against the fidelity" of models in general. Let's take a closer look at why not.

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UK’s energy efficiency ranking falls due to government policy rollbacks

  • 21 Jul 2014, 13:58
  • Mat Hope

Creative Commons 2.0

Government cuts to key policies have hit the UK's efforts to become more energy efficient, a new report says.

A series of policy rollbacks have seen the UK fall from first to sixth in a ranking of 16 of the world's leading economies by US thinktank the American Council for an Energy Efficient-Economy's (ACEEE). Germany now tops the list, with Italy, China, and France all coming in ahead of the UK.

Source: ACEEE,  2014 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard

ACEEE awarded each country points based on 31 criteria. Countries could receive a maximum of 100 points overall depending on the strength of their national energy efficiency policies, and efforts to curb energy use in the transport, buildings and industrial sectors. See this table for a full list of the criteria.

About half ACEEE's criteria were actually quantifiable - taking into account a change in a country's energy intensity or the number of miles each country's citizens travel by car. The rest were more dependent on ACEEE's researchers' judgements about how well country's energy efficiency programmes were progressing. So the scores and rankings should probably be taken with a pinch of salt.

Nonetheless, ACEEE's analysis does give some insight into a range of comparable countries' efforts to curb energy consumption.

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A detailed look at why the future of UK energy is so hard to predict

  • 21 Jul 2014, 11:25
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Christian Schnettelker

Is it possible to predict the future of UK energy?

A couple of weeks ago, the Guardian reported National Grid forecasting energy prices will double by the end of the decade. Other media reported the grid operator found that UK shale gas could supply much of our future needs, the UK's gas supply could be held to ransom by Russia, solar power will fail to take off, and the UK can afford to meet green energy goals.

It all sounds quite colourful. So does National Grid really expect to see such wildly different events unfolding in the near future?

Well, no. The media reports were based on a series of scenarios prepared by the grid operator. To understand the difference between scenarios and forecasts - it goes beyond mere semantics - we take a look at why it's so difficult to predict the energy future, and why such a range of possibilities are thrown up when we try.

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Daily Briefing | China and India's emissions must peak and decline

  • 21 Jul 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

jeancliclac (Flickr Creative Commons)

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China and India must cut their emissions 'or else', says Davey 
The UK will not sign a global deal on climate change unless it includes commitments from China and India, climate secretary Ed Davey said in an interview with The Times. Davey is about to visit the two countries. He said they should be allowed to continue increasing their emissions but with clear targets for when they would peak and start to decline. He would like China to peak by 2025 and said there might not be a deal unless China committed to a peak. 
The Times 

Climate and energy news

California reviews fracking water disposal amid contamination concerns 
The most populous US state is to review disposal rules for fracking wastewater to make sure it is not contaminating drinking water. In the US, fracking firms are allowed to inject wastewater back into the ground. The practice will not be allowed in the UK, at least initially. California's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources said there was no direct evidence of drinking water contamination and said the move was a precaution. 

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Typhoon Haiyan, record-breaking CO2 levels, rising seas and more: five measures of the state of the climate in 2013

  • 18 Jul 2014, 17:00
  • Ros Donald

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels broke modern records last year - and 2013 was one of the warmest years on record according to four major datasets. Sea levels continue to rise, and the oceans are getting warmer. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's State of the Climate, 2013 is a reminder of the many changes the world is experiencing. 

The State of the Climate report, published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is a different beast to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report. Both reports assemble multiple datasets to give a picture of the changes the planet is experiencing, but NOAA's annual climate checkup doesn't try to answer why certain events have occurred. Instead, it focuses on building a detailed picture year on year, chronicling the shifting state of the physical climate system. 

NOAA has also created a  summary that pulls out the report's most striking results. We've picked five measures that help form this picture along with NOAA's explanation of why they matter. 


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Factcheck: Do climate worriers use more electricity?

  • 18 Jul 2014, 11:00
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Jon Mould

The Telegraph and the Mail say people concerned about climate change use more electricity than those who think the issue is too distant to worry about, according to new research.

