Daily Briefing | John Kerry: climate change is now a security issue

  • 11 Dec 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

John Kerry | Shutterstock

John Kerry: climate change is now a security issue 
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, will call on leaders to reach for an ambitious deal to fight climate change in a visit to UN negotiations today. But Kerry will not be making any new announcements and US officials say they don't foresee him jumping in to take a hands-on role in the talks. In his speech, Kerry is expected to tell leaders that America now sees climate change as a security issue and highlight the measures Obama has taken so far on climate change.      The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

Watch: Climate change explained in 60 second animation 
Experts have published a short guide to climate science to help people challenge claims about global warming made by the "ill-informed pub bore or the family know-it-all". Climate scientists at the Royal Society have produced a 60-second animation and short Q&A guide that address some of the most common claims made by people who dismiss the scientific basis of climate change. You can find the guide here.      The Telegraph 

Oil price falls below $65 for first time in 5 years 
The price of a barrel of oil has continued to fall, slipping below $65 for the first time in five years, the Financial Times reports. There is a "looming supply glut" in the international oil market, the paper warns. Shares in large oil companies fell when the news was announced. Writing for Reuters, analyst John Kemp considers the effect the falling oil price could have on the US shale gas industry, in a detailed piece. While many of the shale plays will remain profitable, "drilling on the frontier of the shale revolution, where costs are relatively high and the quality of the shale is variable and often poorly understood, is highly sensitive to prices", he warns.      The Financial Times 

Lima: Ed Davey calls for transparency on 'risky' fossil fuel investments 
The UK's energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey has called for tougher reporting rules for companies investing in "risky" fossil fuel assets which could fall in value if climate legislation is implemented in the future. Speaking at a side event to the Lima climate change conference, Mr Davey said there was a case for making it mandatory for companies to disclose information about the risks they face. The Guardian also reports the story. In other news from Lima, environmental group Greenpeace has apologised after carrying out a protest on a sensitive Peruvian archaeological site. And Japan is under pressure from other big economies such as China to set fresh emissions targets as its coal use rises, says Reuters.      The Financial Times 

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Infographic: Mapping country alliances at the international climate talks

  • 10 Dec 2014, 13:30
  • Rosamund Pearce

Under the surface of polite language and formal procedures, UN talks are more about realpolitik than they first appear.

Every country is out to further their own domestic interests, with weaker political forces banding together to have a chance of being heard against the more dominant players like the US, Russia and China.

As talks continue in Lima, we've mapped what the negotiating groups are concerned about, how they link together, and how the recent development of a US-China climate agreement has stirred things up.

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What happens if we overshoot the two degree target for limiting global warming?

  • 10 Dec 2014, 12:30
  • Roz Pidcock

Two degrees is the internationally-agreed target for limiting global warming, and has a  long history in climate policy circles. Ambition that we can still achieve it is running high as climate negotiators gather in Lima to lay the groundwork for a potential global deal in 2015.

But against this optimistic backdrop, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. With each passing year the scale of the task looms ever larger. There are very real questions about  whether or not the world will be able to stay below the two degree limit.

So what happens if we fail to meet the two degree target? What would it mean to resign ourselves to a post-two degree world? And if not two degrees, then what?

As temperatures rise, so do the risks

Two degrees above pre-industrial temperature has been agreed by countries as an appropriate threshold beyond which climate change risks become unacceptably high.

Global temperature has risen 0.85 degrees Celsius since 1880, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

We could be due another couple of tenths on top of that as past emissions take a decade or so to reach their full effect warming. Together with current and expected emissions we're essentially already committed to about one degree of warming, scientists estimate.

Extended RCPs

Extension of the IPCC's emissions scenarios to 2300. RCP2.6 limits warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels (blue), RCP4.5 levels out as about three degrees (green). In RCP8.5, temperatures exceed four degrees by 2100 and continue to rise. Meehl et al., (2013)

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Briefing: Country pledges to the UN's Green Climate Fund

  • 10 Dec 2014, 10:00
  • Mat Hope

Credit: UNFCCC

Countries have pledged a little over  $10 billion to the UN's climate adaptation fund. Contributions to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) are seen as a vital step towards countries agreeing a new global climate deal in Paris next year.

Here's our guide to the fund, the pledges, and the conditions attached to the contributions.

The Green Climate Fund

The GCF was established at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 with the aim of channeling money to help developing countries implement climate policies. But it has been struggling for funds.

When the fund is fully operational, world leaders have committed to contributing $100 billion a year. That should happen by 2020.

The GCF organised  a pledging conference on November 20th. It gave countries a platform to announce their contributions to the fund's 'initial resource mobilisation period', that runs for three years between 2015 and 2018. The GCF had originally aimed to get countries to pledge $15 billion in seed funding by the end of this year, but it  lowered the target to $10 billion in September.

Pledges from the conference fell just short of that goal, totalling  $9.3 billion, according to the GCF. Many of the pledges were made in countries' national currencies, meaning the overall value alters depending on the exchange rate.

