Explainer: What we know about the Pope's encyclical

  • 16 Apr 2015, 16:47
  • Sophie Yeo

giulio napolitano /

In just under two weeks' time, Vatican City will welcome an august selection of guests for a one-day conference on climate change.

The meeting, entitled  "Protect the earth, dignify humanity: the moral dimensions of climate change and sustainable development", will take place on the 28 April.

An agenda released by the Vatican on Tuesday lists appearances from UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and US economist Jeffrey Sachs.

According to the website, the summit has three goals:

  • to raise awareness and build a consensus that the values of sustainable development cohere with the values of the leading religious traditions, with a special focus on the most vulnerable;

  • to elevate the debate on the moral dimensions of protecting the environment in advance of the papal encyclical [explained below];

  • and to help build a global movement across all religions for sustainable development and climate change throughout 2015 and beyond.

The summit marks another intervention from Pope Francis, whose position as a key influencer in the world of climate change will likely be cemented in a couple of months' time by an encyclical concerning man's relationship with nature.

The development of this encyclical has been a secretive process, but clues have slowly been filtering out on what it might contain. Carbon Brief looks at what we know so far.

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The Carbon Brief Interview: Jeremy Oppenheim

  • 16 Apr 2015, 16:00
  • Simon Evans

Jeremy Oppenheim is programme chair of the New Climate Economy project, a major international initiative to understand the  economic costs and benefits of climate action. He is also a director of McKinsey & Co and a former senior economist with the World Bank.

Speaking in his role as New Climate Economy chair, Oppenheim discusses...

Climate change and growth: "We're not there to push the green growth line and just to come up with the conclusion that it's all possible and it's all easy. It was to look at the evidence".

Treasuries' economic models: "The moment you impose... a carbon constraint… It's impossible for those models to give you anything other than a reduction in growth rates".

Reasons to focus on climate-friendly cities: "Choices that we make in urbanisation over the next 15 years will be with us for the next 150".

High-carbon energy lock-in: "You put a coal plant into operation now, and it can be with us 40, 50, 60 years from now".

Phasing out coal: "Continued use of unabated coal is… the biggest driver of carbon emissions over the next 20-30 years".

Decarbonising transport: "I think there's a revolution underway in transport… It's a story about Uber... we're beginning to dematerialise the personal mobility industry".

His 'desert island' must-have climate policy: "It's to integrate climate into key economic and investment and policy decisions... however boring that sounds... it's the way forward".

Ambition for the Paris UN climate talks: "I hope that we will get a commitment to net-zero [emissions]".

Hopes for Paris: "The reason there's a chance for a deal in Paris is that we've learnt a lot since Copenhagen".

India's path to development: "I don't think it will be in India's interest to do a copy-paste of China's [very pollution-intensive] model of economic growth".


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Daily Briefing | Obama climate plan comes under fire in Capitol Hill hearing

  • 16 Apr 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

US Capitol | Shutterstock

Obama climate plan comes under fire in Capitol Hill hearing 
Republicans, oil-funded think tanks and climate contrarian scientists tell Congress US carbon cuts should be stopped, writes RTCC. The US has pledged to slash greenhouse gas emissions between 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2025, but Obama's endeavour to leave a climate legacy has met a series of lawsuits filed against it, threatening to derail the US' leadership of ongoing UN-backed negotiations. Almost two-thirds of states have raised legal objections against its regulatory body, the Environmental Protection Agency, exploiting a congressional drafting error, says Bloomberg New EnergyFox News, the Financial Times, and Reuters also covered the story.        Responding to Climate Change 

Climate and energy news

UKIP: Get fracking, invest in coal and scrap solar support 
Support for solar and wind power would be scrapped under plans unveiled in UKIP's manifesto yesterday. It believes the only major renewable technology that currently meets the affordability test is hydro, but would however invest in coal-fired power plants. Windfarms have "blighted landscapes and put money into the pockets of wealthy landowners and investors while pushing up bills for the rest of us", the manifesto states. BusinessGreen called the manifesto a "climate sceptic wish-list", while unions "slammed" its energy plan as "beyond barmy".       Energy Live News 

World set for record droughts by 2050 
The planet could suffer unprecedented droughts before the middle of the century, researchers have warned, urging prompt adaptation measures. Droughts would grow more severe and frequent by 2050 for 13 of the 26 worldwide regions mapped by by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, in line with the most extreme forecast set out by the United Nations' climate science panel last year. "Our study shows an increasing urgency for water management systems to adapt to future drought", the scientists said.        Responding to Climate Change 

BP dropped green energy projects worth billions to focus on fossil fuels 
Oil firm invested billions of pounds in clean and low-carbon energy in the 80s and 90s but later abandoned meaningful efforts to move away from fossil fuels, the Guardian reports. At one stage the company was spending $450m a year ($830m today) on research alone - but almost all of the technology was sold off, and much of the research locked away in a private corporate archive. According to an investigation by the Guardian the oil company is doing "far less" now on developing low-carbon technologies than it was in the 1980s and early 1990s. Terry Macalister, The Guardian 

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Flood damages in Europe to increase 200% by the end of the century, scientists warn

  • 15 Apr 2015, 18:30
  • Roz Pidcock

Flood damages across Europe as the climate warms are likely to be considerably higher than previously thought, according to new research.

