Forest degradation as bad for climate as deforestation, says report

  • 08 Apr 2015, 17:40
  • Sophie Yeo

Deforestation | Shutterstock

Degradation of tropical forests could be as severe a problem as full-scale deforestation when it comes to their carbon emissions.

While not as widely recognised within policymaking circles, the steady deterioration of forests across places such as the Amazon and Borneo could be responsible for 6-14% of all human-caused emissions.

This is the finding of a new review into the state of the world's tropical forests, conducted by the International Sustainability Unit, a charity backed by Prince Charles.

The problem demands a re-evaluation of forest policy, which leans towards stemming deforestation as the key to curbing tropical forest emissions, says the report.

Carbon Brief looks at the role of forests in curbing climate change.

High emissions

Tropical deforestation is a major driver of climate change. In areas such as the Amazon, forest ecosystems absorb and store carbon, and cutting them down emits between 2.9 and 3.3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide* every year, or around 8% of the global total, the report says.

But deforestation is only part of the story. In addition to this, the degradation of tropical forests releases between 2.2 to 5.39 gigatonnes into the atmosphere, or around 6-14% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

This means that total combined emissions from tropical forests comes to between 5.1 and 8.36 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, or between 14 to 21% of all human-caused emissions (green area, below).

In comparison, 31.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide is emitted every year by fossil fuels and cement production (grey area, below).

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 At 17.16.38

Percentage of annual carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and forests. Data from ISU report.



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Daily Briefing | Solar farms shelved following government contract controversy

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

Solar roof | Shutterstock

Solar farms shelved following government contract controversy 
Two solar projects that recently won support under the government's Contracts for Difference scheme will now no longer go ahead. A register of projects just released confirms Wick Farm Solar Park in Somerset and Royston Solar Farm in Hertfordshire have been scrapped, with developers saying they couldn't operate commercially with such a low guaranteed price per unit of electricity generated. Both projects agreed strike prices of £50/MWh in the first CfD auction last month.      BusinessGreen 

Climate and energy news

Top academics ask world's universities to divest from fossil fuels 
Academics Stand Against Poverty (Asap) - a global group of about 2,000 researchers who study poverty and development - are urging top universities to follow the lead of Stanford, Syracuse and Glasgow in committing to divesting from fossil fuel holdings. Institutions that seek to educate the young in order to better the future while simultaneously profiting from the destruction of said future is "neither tenable nor ethical", a statement from the group reads.      The Guardian 

'Climate change has arrived' warns Marshall Islands foreign minister 
Marshall Islands foreign minister, Tony de Blum, has said intense tropical storms in the Pacific are 'the new norm' and evidence of climate change is affecting weather patterns. Typhoon Maysak passed across the North Pacific last week before making landfall in the Philippines. A few weeks before, Cyclone Pam tore through the island nation of Vanuatu.      RTCC 

Norwegian green energy to power UK homes 
Green power from Norway will soon be powering hundreds of thousands of homes in Britain, National Grid says. The £1.4 billion North Sea Network (NSN) interconnector project aims to import enough hydro-power from Norway to provide 14% of yearly household electricity needs in the UK.        BBC News

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The Carbon Brief interview: Jean-Pascal van Ypersele

  • 08 Apr 2015, 08:50
  • Roz Pidcock

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele is professor of climatology and environmental sciences at the  Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. He has held the position of vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for seven years and is now running for the role of chair, to succeed Dr Rajendra Pachauri who  stepped down in February.


As part of his campaign for the IPCC chair, van Ypersele discusses.... 

Greater transparency: "I think the IPCC would benefit from opening in an organised way its work to more media scrutiny."

The two-degree target: "The IPCC doesn't say that fossil fuels … need to be phased out, it will say that emissions need to be brought to zero … which is different".

The IPCC's new carbon budget: "Confronts policymakers with numbers that some have a difficulty to accept".

Climate risks increasing with temperature: "This is coming from the carbon cycle laws, the laws of nature which you cannot negotiate."

