Lima week one recap: climate talks falter as governments evade scrutiny

  • 08 Dec 2014, 14:00
  • Ben Garside

U.N. climate change negotiations in Lima have entered a tense second week with governments showing signs of backing away from moves to strengthen emission curbs to levels capable of preventing catastrophic warming.

Dozens of environment ministers are due to arrive in Peru today to join the thousands of government officials, observers and journalists from almost 200 countries at the two-week long meeting, which aims to smooth the path to a new global agreement next year.

Hopes were high going into the talks that goals announced last month by the world's two biggest emitters of heat-trapping greenhouse gases - China and the US - would speed efforts to streamline text to manageable levels that could eventually be signed by all countries at next December's summit in Paris.

But tension spilled over late on Friday and into Saturday following days of procedural wrangling when richer nations including the EU, Australia, Canada and New Zealand attempted to strip out any reference to a review or revisit of their current emission reduction commitments.

This "slash and burn exercise" risks "a quid pro quo pushback by developing countries that is not healthy for the negotiations," said Tasneem Essop of environmental group WWF said, ahead of a Sunday pause in the talks.

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Two degrees: The history of climate change’s ‘speed limit’

  • 08 Dec 2014, 10:45
  • Mat Hope & Rosamund Pearce

Hot sun on road | Shutterstock

Limiting warming to no more than two degrees has become the de facto target for global climate policy. But there are serious questions about whether policymakers can keep temperature rise below the limit, and what happens if they don't.

As climate negotiators meet in Lima to discuss a new global climate deal that could limit warming to two degrees or less, we look at each of the issues in turn.

Here, we take a look at where the two degree target came from, and how it has ended up guiding international climate policy. 

Woven into the fabric of climate policy

Perhaps surprisingly, the idea that temperature could be used to guide society's response to climate change was first proposed by an economist.

In the 1970s, Yale professor William Nordhaus alluded to the danger of passing a threshold of two degrees in  a pair of now famous papers, suggesting that warming of more than two degrees would push the climate beyond the limits humans were familiar with:

"According to most sources the range of variation between between distinct climatic regimes is on the order of ±5°C, and at present time the global climate is at the high end of this range. If there were global temperatures more than 2° of 3° above the current average temperature, this would take the climate outside of the range of observations which have been made over the last several hundred thousand years."

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Daily Briefing | Cost of climate change to world's poor bigger than previously thought

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


UN report: costs of climate change to poor much bigger than previously estimated 

Even if the world manages to cut emissions and prevent temperatures warming by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, the cost to poor countries of adapting to climate change could be between $250 and $500 billion in 2050, the UN Environment Agency says. That's two to three times higher than previous estimates. Rich countries have currently pledged to provide $100 billion a year for climate adaptation efforts by 2020. The GuardianInside Climate News and RTCC also have the story. In a separate piece, RTCC looks at the confusion over what counts as climate adaptation funding, with the OECD finding at least 24 definitions.      Associated Press via Fox News 

Climate and energy news

Climate change UN conference issues in 60 seconds 
The UNFCCC's international climate negotiations continue in Lima, Peru. The BBC has a video summarising the talks in 60 seconds. The Financial Times says "a sense of pressure has been hard to detect among the thousands of delegates" present. NGOs agree, they say negotiators "seem to have forgotten they are here to solve a planetary emergency". Australia is insisting that any new deal contains legally binding targets to cut emissions. While that may sound like progress, such a clause would likely drive away China and the US and ensure the negotiations fail, the Guardian says. Prominent economist, Lord Stern, says designing a deal in such a way would be a "big mistake", BusinessGreen reports. There are a number of sticking points for negotiators to address in the next five days, from how much funding will be offered for climate adaptation, to how often countries' climate targets may be reviewed, Associated Press says. Falling oil prices show why policymakers need to act to cut fossil fuel use immediately, another Financial Times article argues. If countries do come to an agreement to cut emissions and phase out fossil fuels, ExxonMobil and Shell would cease to exist in their current forms in 35 years, a final Financial Times article claims. Oil companies have dismissed fears that climate regulations will dent demand, however, RTCC reports.     BBC News 

Fossil-fuel lobbyists, bolstered by GOP wins, work to curb environmental rules 
The fossil fuel industry is looking at ways to delay the implementation of President Obama's clean power plan in the hope a new Republican president may overturn it. Lobbyists at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an industry-financed conservative state policy group, are planning ways to derail Obama's flagship climate policy with Republican congressmen, many of whom ALEC donated to in the recent midterm elections. In a separate piece, the Washington Post's wonkblog finds young Republicans are much more likely to favour action on climate change. That means the Republican leadership opposing climate policies could increasingly find themselves out of step with their voter base, it concludes.     Washington Post 

Labour seeks to tighten UK shale gas rules 
Labour is planning on putting froward a number of amendments to "close key loopholes" in legislation regulating the shale gas industry. Labour will seek to discourage fracking in areas of outstanding natural beauty, and call for more transparency about which fluids are used to fracture the rock. "Despite clear flaws in the existing framework, David Cameron's government have repeatedly sidelined genuine and legitimate environmental concern, and seem prepared to accept shale gas at any cost," Labour's shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex says. The news comes as scientists in the US found that many of the 750 or so chemicals that are pumped into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rock were associated with fertility and developmental problems, the Guardian reports.      Financial Times 

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Five things we've learned from the first five days of the Lima climate change conference

  • 05 Dec 2014, 13:05
  • Mat Hope

Lima, Peru | Shutterstock

Thousands of politicians, diplomats and campaigners are currently in Lima, Peru, for the latest round of international climate negotiations. News from the conference hall has so far been been fairly muted as negotiators ease themselves into the talks, due to conclude next Friday. But there have been some important developments.

