Daily Briefing | China and US strike deal on carbon cuts

  • 12 Nov 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

President Obama | Shutterstock

China and US strike deal on carbon cuts in push for global climate pact 
The big news this morning is that the US and China have unveiled a "secretly negotiated deal" to reduce their greenhouse gas output, with China agreeing to cap emissions for the first time and the US committing to deep reductions by 2025. China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, has agreed to cap its emissions by 2030 or earlier if possible, and has also promised to increase its use of energy from zero-carbon sources to 20 per cent by 2030. The US has pledged to cut its emissions to 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.  The New York Times reports Barack Obama's statement that "We hope that this announcement can usher in a new day in which China and the U.S. can act much more as partners." The  BBC says that the agreement is a "landmark in the battle against one of the world's most intractable problems." And  The Guardian also reports that the deal will put "extreme pressure" on Australia to announce similar targets. Not everyone is pleased though, as the  Financial Times reports the response from Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader: "This unrealistic plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs." The story is also covered by  Reuters and  Fox News, and you can read the full statement from the White House  here.      The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

IEA: $550bn fossil fuel handout is stalling clean energy progress 
Global fossil fuel subsidies are four times higher than those for clean energy and are "holding back investment" in both renewables and energy efficiency, the International Energy Agency (IEA) will warn today. In its 2014 World Energy Outlook report, the IEA says fossil fuel subsidies totalled $550bn last year, dwarfing the $120bn set aside for renewables.  Business Green also covers the key numbers from the IEA report. This follows news from  Climate Progress on a new report from Oil Change International and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) that finds that G20 nations are spending $88 billion annually on fossil fuel exploration. That's more than double the $37 billion spent on fossil fuel exploration by the world's largest 20 oil and gas companies in 2013.      Business Green 

Fracking won't cut bills and ministers 'oversold' shale gas benefits, experts say 
Fracking won't cut energy bills and ministers have "oversold" the benefits of UK shale gas exploration, Government-funded experts have warned. Academics at the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) said shale gas had been wrongly "heralded as the solution to our security of supply concerns". Instead of "banking on shale" the Government should support investment in more gas storage facilities to prevent prices spiking in the event of supply crises.  The Guardian also has the story.       The Telegraph 

Onshore windfarm opposition risks UK jobs, says Davey 
Energy secretary Ed Davey warns the Conservative party's opposition to onshore wind turbines risks undermining the creation of British jobs as new data showed 15,400 people are now employed in the wind power industry. The data from RenewableUK shows a 70 per cent rise in jobs in the wind power industry since 2010, while wind supplied 9 per cent of all UK electricity. But Davey says that the Conservative party's "ideological" opposition to onshore turbines was undermining new British jobs and driving up customer bills.      The Guardian 

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Flood warnings could come three days earlier, study suggests

  • 11 Nov 2014, 16:26
  • Robert McSweeney

Flooding in Cambs | Shutterstock

This week the Met Office published its   three-month outlook, giving a glimpse of likely weather for this coming winter. The forecast says predictions "favour"  near-or above-average rainfall between now and the end of January.

This might not sound like good news for those affected by last year's wettest winter on record, which saw the Environment Agency issue 14 severe flood warnings and evacuate 1,000 homes in the Thames catchment alone.

But a crumb of comfort might be that scientists are working on a way to predict the heavy rainfall that can cause flooding further in advance. A new study says that forecasting of heavy rain and storms could be happen as much as three days earlier by tracking water vapour instead of rainfall.

Flood forecasting

The study, published in Nature Communications, suggests that examining water vapour provides a more reliable way of predicting flood events than rainfall. The researchers use the example of the widespread flooding in Europe last winter to test their theory.

The UK has a range of organisations that track flood risk. In England and Wales, responsibility for flood risk information for the government and emergency services falls to the Flood Forecasting Centre (FFC). It was established in 2009 following the Pitt Review of the summer floods of 2007, and is jointly managed by the Met Office and the Environment Agency. These bodies are likely to be interested in how this new work could improve their own forecasting methods.

Water vapour

Water vapour can get transported around in the form of giant atmospheric rivers, like the one shown in the figure below.