The first rule of climate science is honesty: "There is absolutely, absolutely no gain, I believe, in exaggerating anything."

IPCC authors: "[Authors from developing countries] have not always felt a perfect team spirit and respectful atmosphere in their work for the IPCC."

'Himalayagate': "Now, did we learn enough about the lessons of the mistakes in the past? I think the answer is no."

The lack of women in senior IPCC roles: "I would most welcome having more women in the IPCC leadership … I'm very hopeful that we will have that in the next round"

Climate skeptics on Twitter: "I don't block any of them, contrary to some of my colleagues"

His rivals for the IPCC chair: "There are some good people who have in their capacity as co-chairs, for example, done a good job. But the position of chair at the IPCC is different"


View on YouTube


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Daily Briefing | California governor tells climate change deniers to wake up

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

Los Angeles | Shutterstock

California governor tells climate change deniers to wake up 
As California faces the worst drought in its history, climate change is a "damn serious" problem says governor Jerry Brown. "With the weather that's happening in California, climate change is not a hoax," he says. Last week, Brown announced new restrictions for water in order to cut usage by 25%, reportsRTCC. And Inside Climate News reports the Sierra Nevada snowpack, whose meltwater is a major source of California's drinking water, is at a record low. Meanwhile, Reuters reports an exclusive that the state used 70 million gallons of water in fracking in 2014, despite the shortages. And the BBC has the drought in pictures.        The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

Many of the vast glaciers in western Canada could almost disappear by end of the century 
Many of the vast glaciers of western Canada could have almost disappeared by the end of the century according to one of the most detailed studies of how fast mountain glaciers are melting. The flow of meltwater into the oceans will peak within the next 20 years as the rate of melting increases rapidly over the next couple of decades, even if countries agree on a climate deal in Paris this December. The New York TimesNew Scientist, and The Huffington Post" also covered the story, and you can read more from Carbon Brief here.      The Independent 

Iran nuclear deal primes market for rising oil exports 
The nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers could lead to a boost in its oil exports and see major oil and gas companies returning after pulling out in 2010, reports the Financial Times. Sanctions aimed at reining in Iran's nuclear activities have reduced exports to about 1.1 million billion barrels a day - half their pre-sanctions level. Iran is expected to start preparing for new contracts with western companies, with Total and Italy's Eni thought to be among the first to sign up. Also, RTCC has three lessons the Iran nuclear deal can teach climate negotiators.       The Financial Times 

Canada passed on U.S.-Mexico climate announcement 
Reuters reports that Canada declined an invitation last week to announce a new climate policy with the US and Mexico. The Canadian government were asked to join a high-level bilateral clean energy and climate policy task force. While Canadian officials were supportive of joint policy across North America, the offer was turned down because Canada has not yet finalised its own domestic strategy, Reuters says.       Reuters 

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Western Canada’s glaciers could shrink by as much as 95% by 2100, study finds

  • 06 Apr 2015, 16:00
  • Robert McSweeney

Athabasca glacier | Shutterstock

The Canadian Rockies, which sit as a backdrop to many a stunning vista, could be almost entirely devoid of glaciers by the end of the century, a new study suggests.

Researchers modelled the impact of rising temperatures on glaciers across western Canada.

The results show widespread ice loss by 2050, and ice all but vanishing a few decades later.

Rising temperatures

Around 27,000 square kilometers of Western Canada is covered by glaciers, an area similar in size to the amount of ice in the Himalayas or the whole of South America.

