Daily Briefing | On eve of encyclical, pope appeals for 'our ruined' planet

  • 18 Jun 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Pope Francis on the popemobile bless faithful in St. Peter's Square

Pope Francis | Shutterstock

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IEA: China should shoulder greatest burden in raising climate ambition 
China should take on more of the effort required to get the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change, according to a special report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). In an interview with Carbon Brief, chief IEA economist, Dr Fatih Birol, says the combined impact of current climate pledges are far from what's needed to limit warming to below 2C.    Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

On eve of encyclical, pope appeals for 'our ruined' planet 
Thursday is encyclical day. Rarely has a papal writing attracted so much attention as today's encyclical on the environment, says Reuters. Calling for more investment in renewable energy and access to drinking water as an essential human right, today's "highly personal and eloquently written" 192-page document is a resounding appeal to world leaders and ordinary people to tackle climate change as a moral imperative. The Financial Times calls today's encyclical the Pope's "most aggressive step yet into public policy" while an editorial says it looks set to be "one of the defining statements of his pontificate." Coming a few months ahead of international climate talks in Paris, the timing of the encyclical should not be underestimated, writes Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development for RTCC. Many are hoping the Pope's words will sway public opinion in the US, where the issue of climate change is highly politicised. A survey ahead of the encyclical by the Pew Research Centre found 71% of US Catholics believe the Earth is warming but fewer than half think it's caused by human activity, reports The Hill. Meanwhile, US presidential contender Jeb Bush joined a conservative backlash against the Pontiff, saying he would not be guided by the church on climate change and urging Pope Francis to steer clear of global affairs, says The Guardian. In a separate article, The Guardian answers all your key questions on papal encyclicals, including when hey came into fashion and whether the Pope actually writes them.    Reuters 

New local community veto over onshore wind farms 
Local communities will today be handed new powers to veto wind farms, as the Conservatives press ahead with plans to halt the spread of turbines across the countryside, the Telegraph reports on its frontpage. The energy industry is also braced for plans - outlined in this DECC press release - of the Conservative manifesto pledge to axe subsidies for new onshore wind farms. "Up to 5.2GW of onshore wind capacity could be eligible for grace periods which the Government is minded to offer to projects that already have planning consent," stresses DECC. The Daily Mail also has the story, which carries a quote from Renewable UK saying it believes the new rules will "tilt the playing field" towards fracking.     The Telegraph 

Groundwater resources draining fast, NASA data show 
Extraction of groundwater for human consumption is depleting the world's natural aquifers, according to data from NASA's twin Grace satellites. New maps show a third of the 37 major groundwater resources are highly stressed, a problem that is set to worsen with climate change and population growth, says The Daily Mail. The two studies - the first to examine groundwater losses from outer space - show the most stressed aquifers are in extreme dry areas, such as the Middle East, northwestern India and Pakistan. Water scarcity has risky consequences for farmers and consumers, and is likely to intensify social problems, says Reuters. Lead author Prof Famiglietti tells The Financial Times, "We need to explore the world's aquifers as if they had the same value as oil reserves."Grist and Scientific Americanhave more on the story.     The Hill 

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IEA: China has greatest potential to raise climate ambition

  • 17 Jun 2015, 15:30
  • Simon Evans
Yanjinhe Arch Bridge

Yanjinhe Arch Bridge | Wikimedia

The world is not on track to avoid dangerous climate change and China has the greatest potential to close the gap in climate ambition, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In a special report on energy and climate change the IEA has added up the combined impact of current climate pledges and other likely policies, including China's hotly anticipated  contribution for the post-2020 period.

Dr Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, says in an interview with Carbon Brief that these pledges are far from what would be needed to limit warming to below 2C. We've taken a look at which countries would make the biggest contribution to bridging the gap towards 2C, under the IEA's cost-neutral bridge scenario.