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Daily Briefing | Rich countries subsidising fossil fuel companies by $88bn a year

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

Rich countries subsidising oil, gas and coal companies by $88bn a year 
An assessment of global fossil fuel subsidies from the Overseas Development Institute has found that the "US government provided companies with $5.2bn for fossil fuel exploration in 2013, Australia spent $3.5bn, Russia $2.4bn and the UK $1.2bn. Most of the support was in the form of tax breaks for exploration in deep offshore fields." Four times as much money was spent on fossil fuel exploration as on renewable energy development, the report suggests. The UK government has responded,  telling the BBC that "allowances" to help companies explore for oil and gas "[do] not constitute a subsidy".       The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

China Oct coal output up 2.5 pct on year - industry website 
Reuters reports: "China's coal production rose 2.5 percent from a year ago to 330 million tonnes in October, according to an industry website that cited data from the National Bureau of Statistics."      Reuters 

Global warming 'will require more UK troops sent to fight overseas' 
A senior UK military figure has warned that while climate change is unlikely to start wars on its own, "You can probably secure a 2C world, but it's most unlikely you can secure a 4C world." Climate change will act as a "threat multiplier" in the future, Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti has warned.       The Telegraph 

Peabody sees reprieve from US carbon cuts push 
The US coal industry hopes that a strong performance by the Republican party in last week's US midterm elections means plans to cut emissions from the country's power sector will be rolled back or relaxed. Peabody Coal, the largest US coal producer, said it would be up to the "next administration" to determine how the plans would be introduced. Shares in Peabody rose 13 per cent following the Republican victory, the FT reports. The Republican party has  already vowed to fight the plans, according to the New York Times.       The Financial Times 

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Study links hot weather to violent conflict in Africa

  • 10 Nov 2014, 20:57
  • Robert McSweeney

UN Peacekeepers | Shutterstock

Analysis of violent events in the past 30 years in sub-Saharan Africa reveals a link to high temperatures, a new study finds.

However, the researchers say the impact of climate is less important than many other social and economic factors. 

Heated debate

The relationship between climate change and conflict has prompted much heated debate among academics. A recent review of 50 studies found they consistently supported the theory that changes in climate can cause conflict, but the conclusion was roundly criticised by a group of 26 other researchers.

On the face of it, the connections might seem obvious. Climate change risks exacerbating competition for natural resources, causing displacement through climate extremes and natural disasters, or just making it harder for governments to manage existing problems.

Yet there is limited evidence of a direct link, partly because there are so many political, social and economic factors involved in conflict. In its recent synthesis report, the IPCC says there is "medium confidence" that climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflict by amplifying poverty and economic shocks.

These other factors are considered alongside climate in a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which analyses high temperature extremes and violent events in sub-Saharan Africa.

Violent events

The study uses temperature and rainfall data alongside a dataset of armed conflict events from civil wars and periods of instability, for the period 1980 to 2012. The maps below show this data plotted as 100km grid squares across sub-Saharan Africa.

On Map A, the dark pink areas show where the highest number of violent events have occurred in recent decades. For example, the borders between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda and Burundi show a large patch of dark pink, as does much of Zimbabwe, and Somalia on the westernmost point of Africa.

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Remote-control robots reveal why the Antarctic ice sheet is melting

  • 10 Nov 2014, 18:23
  • Robert McSweeney

Research ship | Thomspson et al ( 2014)

At current rates, ice sheet loss will become the most significant contributor to global sea level rise during this century, yet there is still a lot that scientists don't know about the underlying causes. This is partly because Antarctica is such a difficult place to take measurements.

But now robotic underwater gliders are giving scientists new insight into why the Antarctic ice sheet is melting.

Ice sheets

An ice sheet is a huge layer of ice that sits on land. The two on the Earth today are found on Antarctica and Greenland, but in the last ice age there were also ice sheets on North America and northern Europe.

The Antarctic ice sheet spans more than 14 million square kilometers, which is roughly the same size as the US and Mexico put together. The ice sheet also spills out onto the surrounding ocean in the form of ice shelves.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that the Antarctic ice sheet is currently losing around 150 billion tonnes of ice per year. One of the main areas of ice loss is from the Antarctic Peninsula, shown in the red rectangle in the map below.


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Q&A: Coal and the UK's carbon targets

  • 10 Nov 2014, 13:15
  • Simon Evans

Ferrybridge coal plant | Shutterstock

Today's Independent front page reports that the UK is set to miss its carbon targets because of coal-fired power stations staying open longer than expected.

The story is based on Imperial College research commissioned by WWF. The research concludes that coal-fired power stations could stay open into the 2030s, much later than the government expects.

Running coal into the 2030s would make carbon budgets hard to meet because coal is one of the dirtiest ways to generate electricity, with carbon emissions roughly double a gas-fired power station.