For the new study, published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers developed a model to see how rising temperatures will affect the volume and area of glaciers in three regions in western Canada. These regions are shown in the map below: the coast (green sections), the interior (pink) and the Rockies (blue).Clarke Et Al Fig1


Map of study area in western Canada, including three subregions of the Coast (green), Interior (pink) and Rockies (blue). Present-day (2005) glacier extent is shown in white. Source: Clarke et al (2015)


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Daily Briefing | California imposes first mandatory water restrictions to deal with drought

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

Irrigation pipe | Shutterstock

California Imposes First Mandatory Water Restrictions to Deal With Drought 
Californian governor Jerry Brown has imposed a 25% reduction in water use in the wake of the state's historic four-year drought. His executive order was directed the State Water Resources Control Board, and will affect 90% of California's residents over the coming years. State officials said the regulations would affect homeowners, farms, and businesses.      The New York Times

Climate and energy news

Guardian Media Group to divest its £800m fund from fossil fuels 
The Guardian Media Group will divest its £800 million investment fund from fossil fuels, making it the largest fund yet to totally pull out from oil, coal and gas. Neil Berkett, chair of the group, called it a "hard-nosed business decision" based on both ethical and financial considerations, while he admitted that the amount of fossil fuel assets held by the fund were in the low, single digits. The Guardian newspaper has been running a divestment campaign at the request of outgoing editor Alan Rusbridger.        Guardian

EU emissions fell five per cent in 2014 under trading scheme 
Emissions from installations covered by the EU's emissions trading scheme dropped by nearly 5% in 2014, despite a 1.3% growth in GDP. The preliminary figures suggest that the bloc has managed to hit its 20% emissions reduction deadline ahead of its 2020 deadline. Analysts agreed that the ETS had caused a record drop in emissions in the region.     BusinessGreen 

Germany sets very high bar for fracking 
Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet effectively ruled out fracking with a draft law regulating the practice. "Protecting health and drinking water are top priorities. For this reason, we want to restrict fracking as far as possible," said environment minister Barbara Hendricks. The bill, which requires the approval of Parliament, would impose an outright ban on fracking for shale gas in the next few years, although it could allow commercial fracking from 2019 in exceptional circumstances.       Reuters 

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Ambiguous Russian climate pledge mystifies many

  • 01 Apr 2015, 18:00
  • Sophie Yeo & Simon Evans

Russia submitted a pledge to limit its emissions to the UN yesterday, simultaneously surprising and confusing many in the world of climate change.

Few had expected Vladimir Putin's government to meet the UN's loose 31 March deadline for "intended nationally determined contributions" - the series of national pledges that will, in part, form the basis of an international climate change agreement in Paris later this year.

Delivering its pledge just hours after the US, the Russian Federation left many baffled with its vaguely worded targets.

"Limiting anthropogenic greenhouse gases in Russia to 70-75% of 1990 levels by the year 2030 might be a long term indicator," the unofficial translation of the submission says - in other words, a 25-30% reduction on 1990 levels.

But there are caveats. Unlike other countries that have pledged, Russia says its final decision is contingent upon the outcome of the UN climate negotiations, along with the INDCs of other major emitters.

It also says that its target include accounting as generously as possible for carbon dioxide absorbed by its vast boreal forests.

Furthermore, it points to Russia's legally binding 2020 target, committing the country to limiting its emissions to 25-30% below 1990 levels - exactly the same limitation pledged in its new 2030 target.

Carbon Brief unravels some of the knots of Russian climate change policy.

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Climate sensitivity is unlikely to be less than 2C, say scientists

  • 01 Apr 2015, 12:15
  • Roz Pidcock

Does the fact that surface temperatures are rising slower than in previous decades mean scientists have overestimated how sensitive the Earth's climate is to greenhouse gases?

It's a question that's  popped up in the  media from time to time. And the short answer is probably no, according to a  new paper in Nature Climate Change.

Using temperature data up to 2011, the authors work out a value of climate sensitivity of 2.5C, comfortably within the range where scientists have suggested the 'real' value lies.

Questions about climate sensitivity are complicated, and won't be solved by any single bit of research. But the new paper seems to contribute to a growing confidence among scientists that climate sensitivity is unlikely to be less than 2C.

A lower limit

Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) is the warming we can expect per doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide above pre-industrial levels. In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  estimated the value is likely to lie between  1.5 and 4.5C. This marked a change from previous reports, which put the lower boundary at 2C.