Climate ambition gap

The climate ambition gap is widely recognised. Last week, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres  told Carbon Brief it was "completely clear" that current pledges would be insufficient to avoid 2C of warming above pre-industrial temperatures over the course of the century - the internationally  agreed climate target.

The IEA's new assessment suggests they would instead put the world on track for 2.6C by 2100 and 3.5C after 2200. Their long-term impact may be "rather small", says Birol, but that's largely because they extend at most 15 years out to 2030.

The pledges collectively bend the world's emissions trajectory (blue line, below) away from business as usual emissions (green line) by 6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2). Even in the short term, however, the gap between the pledges and what would be needed for 2C (yellow line) grows rapidly, reaching 9GtCO2 in 2030.

Emissions -paths -to -2030Emissions growth under the IEA's 'current policies' scenario, corresponding to business as usual (BAU), compared to the path with current climate pledges, the IEA's bridge scenario and a scenario consistent with 2C. Source: IEA special report on climate and energyIEA World Energy Outlook 2014. Chart by Carbon Brief.

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Daily Briefing | Pope’s views on climate change add pressure to Catholic candidates

  • 17 Jun 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Jeb Bush speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

Jeb Bush | Flickr

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The Carbon Brief Interview: Dr Fatih Birol 
In an in-depth interview with Carbon Brief, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency - soon to be chief executive - discusses coal, renewables, China and whether global emissions are now starting to decouple from economic growth.      Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Pope's views on climate change add pressure to Catholic candidates 
A day after the leaking of a draft of the papal encyclical on climate change much of the media was focused on what impact tomorrow's official publication might have on US politics. Davenport says that it "could put Catholics who question that established climate science in a tough position, particularly in a year in which at least five Catholics may run for the Republican presidential nomination". MSNBC reports how Jeb Bush, a Catholic candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, told a crowd in New Hampshire yesterday in response to the looming encyclical that "I don't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope". In his Dot Earth blog for the New York Times, Andy Revkin urges cautiion among those hoping the Pope's intervention might provide a major breakthrough in triggering action on climate change: "Francis remains a man, not a Superman." Reuters reported on a new survey of US opinion on climate change by the Pew Research Center. It found that US Catholics are "split" on the causes, with 47% attributing warming to human causes. It added: "Among Catholic Democrats, 62 percent believe warming is caused by human activity, compared with 24 percent of Catholic Republicans." The Washington Post also takes a look at the survey. ClimateProgress looked through the draft encyclical for the "new quotes from the Pope that could change the debate on climate change". Meanwhile, the Daily Mail notes that the Archbishop of Canterbury chose yesterday to "launch a crusade" against climate change calling on all faiths to "limit global rise in average temperatures to 2C".      New York Times 

EU set to meet green energy goal but UK, Netherlands trail 
The European Union is collectively on track to achieve its goal of sourcing a fifth of its energy from renewables by 2020, although the UK, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are lagging behind other states, according to European Commission analysis. It found that the the transport sector - which accounts for around a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions - remained a problem area and was struggling to curb the use of fossil fuels. BusinessGreen said that "industry insiders maintain that the UK renewable electricity sector faces a number of risks as it seeks to build the pipeline of projects needed to meet the 2020 goal". The Guardian also carries the story.     Reuters 

Rising green energy levies 'risk public backlash' 
Rising green levies on energy bills risk causing a public backlash that will undermine efforts to tackle climate change, a leading left-wing think tank IPPR has warned. Ministers should overhaul a series of badly-designed policies that will otherwise leave consumers paying billions of pounds more than necessary for green energy over the next decade, adds the IPPR's report. Joss Garman, the IPPR's senior research fellow on energy and climate change, explains the thinktank's thinking at EnergyDesk: "The government should overhaul the funding model for low-carbon technologies to make it fairer. New research from IPPR shows that publicly-owned, privately-run new nuclear power stations could save billpayers up to £5.5bn. Adopting the development process that Denmark uses for offshore wind could save a further billion pounds. More savings could be made by extending emissions controls on coal-fired power stations, and allowing continued growth in the deployment of the most cost-effective renewable technology, onshore wind."      The Telegraph 

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The Carbon Brief Interview: Dr Fatih Birol

  • 16 Jun 2015, 13:15
  • Simon Evans
Dr Fatih Birol

Dr Fatih Birol | Carbon Brief

Dr Fatih Birol is the chief economist of the International Energy Agency, and is responsible for its World Energy Outlook publication. He is also chairman of the World Economic Forum's energy advisory board. Before joining the IEA in 1995, he worked at the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna. Birol will take over as chief executive of the IEA in September.