Here's what we've learned from the Lima climate conference's early stages.

1) The need to get a deal is being talked up

World leaders have promised to agree a new global climate deal by the end of 2015, at a meeting in Paris. As that deadline looms ever larger, each climate meeting is instilled with an increasing sense of urgency.

The UK's energy and climate secretary, Ed Davey, told the  Telegraph:

"These are the last major annual talks before we hit our deadline in Paris next year. We need a deal in Paris - there is no alternative that will protect our national security, our economy and the way of life we take for granted."

Many of the talks' participants are still scarred by what happened last time countries tried to agree a comprehensive global climate deal, in Copenhagen in 2009. That conference's failure is driving a desire to agree as much as possible before negotiators descend on Paris.

Before the conference, negotiators were quick to state  their optimism that the Lima meeting would prove productive.

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Daily Briefing | Church of England challenges Shell and BP over climate change

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

Church challenges Shell and BP over climate change 
The Church of England has urged Royal Dutch Shell and BP to cut their carbon emissions and invest more in renewables. The church, which has about £100m invested in Shell and just over £50m in BP, is requesting that the companies take greater action to tackle the threat of global warming and take action to "adapt their businesses over the long term for a low carbon economy", reports The GuardianReuters and City AM have more on the story.     The Financial Times 

Climate and energy news

AP Interview: Australia won't pay to climate fund 
Australia will continue to directly pay for climate change adaptation in vulnerable South Pacific island nations through its aid budget rather than donate to a U.N. Green Climate Fund designed for the same purpose, the country's foreign minister said on Friday ahead of climate talks in Peru. "The Green Climate Fund is about supporting developing countries build resilience to climate change. Australia is already doing that through our aid program," Foreign minister Julie Bishop told The Associated Press.      Associated Press 

Polar ice is melting quicker than thought, study claims 
The Mail reports on new research which finds the shallow shelf seas of West Antarctica have become about half a degree warmer in the last 50 years, from 0.8 to 1.2 degrees Celsius. The result is that Antarctic glaciers are melting faster than scientists thought, causing sea levels to rise. Professor Karen Heywood, from the University of East Anglia, said: "More ice is melting and that would lead to more flooding in our country in the immediate future." New Scientist has more on the new research.      Mail Online 

Japan's CO2 emissions hit record as fossil fuel consumption rises 
Japan's emissions rose by 1.6 per cent over the past 12 months as nuclear power plant closures led to increased fossil fuel use. Japan closed all its nuclear plants after the accident at the Fukushima plant in 2011. Nuclear power had accounted for 26 percent of Japan's electricity generation but Japan has been reliant on gas and coal imports for most of its power generation in recent years. Yesterday, environmentalists awarded Japan the "fossil award" after it was revealed the country used money intended to finance climate policies abroad to support the building of new coal power plants, Bloomberg reports.      Reuters

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'Brave' legal challenge launched against UK capacity market

  • 04 Dec 2014, 17:20
  • Simon Evans

Control panels | Shutterstock

A legal challenge has been launched today against the government's capacity market, the policy designed to make sure the lights always stay on.

The challenge has been launched by Tempus Energy, a firm that aims to cut consumer energy bills by helping them use cheaper, off-peak power.

Tempus says consumers who would like to participate in the capacity market by managing their demand for energy are being discriminated against in favour of power stations that promise to be available during peaks in demand.

Tempus argues the capacity market will result in higher energy bills and subsidies to fossil fuel generators. It wants the capacity market annulled.

We take you through the basics of the capacity market, the next steps in the legal challenge and what the significance is for efforts to tackle climate change.

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Dissecting Germany’s new climate action plan

  • 04 Dec 2014, 15:15
  • Mat Hope

Germany wind turbines | Shutterstock

Germany has implemented a series of ambitious polcies to decarbonise its economy. But despite significant investment in renewable energy, the country's emissions have been rising for the last three years. Yesterday, the government  announced new measures to get the country back on track.

We take a look at Germany's new climate action plan, and what it means for the country's long term decarbonisation prospects.

Closing the 'climate gap'

In 2010, Germany announced ambitious plans to decarbonise its energy sector and cut emissions. The plan has become known as the 'energy transition', or  Energiewende.

At the heart of the Energiewende is a goal to cut emissions 40 per cent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. The target is considerably more ambitious than the EU's goal to cut emissions 20 per cent by 2020. Germany also aims to cut emissions at least 80 per cent by 2050.

