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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Daily Briefing | Climate change denier in line for Senate's top environmental job

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

Climate change denier Jim Inhofe in line for Senate's top environmental job 
The Senate's top environmental job is set to fall to Jim Inhofe, one of the biggest names in US climate denial, but campaigners say Barack Obama will fight to protect his global warming agenda. Following midterm elections which saw the Republicans take control of the senate, Inhofe is now expected to become the chairman of the senate environment and public works committee.  RTCC also has the story.     The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

U.S. weather forecaster slightly reduces El Nino outlook 
Forecasters have projected a 58 per cent chance of El Nino developing during the Northern Hemisphere winter, reducing its outlook for the likelihood of the weather phenomenon in its monthly report. The US Climate Prediction Centre say the most recent atmosphere and ocean conditions had "reduced confidence that El Nino will fully materialise."      Reuters

White House declines to say whether Obama would veto a Keystone bill 
The White House says that President Barack Obama would consider any bill passed by Congress approving TransCanada's Keystone XL crude oil pipeline, but declined to say whether Obama would veto such a bill. The 1,179-mile pipeline would carry crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta in Canada to the US Gulf coast for refining.  Bloomberg reports that the Republicans will use their new majority in the Senate to force a decision. While  Reuters also reports that Canada's Finance Minister Joe Oliver remains committed to the pipeline project and that he believes "at the end of the day" it will gain approval.     Reuters 

Opec: Oil demand to hit 111m barrels by 2040 despite climate change 
Oil prices will average $177 per barrel by 2040 and the world will need to find an additional 21m barrels per day of crude over the next 25 years to meet demand, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) has said in its latest World Oil Outlook. "It is fossil fuels that will continue to play the leading role in satisfying world energy needs in the future," said Opec secretary general Abdalla Salem el-Badri.       The Telegraph 

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Climate change puts bees and flowering plants out of sync

  • 06 Nov 2014, 17:02
  • Robert McSweeney

Female mining bee | Shutterstock

Warmer spring temperatures are causing bees to hatch earlier, putting them out of sync with the flowers that they pollinate, a new study shows.

The researchers say the study is the first of its kind to show climate change affecting the sort of relationships between species that have evolved together over millions of years.

Successful pollination

Pollination by insects is hugely important for many plants. Insects are responsible for pollinating around 80-85 per cent of commercial crops, for example, amounting to around a third of global food production.

Successful pollination depends on insects being active at the same time the plants are flowering, and many plants have evolved specifically to attract particular insects.

The flowers of the Ophrys sphegodes, or 'Early spider orchid', for example, look like the female of its principal pollinator, the Andrena nigroaenea bee. The orchid even gives off a similar scent as the female.

This fools the male bees into thinking the flowers are females, and so they try to mate with them. Through this process, known as 'pseudocopulation', the bees unwittingly spread the orchid's pollen as they fly from flower to flower.

So far, so sordid. But the new study, published in Current Biology, finds that climate change is affecting this relationship, with implications for spider orchids and other plants that rely on pollinators. 

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Daily Briefing | Fracking challenged in the US

  • 06 Nov 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Clouds farmland | Shutterstock

Split Decision by Voters on Local Fracking Bans 
The small city of Denton, Texas, voted to ban hydraulic fracturing in Tuesday's election after a hard-fought battle between environmentalists and local oil companies in the heart of natural gas country, reports the New York Times. But nationwide, local initiatives to ban or restrict the oil and gas production process lost as many elections as were won, it reports, including a ban that was rejected by landslide in Youngstown Ohio. The Guardian picks up on the story with a piece focussed on Denton's vote to ban fracking. The ban is already facing legal challenge, less than 24 hours after it passed. 
New York Times 

Climate and energy news

GOP Election Rout Delivers Blow to U.S. Leadership Role on Climate Change 
US efforts to tackle climate change have been cast into serious doubt after an election that stacked the deck in Congress in favour of fossil fuel industries, says Inside Climate News. The Republican leadership is opposed to President Obama's climate policies, it says, from the domestic policies aimed at carbon emissions from coal plants to plans for a global climate treaty. 
Inside Climate News 

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What the Republicans’ midterm election victory means for global climate policy

  • 05 Nov 2014, 11:00
  • Mat Hope

US Congress | Shutterstock

The US electorate has spoken. The Republican party yesterday  won a majority in the US Senate, meaning the party controls both chambers of Congress for the first time since 2005.  That's thrown the future of US climate policy into some doubt, as Republican voters and politicians are generally  less concerned about the issue than their Democrat colleagues. 

US commentators have done a good job of rounding up  what the Republican's victory may mean for climate policy state-side. We take a more international perspective, looking at how it affects the world's chances of agreeing a  new global climate deal.

Obama's climate action plan

Last year, President Obama announced his  climate action plan. The centrepiece of the policy is a new regulation requiring power plants to cut emissions 30 per cent by 2030, known as the  clean power plan.

The Republican's Senate leader-elect, Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell, describes the policy as "a massive,  big-government boondoggle", and has pledged to try and overturn it. There are a number of ways the Republicans may set about this.

Congress can override the president if the House of Representatives and Senate both pass joint-resolutions - a kind of formal statement - as thinktank the  Centre for American Progress and blog  Climate Progress point out.

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How can climate negotiators avoid Paris 2015 being a rerun of Copenhagen 2009?

  • 05 Nov 2014, 10:25
  • Mat Hope

Climate march | Shutterstock

World leaders have a self-imposed deadline to agree a new global climate deal by the end of 2015.

The last time politicians met under such a spotlight was in Copenhagen in 2009, and the headlines following it were heavy with adjectives like  "failure" "setback" and  "disaster". So the next 13 months are being touted as crucial preparation for next year's crunch talks in Paris.

This week, representatives from business, government and civil society mulled over past mistakes and future obstacles at international affairs thinktank Chatham House's annual climate change conference - a kind of high-level get-together for climate.

Carbon Brief was there, and while the conference was held under the famous Chatham House Rule meaning we can't say who said what, we can give you an idea of what the attendees say needs to be done to get to an agreement in Paris.


Outside the conference,  protesters waved banners complaining about Shell's sponsorship of the event. That was presumably music to the ears of those inside the room, who were talking up the need for more public engagement on climate change in the build up to 2015.

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