On renewables and coal: "Renewables will be, if the INDCs [ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions] are implemented, in 2030 the first fuel in terms of providing electricity. Efficiency improvements accelerate by a factor of three, which is extremely important and we see that the coal consumption gets strong downward trend."

On current climate pledges: "The INDCs will not bring us there, where we want to go. They are far from bringing us to our 2C scenario."

On banning some coal plants: "The first area in terms of coal we should focus would be to ban inefficient coal-fired power plants and this can save a lot of emissions and this is not out of reach."

On carbon capture and storage: "Without having a significant carbon price in many countries it will be difficult to see CCS having an important market share."

On oil demand projections: "People who want to look at the future, need to look at the efficiency policies and their impact on the demand growth much more closely."

On a 100% renewable future: "If it is tomorrow, that's wishful thinking. But if it's in the very future, it is definitely feasible, and it is also something that I would like to see."


CB: Your bridge scenario, that you published today and identified additional action needed to keep the 2C goal in sight beyond what countries are already pledging in their INDCs [ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions], how confident are you, given what you've seen so far, that INDCs are the best way to capture national ambition and to ratchet it up over time?

FB: I think when we look at INDCs today, first of all from a political perspective, I am optimistic because for the first time I see there is a global growing commitments coming from many countries, developed and developing countries, and like Europe. We have seen many developing countries, like Ethiopia and Gabon, Russia, US, Europe, Canada and Mexico, they are all putting their pledges, and this is definitely very encouraging. At the same time, I see some other countries, such as China, such as Japan, making indications what they are going to do in terms of INDCs. Then we look at all of them together. They are covering more than two thirds of the global emissions, and then we look at the implications of those INDCs in terms of energy, there is a material impact on the energy sector.

Renewables are the main beneficiaries here. Renewables will be, if the INDCs are implemented, in 2030 the first fuel in terms of providing electricity. Efficiency improvements accelerate by a factor of three, which is extremely important and we see that the coal consumption gets strong downward trend, especially in the OECD countries, and slows down in the emerging countries. So, all in all, INDCs make an important change in the energy sector, and provide a much-needed momentum for the innovation and technology improvement. But the INDCs will not bring us there, where we want to go. They are far from bringing us to our 2C scenario. Since they are not bringing us to where we want to go, we want to build a bridge, which we call the bridge scenario. In this scenario, we have five major policy initiatives, which can be implemented tomorrow with no economic cost and with no new discovery of new technologies in place, so we can make it with existing technologies. As such, it is a set of policies which can help us to bring to a 2C trajectory - at least, leave the door open for a 2C trajectory.

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Daily Briefing | Pope Francis warns of destruction of world's ecosystem in leaked encyclical