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Daily Briefing | Wind farms "powered 43 per cent of UK homes" on Sunday

  • 10 Dec 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Wind farms 'powered 43 per cent of UK homes' on Sunday 
Official National Grid figures show 43 per cent of Britain's homes were powered by wind last Sunday, setting a new record for power generation. Electricity production from wind turbines reached record daily average of 7.315 gigawatts, reports The Guardian. The Guardian also reports on a new Canadian study which found wind turbines have no effect on property values of nearby homes. This contradicts earlier research by the London School of Economics, which found a drop in value of up to 11 per cent of homes within two kilometres of large wind farms, says The Daily Mail.      BusinessGreen 

Climate and energy news

Green measures add £100 a year to energy bills 
A new report from the Committee on Climate Change finds supporting low-carbon policies puts around £100 a year onto the average household energy bill. Most of the £490 increase in an average bill over the last decade is due to a hike in gas prices while the average household is effectively £165 better off thanks to home efficiency improvements, says the Guardian. The Times focuses on the forecast that the £45 on a typical energy bill currently going towards renewables and other low-carbon electricity is expected to rise to £100 in 2020 and £175 in 2030. Households relying on electric heating will face higher rises, potentially accounting a quarter of their total energy bill by 2030, reports The Telegraph.     Guardian 

European Union review plan causes a rift in climate change talks 
Countries including China and the US have signalled resistance to the European Union's proposal for the right to challenge nations about their pledges to tackle climate change ahead of vital negotiations in Paris next year, reports the Independent. Countries have an informal deadline to submit plans before 31 March, a plan the EU said "made no sense unless it allowed nations to review others' plans".      The Independent 

Ban Ki-moon says no 'time for tinkering' on global warming 
Ban Ki-moon has told countries gathered for climate talks in Lima that there's no time for delay in making radical transformations towards low carbon economies. The UN Secretary General is optimistic that warming can be limited to two degrees above preindustrial levels but that "the window of opportunity is narrowing", reports the Guardian. Countries are working better together thanks to leaders summit held in September, reports RTCC.     Reuters via The Guardian 

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Low carbon policies could cut household energy costs after 2030, Committee on Climate Change says

  • 10 Dec 2014, 00:01
  • Mat Hope

Windfarm in field | Shutterstock

Investing in low carbon energy generation could lower future household energy bills and insulate the economy from volatile fossil fuel prices, the government's official climate change advisor says. But only if the government commits to implementing long-term climate policies.

A new report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) assesses the impact of the UK's low carbon policies on consumer energy bills. It expects households to pay more to decarbonise the UK's energy sector in the coming decades, but says that doing so should ultimately save people money as well as helping the UK hit its legally binding climate goals.

The committee's conclusion mirrors that of  government analysis earlier this month that showed energy bills would rise significantly if the UK fails to implement climate policies.

Bill projections

The government is legally obligated to cut the UK's emissions, the committee points out. Some policies to cut emissions are paid for by households through a levy on their energy bills. While such levies are set to increase, decarbonisation should lower electricity prices in the long run and cut demand, meaning households save money overall, the committee says.

The Climate Change Act of 2008 requires the government to cut emissions  80 per cent by 2050. With about  35 per cent of the UK's emissions currently coming from the energy sector, that means some pretty significant changes to how the country generates electricity.

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Two degrees: Will we avoid dangerous climate change?

  • 09 Dec 2014, 11:30
  • Simon Evans

Limiting warming to no more than two degrees has become the internationally accepted target for climate policy, as we saw in  the first blog of our series of pieces looking at the two degrees limit.

Scientists think the risks of climate change increase as temperatures rise. Two degrees isn't a 'safe' level of climate change, but nor is it a red line with only chaos beyond, as we'll see in part three.

It is a readily understood and useful marker of how we're doing at limiting dangerous climate change that has helped focus minds on the scale of the challenge. It's also what the world's governments have committed to achieving.

So will we manage to limit warming to two degrees above pre-industrial? We take a look at what it will take to stay below two degrees, how things are going so far, how experts say we should proceed and what we'd need to do if we wanted to follow their advice.

1. What we would need to do to stay below two degrees

The world has already warmed by 0.85 degrees celsius above the pre-industrial average and if emissions stay high we're on course for more like three to five degrees by 2100,  according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.

Broadly speaking, however, scientists say it is still theoretically possible to limit warming to two degrees as long as we stick within a fixed  carbon budget. This is the total amount we can emit from the beginning of the industrial revolution until the day we stop adding carbon to the atmosphere.

So how big is the budget? It is likely that we'll stay below two degrees as long as we emit no more than about 2,900 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, the IPCC  says. 'Likely' here means a 66 per cent chance.

We've already emitted 1,900 billion tonnes, leaving a remaining budget of just 1,000 billion tonnes that we can emit between now and forever. At current rates we'll  use that quota up within 21 years.

If we're willing to accept a higher risk of breaching the two degree target then our budget would be a bit bigger. It might last 33 years at current emissions rates, instead of 21 years.