Without efforts to reduce emissions, extreme river floods now occurring every 100 years will become twice as likely in the next three decades, according to scientists from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre.

That means we can expect climate-related damages to land, property and people across Europe to increase by an average of 200% by century-end, say the authors.

The researchers presented their results at this year's European Geosciences Union (EGU) conference in Vienna earlier today.

New and improved

At current emissions rates, limiting global average temperature rise to 2C looks increasingly unlikely, lead author Dr Lorenzo Alfieri told a press conference this morning. That means there is a need for scientists to assess the impacts of higher levels of warming, he said. 

The research team examined how flood risk in Europe is likely to change under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s highest emissions scenario, RCP8.5. This scenario projects 5C to 6C of warming above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100.

Screenshot 2015-04-15 16.34.53

Projected change in average global surface temperature under RCP8.5 climate projections compared to pre-industrial times. Source: Alfieri et al., ( 2015)

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Daily Briefing | Green party launches manifesto aimed at ending 'disastrous policy of austerity'

  • 15 Apr 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Green party launches manifesto aimed at ending 'disastrous policy of austerity' 
The Green party has launched an ambitious election manifesto based around the UK running a zero carbon economy by 2050. The manifesto includes increased spending on home insulation, renewable energy and flood defences and the proposal that all new homes should be built to the German Passivhaus standard of efficient heating and cooling. While laudable, elements of the Greens' climate agenda may be impossible to implement, experts tell Karl Mathiesen's Eco Audit.      The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

Wind power industry brands Tory plans 'idiotic' and 'illogical' 
The wind industry have sharply criticised the Conservatives for what it calls a "breathtakingly illogical" and "idiotic" manifesto pledge to halt the spread of onshore wind farms. But despite clear cut differences with Labour over renewable energy policy, the Conservatives are backing a range of green measures, including a push for a strong global climate change deal in Paris at the end of this year, says the FT. Elsewhere, Guardian writers analyse the key policy pledges unveiled by David Cameron yesterday.      The Financial Times

Japan court blocks restart of two nuclear reactors 
A group of nine residents has won a court injunction to prevent two nuclear reactors being restarted in Japan. Calling safety standards "too lax", a judge ruled there could be no assurance the plant would be safe, even though they meet new stricter safety standards imposed since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima power plant. The decision has been welcomed by anti-nuclear advocates, including former prime minister Naoto Kan. But many in Japan are concerned the nuclear shutdown and reliance on imported oil and gas is placing a too heavy burden on the economy. The Times and The Guardian have the story.       Kana Inagaki 

Gatwick oil gusher claims 'wildly optimistic' warns expert 
Matthew Jurecky, GlobalData's head of oil & gas research and consulting, says estimates that the Sussex Weald in the south of England could hold 100 billion barrels of oil are "very misleading" and are based on limited results produced by a single well. Last week UK Oil & Gas Investments claimed that it had discovered the UK's largest onshore oil find a few miles from Gatwick airport. Jurecky argues that just 15 million barrels of oil may actually be recoverable.       The Telegraph 

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Daily Briefing | Warming seas mean haddock could be staple of the past

  • 14 Apr 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Fish and chips | Shutterstock

Warming seas mean haddock could be staple of the past 
Haddock could be replaced on fish and chip shop menus by red mullet and John Dory as the North Sea warms, according to a new study reported by everyone. The Times says children should be fed anchovies to prepare them for the taste, as they could replace plaice and haddock. The Guardian says fishmonger favourites are being pushed out by climate change. The Mail says warmer seas will cause haddock prices to soar. The Press AssociationThe Telegraph and The BBC all have the story. Carbon Brief covered the new research too.       Financial Times 

Climate and energy news

Ontario confirms it will join Quebec, California in carbon market 
Ontario will join a carbon cap-and-trade market set up by Quebec and California, Reuters reports. The Financial Times says the details and timetable will be finalised within months. RTCC says a six-month consultation has been launched after Ontario, Canada's most populous province and second-biggest emitter, gave up hope for a national carbon market. Stephen Harper, Canadian prime minister, will release national greenhouse gas targets in June. He seeks reelection this autumn.        Reuters 