  • 16 Jun 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Pope Francis

Pope Francis | Shutterstock

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In-depth: Is the 1.5C global warming goal politically possible? 
Is the 2C warming limit adequate? Probably not, according to a report conducted by the UN and launched at the climate change negotiations in Bonn. But while the message of the report is clear, it does not close the current chasm between climate science and policy. Sophie Yeo discusses why it seems unlikely that diplomats will agree to push down the 2C target at the Paris climate conference in December.     Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Pope Francis warns of destruction of world's ecosystem in leaked encyclical 
Pope Francis will this week call for changes in lifestyles and energy consumption to avert the "unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem" before the end of this century, according to a leaked draft of a papal encyclical. The encyclical - which counts as the highest form of papal teaching in the Catholic Church - was due on Thursday, but a draft was obtained and published by Italian magazine L'Espresso on Monday. The unauthorised release of the 192-page draft angered officials at the Vatican, who described it as a "heinous act" and warned that the document did not represent the final version of Francis' encyclical The New York Times reports. But the draft nonetheless offers a clear picture of the 78-year-old Argentine pontiff's message on the environment, "which could emerge as the most enduring legacy of his tenure", the Financial Times said. It could also "have a significant influence on conservative politics around the world", noted the Conversation. In it, Pope Francis puts much of the blame for global warming on human activity and calls on all humans, not just Roman Catholics, to prevent the destruction of the ecosystem before the end of the century, the BBC reports. The draft says population growth isn't to blame for ecological problems, but rather the wasteful behaviour of the rich. Francis backs up his comments with science showing the impact on the planet of the continual loss of biodiversity in Amazonian rainforests, the melting of Arctic glaciers, the overfishing of the seas and the pollution of the world's water supply, Associated Press reports. Reutersthe Daily Mail and Scientific American also carried the story.     The Guardian 

Weak climate plans set to overshoot world temperature goal 
Countries' current pledges for greenhouse gas cuts will fail to achieve a peak in energy-related emissions by 2030 and likely result in a temperature rise of 2.6C by the end of the century, the International Energy Agency said yesterday. The proposed emissions cuts from 2020 offered by governments for a global climate deal so far are unlikely to meet the 2C goal, a threshold scientists say is the limit beyond which the world will suffer ever worsening floods, droughts, storms and rising seas. While the pledges are a "good start", if governments do not strengthen policies, the world would be on a path to an average temperature increase of 2.6C by 2100 and 3.5C after 2200, the Paris-based IEA said. "Then we can say goodbye to the planet we have seen for centuries," IEA chief economist Fatih Birol told reporters at a briefing in London. Birol also recommended that countries' pledges on curbing carbon emissions should be revised every five years the Guardian reports.     Scientific American via Reuters 

Fracking site gets the green light 
Fracking for gas is likely to take place in Britain for the first time since the technique caused minor earthquakes in 2011, after officials gave it the green light in Lancashire, the Times reports. Local authority planning officers recommended that Lancashire county council accept an application to drill up to four exploratory wells. If Cuadrilla's application is approved at a meeting next week, it would start drilling in the autumn and begin fracking in July next year. The Financial Times also has the story.     The Times 

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In-depth: Is the 1.5C global warming goal politically possible?

  • 15 Jun 2015, 14:30
  • Sophie Yeo
Aerial view of Penrhyn atoll in the Cook Islands

Penrhyn, Cook Islands | Ewan Smith

For the past five years, international climate change negotiations have been guided by the  principle that the rise in global average temperatures should be limited to "below 2C above pre-industrial levels".

Is this goal adequate? Probably not, according to a report conducted by the UN and launched at the climate change negotiations in Bonn.

Containing the views of 70 scientists gathered together in a process called the "  structured expert dialogue", the report warns that even current levels of global warming - around 0.85C - are already intolerable in some parts of the world. It says: 

"Some experts warned that current levels of warming are already causing impacts beyond the current adaptive capacity of many people, and that there would be significant residual impacts even with 1.5C of warming (e.g. for sub-Saharan farmers), emphasising that reducing the limit to 1.5C would be nonetheless preferable."

This report provides the evidence base for discussions at UN level over whether the world is being ambitious enough on long-term action to tackle climate change.

Climate talks in Bonn

While the message of the report is clear, it does not close the current chasm between climate science and policy.

At UN climate negotiations  in Bonn last week, the report and its findings were subject to intense scrutiny and discussion by diplomats from around the world.

It is these policymakers - not the scientists - who get the final say on whether the findings become the new basis for future political decisions, embedded in a new international climate deal set to be signed at the end of this year in Paris.