The problem is, Germany's emissions have been  increasing for the last three years. Germany's government acknowledged that if emissions continued to rise, the country would miss its 2020 target by five to eight per cent.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 10.52.14.png
Source:  Clean Energy Wire. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Daily Briefing | Germany renews efforts to cut carbon emissions

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

Missing Its Own Goals, Germany Renews Effort to Cut Carbon Emissions 
The New York Times looks at German plans to cut coal use in order to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets. The proposed plans would triple the rate of emissions reductions from current levels and offer $3.7 billion euros worth of tax breaks and incentives to drive reductions, with most effort focused on energy efficiency measures. Polls show that most Germans favour reducing emissions, the Times reports. The Financial Times points out that while Berlin is acting to "avoid the embarrassment" of missing climate targets, it is still on course to cut emissions 35 per cent by 2020, well ahead of a EU-wide target of 20 per cent. Reuters also has a succinct report of the plans.      The New York Times 

Climate and energy news

UN sets modest hopes for climate pledges at 2015 Paris summit 
Reuters reports UN fears from Lima that "government pledges due in 2015 to cut rising world greenhouse gases will be too weak to avert the worst of global warming". However, a global deal is achievable, head of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres says: "The sense of urgency is there". Figueres also told the Lima summit that initial capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund of $100bn a year would be a "very small sum", and that "trillions of dollars ... need to flow into ... transformation at a global level". The Green Climate Fund will begin disbursing funding next year, RTCC reports.      Reuters 

What makes different years warmer or colder? 
It's hot. That's the conclusion of the World Meteorological Organisation and the UK's Met Office, both of which published research yesterday confirming that 2014 will be among the hottest years on record - and is quite likely to be the hottest. The Guardian, the Telegraph and the Times all covered the story, as did the BBCClimate Central looked beyond this single year at the recent trends in global temperatures, while the Telegraph also looked at the effects of rising temperatures on London. The Financial Times sets the news in the wider context of international climate politics, asking what it may mean for the UNFCCC process.      BBC News

Growing appetite for meat 'risks climate targets' 
People around the world have only a limited understanding of how much greenhouse gas emissions the meat and dairy sector is responsible for, a survey of public opinion from thinktank Chatham House suggests. If people don't know that the meat and dairy industry is responsible for emissions, they are less likely to reduce their consumption, the research says.     BBC News 

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2014 on course to be the hottest year on record

  • 03 Dec 2014, 15:00
  • Robert McSweeney & Rosamund Pearce

UK Met Office

2014 is expected to be the among the hottest years since records began for the UK and the world, and may well prove to be the hottest, according to data from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the UK Met Office.

Rising temperatures are already contributing to greater risks of extreme weather, scientists warn.

A very warm and wet year for the UK

Met Office figures released today show the mean UK temperature for 2014 is 1.6 degrees Celsius above the long-term average. Currently 2006 is the warmest year since records began in 1910, but 2014 looks likely to replace it.

In England, where temperature records stretch back further, 2014 will be one of the warmest in the 350-year Central England Temperature (CET) record , the longest instrumental record in the world.

This year has also been a very wet one for the UK, and is on course to be the fourth wettest on record. A rainy December could even put 2014 over the annual record of 1337 mm set in 2000, says the Met Office.

A record-breaking year for the world

Globally, it seems likely that 2014 will be the hottest since records began in 1850. Average air temperature over the land and sea surface for 2014 so far is 0.57°C above the 1961-90 average. The previous high of 0.55°C warmer is held jointly by 2005 and 2010.

The ranking of hottest years is shown in the chart below. The red bars show years since the turn of the century, and show that for the most part the hottest years on record have occurred in the past decade or so.

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A summary of climate and energy announcements in the Autumn statement 2014

  • 03 Dec 2014, 13:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Osborne statement | BBC

  • £2.3 billion for flood defences
  • £15 billion for road upgrades
  • Tidal lagoon energy project included in national infrastructure plan
  • £430 million in tax cuts for the North Sea oil and gas industry
  • Sovereign wealth fund for shale gas proceeds in the north of England

Chancellor George Osborne today announced new funding for flood defences, more roads, and support for a new tidal energy project.

The policies were part of the Autumn statement, effectively a mini-budget. This year's statement gave the government a chance to offer some financial sweeteners to marginal constituencies ahead of next year's election.

Unlike  last year's statement, which was chock-full of changes to climate and energy funding, today's announcement was a sparser affair. Here's a summary of the key climate and energy policy announcements.

Flood defences

The Treasury today unveiled its plan to allocate flood defence funding to vulnerable parts of the country, and assess funding needs for the next fifty years.

The planned £2.3 billion investment is expected to deliver better flood protection to 300,000 households across the Thames and Humber estuaries, Oxford, Lincolnshire and Somerset by 2021.

The government came under fire earlier this year for slashing flood defence grants to the Environment Agency by £138 million to help reduce the deficit. Many parts of the country experienced  severe flooding after prolonged heavy rain.

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