If the earth is  less sensitive to emissions than we thought, that would increase the budget too: we could emit more carbon and still stay below two degrees. But at current rates we would burn through that extra allowance in  about a decade.

Whether climate sensitivity is lower than thought or not, we don't have many years left to significantly cut emissions.

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Daily Briefing | Abandoned US oil wells still spewing methane

  • 09 Dec 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Abandoned U.S. oil wells still spewing methane, study finds 
Reuters reports: "Some of the millions of abandoned oil and natural gas wells in the United States are still spewing methane, marking a potentially large source of unrecorded greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study released on Monday." The US government are considering introducing mandatory standards for reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.     Reuters 

Climate and energy news

Saudi Arabia argues oil producers face 'huge liabilities' in climate deal 
A climate negotiator representing Saudi Arabia has warned that "pressure from environmentalists to end fossil fuel use and the possibility of a climate deal that calls for zero emissions by mid-century could get in the way of progress" on securing a global agreement to cut emissions. Oil producers should receive help to diversify their economies, Saudi Arabia has argued. Saudi is in a race against time to cut reliance on oil, the Financial Times suggests. Meanwhile poorer countries have called for ore money to be made available to pay for the damages of climate change, the Financial Times reports.     Reuters 

EU presses for accountability, opening rift at UN climate talks 
At climate talks in Lima, the EU has been pushing for any global climate agreement to include a mechanism allowing countries to challenge the policies of other nations, causing disagreement with other delegates, including the US and China. "The dispute has big implications for the deal in Paris, which could either be a patchwork of purely national offers to fight climate change beyond 2020, or one where countries and outside observers including green groups are able to challenge and influence the scope of national pledges." John Kerry, the US secretary of state, will attend the talks later this week.    Reuters 

Shell makes climate pitch as UN talks target zero carbon planet 
Oil giant Shell tells RTCC that it doesn't see a future in which the world limits warming to less than two degrees as politically or socially possible. The oil company's own scenarios of the future see much higher levels of warming by the end of the century, as well as a continued role for its products.      Responding to Climate Change 

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European summer heatwaves ten times more likely with climate change

  • 08 Dec 2014, 16:00
  • Robert McSweeney

CC 2.0: Andrew Bowden

Climate change is raising the odds of summer heatwaves in Europe by a factor of 10, according to new research from the Met Office. Over the past 10 to 15 years, the likelihood of a 'very hot' summer has risen - from once every 50 years to once every five years.

As the frequency of heatwaves increases, so do risks to human health. Improving resilience to high temperatures is critical to avoiding deaths caused by extended periods of hot weather, the authors say.

A record heatwave

The summer of 2003 was the hottest ever recorded for central and western Europe, with average temperatures in many countries as much as five degrees higher than usual.

Studies show at least 70,000 people died as a result of the extreme high temperatures. In August alone, France recorded over 15,000 more deaths than expected for that time of year, a 37 per cent rise in the death rate. The same month also saw almost 2,000 extra deaths across England and Wales.

To see how climate change is affecting the likelihood of heatwaves and other extreme events, researchers carry out attribution studies. These identify the fingerprints of human influence on observed changes in temperature, rainfall, and other climate parameters.

The heatwave was the first extreme weather event to be attributed to the human influence on the climate, with research suggesting it was made more than twice as likely because of climate change.

Now a new study, published in Nature Climate Change, finds that recent warming means a similar heatwave is even more likely. The increasing impact of humans on the climate means the risk of 'extremely hot' summers is now ten times greater than when the 2003 European heatwave struck.

Very hot summers every five years

In the new study, Met Office researchers ran their climate models twice: first with both natural climate fluctuations and manmade warming included, and secondly with only natural influences on the climate. They compared the results to see how rising temperatures have altered the odds of heatwaves in Europe.

You can see in the left-hand chart below how close the model simulations that include manmade warming (black line) are to actual recorded summer temperatures (red line). By contrast, modelled summer temperatures from a world where there's no human influence on the climate don't match up well with what scientists are seeing.

This shows summer temperatures can't be explained by natural variability alone, and climate change is playing a role, the paper explains.

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Why the UN says climate adaptation could cost developing countries $1 trillion a year

  • 08 Dec 2014, 14:20
  • Mat Hope

Floods & sandbags | Shutterstock

Adapting to the worst impacts of climate change could cost three times as much as previous estimates, a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report suggests.

Developing countries may need to stump up anywhere between $250 billion and $1 trillion a year by 2050 to build flood defences, implement early warning systems, and develop more resilient farming techniques, it says.

We take a look at the figures, and explain why UNEP thinks climate adaptation costs are going to be hundreds of billions more than previous projections.


Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a major review of climate research. It said developing countries could expect to pay about $70 to $100 billion a year by 2050 to adapt to the worst impacts of climate change.

UNEP's new report says that is likely to be a "significant underestimate." It says adaptation costs for developing countries could reach $150 billion by 2025, and $250 to $500 billion a year by 2050.

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