The views of diplomats around the world differ widely on how the findings of the report should be incorporated.

At the most hopeful end of the scale, countries want to include an official decision that "there is a need to strengthen the global goal on the basis of limiting warming to below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels".

A minority would rather ignore the report - the product of two years' work - altogether.

In any case, two weeks of discussions ended in an outcome that most had hoped to avoid: just two short sentences acknowledging that a report had been written, and that countries would continue to discuss it when they meet again in Paris.

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Daily Briefing | Renewable power will overtake coal if climate pledges are kept

  • 15 Jun 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Solar energy panels and wind turbines

Solar and wind power | Shutterstock

In depth: Trust high but progress slow at UN climate talks in Bonn 
Last week diplomats completed the latest round of UN talks on climate change, intended to whittle down a draft text into something that could form the basis of a UN climate agreement this December. After two weeks of negotiations the text now stands at 85 pages, but the final deal signed in Paris is expected to come in at around 15 pages, so progress might seem minimal. But behind the scenes, trust between parties is growing. Simon Evans and Sophie Yeo report from Bonn.    Carbon Brief

Climate and energy news

Renewable power will overtake coal if climate pledges are kept 
Coal, currently the world's leading source of electricity, would take second place to renewables within 15 years if current climate pledges are met according to a new International Energy Agency report. Energy firms are making a "major fatal error" if they assume they won't be affected, IEA chief economist Fatih Birol tells the Financial Times. He tells the Guardian that the industry will only change if governments show they are serious about tackling climate change. Bloomberg reports the IEA's finding that fossil fuel subsidies are in places 16 times higher than carbon prices.   Reuters says the IEA thinks the world is off course against the 2C climate goal. RTCC,  Carbon Pulse and Business Green also have the story.      Financial Times 

Storm on climate change awaits pope's environment letter 
Pope Francis will call on all people to be "stewards of creation" on Thursday in what Reuters calls "the most feverishly awaited papal encyclical in decades". Mail Online says the pope will call for a "revolution of hearts and minds to stop climate change and global inequality". The Times says he is "ready to tackle climate change deniers. The New York Times says he may find wariness among some US bishops. In a second article the NYT says the pope's message will explore climate's effect on the world's poor. The Telegraph says the pope will appeal to non-Catholics to heed his climate warning. The Guardian calls it an "explosive intervention" that will "transform [the] climate change debate". Geoffrey Lean asks how green the man in white really is.     Reuters 

Rich nations in stalemate over coal subsidy phase-out 
Talks on phasing out export credit guarantees for coal have ended in stalemate, Reuters reports. The 34-nation Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has been trying to end the support for coal for a year, it says, but Japan has led calls for more time despite signing up to a G7 pledge on fossil fuel subsidies last week. The G7 declaration was a "ray of sunshine", despite being partially symbolic, writes the FT's Isabella Kaminska.     Reuters 

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Daily Briefing | Bonn meeting ends with last-minute compromise on Paris climate text

  • 12 Jun 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

ADP Plenary | IISD

Climate and energy news

Bonn meeting ends with last-minute compromise on Paris climate text 
Climate change negotiators meeting in Bonn yesterday came up with a last-minute compromise that observers hope will put the talks on track for a new global agreement on greenhouse gases. The talks in Bonn were a staging post on the way to a "crunch conference" in Paris this December. The UN said progress had been made towards streamlining the text of a new climate agreement, but with just four pages cut in two weeks, many NGOs are calling for a faster pace, the  BBC reports. The World Resources Institute said progress had been "slow" and did not match strong signals for ambitious climate action from outside the negotiations. Laurence Tubiana, special representative for the Paris climate conference, said the talks had gained the trust of parties. "I'm feeling optimistic after these two weeks,'' she said. "We should not be frustrated and disappointed." The climate negotiations also resulted in a "surprise deal" to compensate developing nations that agree to preserve their forests, Grist writes.  RTCC also carried the story.     The Guardian 