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Daily Briefing | Green energy "creates more jobs than fossil fuels" says study

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

Green energy 'creates more jobs than fossil fuels', study says 
Investing in renewables adds half a job per gigawatt hour of electricity generated, according to a UK Energy Research Centre study reported in Business Green. This is more than the equivalent figure for fossil fuels, Business Green says, making "interesting reading" for the Department of Energy and Climate Change after its ministers last week announced plans to boost North sea oil production while calling solar farms unwelcome. We looked at the UKERC study  here.       BusinessGreen 

Climate and energy news

UK carbon emissions: The stench of missed targets as the Coalition's green credentials are 'torn up and thrown out' 
The UK is set to miss emissions targets because too many of the its coal-fired power plants are set to stay open for longer than expected, according to a report from Imperial College and WWF. The Independent says this amounts to the government's green credentials being "torn up and thrown out".  Business Green and  Greenpeace EnergyDesk also have the story.      The Independent 

Obama's Clean Power Plan Probed by Lawyers and Legislators for Weaknesses - Scientific American 
President Obama's climate agenda is in the cross hairs after Republicans took control of both Houses of the US Congress, reports ClimateWire. Plans to limit emissions from existing coal-fired power stations is an obvious early target for their attentions, it says. Control of the Senate may not give Republicans the ability to quash the plan but does mean it will face pushback "every step of the way" according to legal experts.       ClimateWire 

Climate Tools Seek to Bend Nature's Path 
Retired geochemist Olaf Schuiling says climate salvation comes in the form of olivine, a green-tinted mineral found in abundance around the world, reports the New York Times. When exposed to the elements, olivine slowly takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is a natural process, but Shuiling wants to speed things up by mining olivine and then sprinkling it on paths, beaches and fields.     New York Times 

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Five things we learned from DECC's annual energy statement

  • 07 Nov 2014, 15:00
  • Simon Evans

Yesterday, energy and climate secretary Ed Davey made his annual energy statement to parliament. It's a chance for the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to tell us all how its policies are progressing, from decarbonising the UK to securing supplies and trying to keep down energy bills.

There's a mass of information in the report, but you probably don't have time to read it. So here are five things we learned from DECC's annual energy statement.

The UK is expected to miss its fourth carbon budget

The UK has set legally binding targets to cut emissions by 80 per cent of 1990 levels in 2050. A series of intermediate five-year carbon budgets mark out the path to that longer-term goal.

DECC's projections show the UK is on track to meet its second and third carbon budgets, spanning the years out to 2022. In fact the UK is expected to more than meet those budgets. And it already met its first carbon budget for 2008-2012. Good news all round, you might think.

Except the projections also show the UK missing its fourth carbon budget for 2023-2027 as the graph below shows (the columns breaching the black budget limit line on the right hand side). The government's advisory Committee on Climate Change said the fourth budget was at risk over the summer, so the conclusion isn't a surprise. But it's so important it bears repeating.


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Why the government adds green levies to household energy bills

  • 07 Nov 2014, 11:40
  • Mat Hope

Gas bill | Shutterstock

The government expects household energy bills to increase significantly over the next 15 years. But its energy and climate policies will help curb the rise, it argues, making households better-off than they otherwise would be.

It's become a familiar refrain from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The media  has something of an obsession with whether the government's efforts to decarbonise the UK's energy sector  add to people's bills. Perhaps because of this, DECC appears to have stepped up its efforts to persuade us that its policies are beneficial to consumers.

Yesterday, it  updated its estimates of how the government's policies impact household energy bills. We take a look at what DECC expects to happen, and the assumptions behind its projections.

Bills in 2020

DECC expects an average household energy bill in 2020 will be £50 lower than today in real terms.

But its projections go further than this. DECC also says it expects households will pay £92 less in 2020 than they would if the government doesn't implement any climate or energy policies, such as subsidising low carbon energy projects or installing smart meters.

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Can (green) energy policy create jobs?

  • 07 Nov 2014, 09:25
  • Simon Evans

Solar roof | Shutterstock

Politicians love to talk jobs when they make announcements. Creating jobs is much more exciting than signing bits of paper and it's easier to grasp than the "net societal benefits" used by policy wonks to justify their plans.

So policy-creates-jobs is a well-worn trope on the political scene. Examples are easy to find, from Ed Davey opening a "1,000 job" windfarm, to Ed Miliband promising to create a million green jobs or the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) claiming its Green Deal home energy efficiency scheme will " create green jobs" for a quarter of a million people.

Is there any evidence to back up these claims?

A new report from the UK's Energy Research Centre (UKERC) finds good evidence for short-term job creation as a result of low-carbon policies, but the longer term picture is much less clear. We've taken a look.

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