The  new paper says lowering of the limit was partly "an effect of considering observations over the warming hiatus". This refers to the last 15 years or so in which surface temperatures have risen  slower than in past decades, even though we're emitting greenhouse gases  faster.


Global average surface temperature since 1860 from the  four main temperature records. Source: Rosamund Pearce, Carbon Brief.

So what, if any, impact has the so-called surface warming slowdown had on climate sensitivity?

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Daily Briefing | US makes climate pledge to UN

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

US makes climate pledge to UN 
The US has pledged to tackle climate change by cutting its carbon emissions 26-28% by 2025. It made the formal offer to the UN as a step towards a global deal in Paris in December. The measures outlined by the US "will roughly double the pace of carbon pollution reduction in the United States," reports Reuters. The climate commitments would be "locked in" by the time President Obama leaves office, and could not easily be reversed by a Republican president or Republicans in Congress, says The Guardian. Yesterday was the deadline for wealthy nations to make their offers, with some - including Japan, Canada and Australia - failing to meet the March 31 deadline, says The Financial Times. The European Union's 28 member states, Mexico, Norway and Switzerland have all submitted their plans, meaning 24% of global emissions are now covered, says RTCC, who also live-blogged the various countries' announcements.  BusinessGreenBloomberg New Energy Finance and Climate Progress also have the story, and you can read Carbon Brief's take here.      BBC News 

Climate and energy news

UN: New renewables broke through 100GW barrier in 2014 
In 2014, more than 100GW of renewable generating capacity was added across the world for the first time, says a new report from the UN environment Programme. Global investment in renewable energy during 2014 increased by 17% from 2013 levels to $270 billion. China was biggest investor, pumping a record $83.3 billion into the sector, the US was second and Japan a close third. Solar power accounted for $149.6 billion of total investment, while wind power accounted for $99.5 billion, reports Reuters. This shows just how much wind and solar are leaving all other renewables in the dust, says The Washington Post. While RTCC highlights that renewable energy investments in developing countries are close to overtaking those in the developed world for the first time. BusinessGreen takes you through the report in numbers, and there's more coverage in Bloomberg New Energy Finance.      BBC News 

Barack Obama gives Shell go-ahead to drill for oil in Alaskan Arctic 
Royal Dutch Shell has received the go-ahead from the US government to restart a controversial oil exploration campaign in the Alaskan Arctic, despite fears over the risk to the environment. The Department of the Interior approved the request to return to the Chukchi Sea within the Arctic circle. The decision to permit Shell back into Alaska could also trigger a rush by other nations to tap their Arctic resources, says The Telegraph. "It's an indefensible decision," says Greenpeace Arctic campaigner Ian Duff. Reuters also has the story.       The Telegraph 

Polar bears are forced to raid seabird nests as Arctic sea ice melts 
Polar bears are raiding the nests of seabirds for eggs as the melting of the Arctic sea ice is forcing them to spend more time on land, according to a new study. Biologists have found that polar bears are spending an increasing amount of time in bird colonies each year as they search for alternative source of food during the breeding season. The date the bears begin arriving to raid the bird nests is now almost a month earlier than it was 10 years ago, the researchers say.       Mail Online 

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Paris 2015: Tracking country climate pledges

  • 31 Mar 2015, 18:10
  • Carbon Brief staff

Updated 23 April with Liechtenstein's INDC.

31 March marked the loose deadline for countries to submit their pledges to the UN on how far they intend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

These promises, known as "intended nationally determined contributions", or INDCs, will determine the success of the deal that the UN hopes to sign off in Paris in December this year.

While only five countries plus the EU made the deadline, more than a hundred others are expected to filter in throughout the coming eight months.

Carbon Brief is tracking the pledges made by each country. We'll update this post as each INDC comes in.

To find out exactly what an INDC is and why it matters, read our explainer here.

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