UN welcomes oil groups' help to fight global warming 
The UN will accept an unusual offer from six of Europe's largest oil and gas groups to help it fight global warming as countries work on sealing a new international climate change agreement due in December. The proposal from companies including Royal Dutch Shell and Britain's BP was "very, very welcome", the UN's top climate official, Christiana Figueres, told the Financial Times. Chief executives of the six companies wrote to Figueres in May saying they wanted to help countries devise a global carbon-pricing system ahead of the climate agreement. The move laid bare a transatlantic rift between some of the world's largest energy groups, after US oil producers, Chevron and ExxonMobil, declined to join.      Financial Times 

Australia 'overstated' emissions to make climate target look ambitious 
Australia is on course to meet its carbon-cutting goal for 2020 - but the government deserves little credit, writes RTCC. Energy analysts say it "systemically overstated" projections of carbon dioxide, failing to reflect slower emission growth from its slackening economy. Set to meet a 5% cut on 2005 levels by 2020, a report by RepuTex found that the country is using erroneously high forecasts and "pocketing the difference".      Responding to Climate Change 

Climate sceptic researcher investigated over funding from fossil fuel firms 
Dr Willie Soon from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is being probed over a failure to disclose more than $1.2m from the energy industry when submitting articles. A handful of academic journals have asked Willie Soon - who is frequently held up as an authority by those who reject the underlying science behind climate change - to explain himself the the Climate Investigations Center (CIC) told the Guardian. Soon is also under two parallel ethics investigations by the Smithsonian, a spokesperson for the institution said.      Guardian 

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In depth: Trust high but progress slow at UN climate talks in Bonn

  • 11 Jun 2015, 20:00
  • Sophie Yeo and Simon Evans in Bonn

Diplomats have completed the latest round of UN talks on climate change, intended to whittle down a draft text into something that could form the basis of a UN climate agreement this December.

Negotiators managed to cut down the sprawling text, which they agreed in Geneva earlier this year - a 90-page document containing all the views of all countries.

After two weeks of negotiations, the text now stands at 85 pages, or 2,730 words shorter than before. The final deal signed in Paris is expected to come in at around 15 pages, which gives some indication of the scale of work needed over the next six months, if the summit is to be a success.

This deal will define how the world plans to cut its emissions over the course of the century, as well as putting countries on track to achieve reductions in the short term.

The shorter version of the text is substantively no different to what countries had when they started the negotiations two weeks ago. It is cleaner, less repetitious and easier to understand, but still lacks a structure appropriate for the anticipated legal agreement.

Some pointed to the slow pace of work in Bonn as evidence of a faltering UN process. Others offered a more upbeat interpretation, highlighting the trust that was apparent in a frequently acrimonious process.

The stage has also been set for future sessions, with the co-chairs, who are responsible for shepherding countries through the negotiations, promising to deliver a newer, even clearer text on 24 July, which will be the basis of further negotiations ahead of the final summit in Paris in December.

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Oxygen is an overlooked factor in past climate, study suggests

  • 11 Jun 2015, 19:00
  • Robert McSweeney
A view of the Earth and stars from space

Earth from space | Shutterstock

It's well established how carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour affect our climate. But a new study suggests another gas may have played a role in Earth's long climate history - oxygen.

Natural variations in atmospheric oxygen levels could be a missing factor in piecing together Earth's past climate, the researchers say. The findings help explain why climate models tend to simulate temperatures 100m years ago that are lower than scientific evidence suggests.

Oxygen levels

Today, oxygen makes up around 21% of the air we breathe. But that hasn't always been the case. Over the last 500m years, known as the Phanerozoic eon, oxygen levels have been as low as 10% and as high as 35%.

This period has seen the evolution of life as we know it, and scientists know that changes in atmospheric oxygen has been intertwined with how life on Earth has thrived .

Now new research, published today in the journal Science, suggests that oxygen may have had a role in how our climate evolved as well.

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