The Telegraph quotes Conservative MP Peter Lilley:

"The survey exposes the hypocrisy of many who claim to be 'green': the greater the concern people express about global warming the less they do to reduce their energy usage."

But Lilley's strong conclusions are not supported by the study in question, which comes with some significant caveats. The researchers themselves say there's no significant effect of people's beliefs:

"None of the stated attitudes about environmental or climate change had any significant  impact on overall energy use when household age was taken into account."

Let's take a look at what the study says, and what it doesn't.

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Daily Briefing | State of the climate compendium

  • 18 Jul 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

K-L Poggemann

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The Warming State of the Climate in 2013 
Andy Revkin's Dot Earth blog reports on State of the Climate 2013, a compendium of climate trends and events from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It finds that greenhouse gas levels continued to climb and that 2013 was among the warmest years on record. Sea levels rose and sea temperatures put 2013 in the top ten warmest years. 
New York Times Dot Earth 

Climate and energy news

Australian parliament repeals carbon tax, emissions trading scheme 
Australia's carbon tax and plans for emissions trading will be scrapped after a vote yesterday in the country's senate. The victory for prime minister Tony Abbot comes after a minor setback last week when the repeal stumbled. The tax has taken centre stage in Australian politics over recent years and was a major factor in the downfall of previous PM Julia Gillard. Think Progress says the tax had been delivering emissions cuts in the power sector. The climate policy retreat - described as a world first by some papers- has attracted international condemnation and, in some circles, glee at the downfall of a "disastrous and pointless" scheme. A second Reuters describes the repeal as a blow to global carbon markets, though recent falls on New Zealand carbon markets are said to be unrelated. In The Conversation the Committee on Climate Change's Alexis Kalaglis argues the UK shows how carbon can be cut without a tax. An Australian renewable electricity target for 2020 has so far escaped unscathed. 

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New mega-map details all the ways climate change will affect our everyday lives

  • 18 Jul 2014, 00:00
  • Roz Pidcock

From flood barriers to fish stocks, a new super-graphic from the Met Office and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office shows how climate change is likely to alter human activity.

Looking at where our food comes from and how countries interact through travel and trade, it makes for a stark visualisation of what different regions can expect as climate change kicks in.


The  Human Dynamics of Climate Change project is a huge venture, designed to illustrate the range and complexity of the potential impacts of unmitigated climate change.

It contains a massive amount of information but a good place to start is the map below, which shows how humans interact in today's world.

The colours, arrows, symbols and shading show shipping routes, population density, crop importers and exporters, areas under water stress, busy ports and airports, fishing regions, tropical cyclone regions and melting glaciers.

HDCC_map _present

Present day human dynamics (1981-2010). Source: Human Dynamics of Climate Change  ( HDCC), a joint project from the Met Office and UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

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Factcheck: How often do wind turbines catch fire? And does it matter?

  • 17 Jul 2014, 15:15
  • Mat Hope and Simon Evans

CC2.0 Washington DNR

Wind turbines are essentially small buckets of lubricating oil on top of a large metal stick, with rotating wings attached. Add a strike of lightning, a short circuit or a mechanical fault and they occasionally set alight. While that might make a good photo, no one's sure how big a problem it is. A new report tries to work it out.

The research by a group of academics from the University of Edinburgh and Imperial College London for the International Association for Fire Safety Science (IAFSS) tries to assess how common wind turbine fires are and how dangerous they might be. But the researchers ran into a problem: there's not much data available.

Fire data

When looking for data on wind turbine fires, the researchers found many "sources of information are incomplete, biased, or contain non-publically available data". So it's hard to reliably assess the extent of the problem.

Nonetheless, the researchers give it a go using data from the - admittedly fairly biased - Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (CWIF). That's an anti-windfarm campaign group,  so you can be sure they've done their best to record as many and as serious accidents as possible.

The CWIF recorded a total of 1,328 accidents involving wind turbines between 1995 and 2012. Of those, 200 involved fire. There have been no recorded fatalities and four recorded injuries from wind turbine fires, the IAFSS report says.

That's 11.7 fires per year on average, or nearly one a month, the research points out.

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