China to surpass US as top cause of modern global warming 
Cumulative Chinese emissions since 1990 will outstrip those of the US in 2015 or 2016, Reuters reports, calling it a historic shift that "may raise pressure on Beijing to act. Beijing says historical responsibility should be measured since the 18th century, since when US emissions are 10 times China's. There aremany different ways to define the fairness of climate efforts.       Reuters 

Labour manifesto declares tackling climate change 'an economic necessity' 
The Labour manifesto, published yesterday, includes broad support for climate action but lacks a list of specific policies, Business Green reports. It has a list of green statements from the document. The Guardian has analysis of the manifesto by its reporters. Carbon Brief is tracking the manifestos through the week.       BusinessGreen 

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Britain’s fish ‘n’ chip favourites could dwindle as North Sea warms

  • 13 Apr 2015, 16:20
  • Robert McSweeney

Fish and chips | Shutterstock

The likes of haddock, plaice and lemon sole could find the North Sea a less comfortable place to live as the world's oceans warms up, according to a new study.

The findings suggest that some of our favourite fish species could become less common as they struggle to cope with warming conditions, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.

Close to our culinary hearts

The fishing industry in the North Sea is worth over $1 billion a year. Some of Britain's best-loved fish are caught there, such as haddock and cod, which are among the top five most-consumed fish in the UK.

But the findings of a new study, published in Nature Climate Change, suggest that warmer waters will make the North Sea less suitable for many of our mealtime favourites. And they may not be able to migrate to other areas, the researchers say.

North sea temperatures have risen by 1.3C over the last 30 years and are predicted to rise by a further 1.8C over the next 50 years. The study estimates how these rising temperatures will affect some of the most abundant North Sea fish species.

The researchers looked at eight bottom-dwelling fish, known as 'demersal' species: dab, haddock, hake, lemon sole, ling, long rough dab, plaice, and saithe. Lead author, Louise Rutterford, from the University of Exeter, explains why to Carbon Brief:

"North Sea demersal fish species are the ones that we Brits most associate with the North Sea and they are close to our culinary hearts. There is also great data available from the UK and international trawl surveys."

Abundance and distribution

Using 30 years of fisheries data from the North Sea and projections for climate change, the researchers developed models to estimate future abundance and distribution of the eight fish species by the middle of this century.

The models take into account factors such as sea temperatures at the surface and near the seabed, and salinity. They project future fish numbers and the latitudes and depths were the fish are most likely to be found.

Contrary to expectations, the study finds fish may not search out cooler, deeper waters or head north as the North Sea warms.

You can see this in the graphs below. They are arranged in a grid: each row showing a different fish species, and each column showing how fish distributions are expected to change in terms of latitude, temperature and depth. The results for fish abundance are shown in blue for present day and red for the middle of the century.

The results for lemon sole (fourth row down) in summer show lower fish abundance in future, but with their distribution staying much the same. Both near-bottom temperature (third column) and sea surface temperature (fourth column) show warmer conditions for future. However, the depth (first column) and latitude (second column) suggest the fish will be found in similar areas to the present day.

The results for dab  (top row) show a large reduction in summer abundance. Dab tend to live in shallow waters in the southern North Sea, says Rutterford, which is expected to experience the warmest summer temperatures. These temperatures may be higher than they can tolerate, Rutterford says.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 At 12.02.24

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Guest post: What the latest science says about thawing permafrost

  • 13 Apr 2015, 10:30
  • Dr Christina Schädel

Greenland permafrost | Shutterstock

A guest post from Dr Christina Schädel, a research associate at the Ecosystem Dynamics Research Lab at Northern Arizona University.

Huge amounts of organic carbon are stored in frozen soils across the Arctic. Scientists are concerned that warming temperatures will thaw  permafrost , releasing carbon into the atmosphere. But questions still remain over how much carbon these soils hold, and how quickly it could be released.

In our new study, published last week in  Nature, we reviewed all the latest research to see what thawing permafrost could mean for climate change. We find that it is likely to be a gradual, long-lasting release of greenhouse gases over many decades rather than an abrupt pulse.

Frozen soils

In the Arctic, temperatures are so cold that soils stay frozen all year round, giving permafrost its name. These frozen soils cover about one quarter of the landmass in the northern hemisphere.

The soil holds a vast amount of carbon, accumulated from dead plants and animals over thousands of years. There is around twice as much carbon in permafrost than is currently in the Earth's atmosphere.

But global temperatures are now rising and these frozen soils are starting to thaw. Temperatures in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere have risen by 0.6C per decade over the last 30 years. As the soils thaw, the microbes they contain are woken from their ice-induced hibernation. The microbes feed on the organic carbon, converting it into carbon dioxide and methane, which is released into the atmosphere.

Vicious cycle

Scientists are concerned that permafrost thaw and the subsequent release of carbon will fuel a positive feedback loop, which will accelerate climate change. Warmer conditions cause the release of carbon dioxide and methane from permafrost, which means more warming, which in turn causes more permafrost to thaw and so on.

Calling this cycle a 'positive' feedback might be misleading. It's more of a vicious cycle.

Our review looks at the research that has been conducted and published since the last  assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Our team of scientists from across Europe and North America combined data and model outputs to address three main questions: how much permafrost carbon exists, how fast will that carbon be released to the atmosphere, and will it be released as carbon dioxide or methane?

Carbon store

We gathered together estimates of carbon stored in permafrost from the most recent studies. The map below, for example, shows estimates from one  study of the amount of organic carbon held in the top three metres of permafrost soils. The reds and orange areas show the areas that contain the most carbon, which you can see across much of Siberia and Canada.

Hugelius Et Al 2014

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Daily Briefing | Fossil fuel-free funds outperformed conventional ones, analysis shows

  • 13 Apr 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Fossil fuel-free funds outperformed conventional ones, analysis shows 
Investors who have sold off holdings in fossil fuel companies have outperformed those that remain invested in coal, oil and gas over the past five years, according to analysis by the world's leading stock market index company. Investors who divested from fossil fuel companies would have earned an average return of 13% a year since 2010, compared to the 11.8%-a-year return earned by conventional investors, reports The Guardian.  BusinessGreen also has the story.       The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

Clean energy investment hits lowest level for two years in first quarter 
Global clean energy investment in the first quarter of this year fell to its lowest quarterly level for two years, as large deals slowed in China, Europe and Brazil, new research shows. Investment in renewable energy fell to $50.5 billion in January to March compared with $59.3 billion in same quarter last year. The first quarter tends to be the weakest in terms of clean energy investment after a busy end to the financial year, the report notes.  Bloomberg New Energy Finance also has the story.        Reuters

Politics, red tape 'turning EU clean energy into zombie industry' 
The EU's dysfunctional political system is turning clean energy companies into a "zombie industry", the head of one of the bloc's biggest green power groups has warned. Manuel Sánchez Ortega, chief executive of Spain's Abengoa, said the EU are taking so long to decide what energy mix they want, especially in the biofuels sector, that companies do not know whether to keep struggling on or shut down completely. "It is better to be alive or to be dead, but the other state no one likes," he says.        The Financial Times 

Investing in fossil fuels goes against health charities' aims, says Jonathon Porritt 
Charities that work on solving problems connected to climate change should not invest in fossil fuel companies that are "out of kilter" with their charitable aims, according to environmentalist Jonathon Porritt. He spent years working on green energy projects with BP and Shell but now believes that engagement with fossil fuel companies is pointless, reports The Guardian. Porritt says they have passed on "limitless opportunities to put their houses in order" and move to a more sustainable economy.        The Guardian 

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Climate showdown: Has the US, UK or Germany done more to cut emissions?

  • 10 Apr 2015, 16:10
  • Simon Evans

The UK and Germany like to think of themselves as climate leaders. But how does their progress in cutting carbon stack up against the US, which has famously failed to pass climate laws?

Over the past two weeks the results came in, with each country publishing carbon dioxide emissions figures for 2014. Carbon Brief slices up the data to find out who's winning the climate showdown.

Climate rule

In the UK, government ministers like to boast about the nation's progress. Carbon emissions were down 9.7% in 2014, a record fall for a growing UK economy. The UK must be doing something right because other countries are modelling their efforts on the UK's legally binding Climate Change Act, which the UK's three main political leaders recently promised to uphold.

The US, by contrast, has tried and failed many times to pass climate legislation. That's why the Obama administration is trying to use and extend existing laws to force through emissions-cutting regulation. Despite this modest record on climate rules, it's common to hear it claimed that the US is leading the way on cutting emissions because of shale gas.

Meanwhile, Germany's Energiewende, its generational push away from nuclear towards an energy-efficient and largely renewable economy, is frequently either lauded or derided in UK media as an example of how (or how not) to decarbonise.

Emissions records

The UK, US and Germany all published official carbon dioxide emissions estimates for 2014 at the end of March.

Carbon Brief already took a detailed look at the UK data, which showed a 9.7% drop in carbon emissions compared to 2013. The US data shows 2014 carbon emissions increased by 1% compared to a year earlier, while Germany's fell by 4.8%.

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