Five charts showing the EU's surprising progress on renewable energy

  • 11 Mar 2015, 13:06
  • Simon Evans

Renewables provided 15% of the EU's energy in 2013, according to new data published yesterday by Eurostat, the EU's official statistical body.

The figures show the EU is on track to meet its 20% renewables target in 2020. Transport and heat are lagging behind progress in electricity, where wind and solar remain relatively small contributors. The figures also show that the UK is further behind its 2020 renewable energy target than all other member states.

Carbon Brief breaks down the figures to show how the EU is progressing towards its 2020 target, which sectors are going green and where it's getting renewable energy from.

Member state performance

Under the headline 20% by 2020 EU renewables target, each member state has its own goal. These were set in early 2008 and reflected progress at the time and capacity to add further renewable energy by 2020. The sum of national targets adds up to the overall 20% goal.

Progress varies widely among the 28 member states. For instance, Sweden, which got 39% of its energy from renewables in 2004, has a 49% target for 2020. It has already exceeded this target by 3% (far left column, below).

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 At 11.46.21

Member states' gaps between their renewable energy shares in 2013 and their targets for 2020. Sweden (SE) has exceeded its target. The UK is furthest behind, closely followed by the Netherlands (NE). Source: Eurostat. Chart by Carbon Brief.

The UK is near the bottom of the pile, with a 5.1% renewable share in 2013 up from 1.2% a decade earlier. Only the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Malta get a lower share of their energy from renewables than the UK.

The UK is further behind its 2020 target than any other member state, remaining 10% short of  its 15% goal for 2020 (far right column, above). Renewable energy's share of the energy mix has grown more quickly in the UK than in most other member states, however.

In the decade to 2013, the UK renewable share quadrupled, a feat matched only by Belgium, Luxembourg and Malta. The German renewable share doubled over the same period.

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Daily Briefing | Ineos to embark on 'fracking' in northwest England

  • 11 Mar 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Ineos to embark on 'fracking' in northwest England 
Petrochemical firm Ineos has bought exploration rights to drill for shale gas in northwest England from smaller rival IGas in a £30 million deal.  The Telegraph says the deal will see Ineos drill up to 11 wells and frack six of them, but could affect  planned payments to communities. Ineos hopes to be the UK's largest shale gas company says  Business Green. Meanwhile Durham University's Liam Herringshaw asks  what happened to Europe's shale gas boom.       Financial Times 

Climate and energy news

Flood risk amplified by 'foolhardy' building, MPs say 
Building on floodplains is putting thousands of homes at risk, according to a report from MPs covered by Business Green. The UK's programme on adapting to climate change is failing to address the issue, the MPs say. The need to adapt is "unavoidable" and flooding poses the biggest adaptation challenge to the UK, the MPs say.          BusinessGreen 

Vatican official's speech hints themes of Pope Francis' upcoming encyclical on climate change 
Recent global warming is not contested and Christians have a duty to address the problem, according to a Vatican official who helped draft Pope Francis' expected 'encyclical' on climate change. Cardinal Peter Turkson says Christians should be tackling the problem "irrespective of the causes", reports the Associated Press. The Pope's climate message is due to be released in June or July.        Associated Press via Fox News 

Florida governor Scott denies banning phrase 'climate change' 
Florida's governor Rick Scott has denied reports he banned employees of the state's environment agency using the terms "climate change" and "global warming", reports RTCC. The  Washington Post says at minimum officials "perceived" a ban. It compares Florida's attempt to control the message on climate to similar efforts by former president George W. Bush.        RTCC 

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How ambitious is the EU's offer to the Paris climate change talks?

  • 10 Mar 2015, 12:15
  • Simon Evans

Paris | Shutterstock

The EU has set out its contribution to a new international climate change agreement, in advance of talks in Paris this December.

The EU pledge, known as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), was submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on Friday and is the second official submission, following first-placed Switzerland.

Carbon Brief runs through the key points from the EU's offer and summarises reactions to the announcement.

The EU's ambition for the world

The EU's INDC is set out in a relatively brief three-page table repeating climate and energy targets for 2030 agreed by EU leaders last October. The headline is to reduce domestic EU greenhouse gas emissions by "at least 40%" by 2030, against a 1990 baseline.

The EU says this is in line with an existing EU objective to cut emissions by 80-95% in 2050 against 1990 levels. It also says the target is consistent with "the need for at least halving global emissions by 2050 compared to 1990".

The EU's more detailed Paris Protocol, published on 25 February, says UN talks in Paris should set a long-term 2050 climate goal, as part of a legally binding climate agreement applicable to all countries. It proposes a 60% cut in global emissions by 2050 against a 2010 baseline.

This is consistent with the latest science, which says global emissions should be between 40 and 70% below 2010 levels in 2050, reaching net-zero between 2080 and 2100, if warming is to be limited to two degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.

The EU proposal is not consistent with a more ambitious global climate target of limiting warming to below 1.5 degrees, however. On Friday, African ministers published the Cairo Decleration which backs a 1.5 degrees goal for Paris. This would require a 70-95% reduction in emissions by 2050 and be net-zero by between 2060 and 2080.

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Daily Briefing | First round-the-world solar flight takes off from UAE

  • 10 Mar 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Solar impulse | Shutterstock

First round-the-world solar flight takes off from UAE 
A plane began a ground breaking attempt yesterday to fly around the world using only solar power. The plane, which set off from Abu Dhabi for the 35,000km flight, has almost 17,250 solar cells built into the wing to supply four electric motors and recharge lithium batteries that allow the plane to fly at night. While solar power may not provide a solution to decarbonising the aviation industry, the event is meant to raise awareness of the potential for renewable technology to revolutionise everyday energy use, say the pilots. BusinessGreen and Ars Technica also reported on the launch. The Telegraph has the event in pictures.       Reuters 

Climate and energy news

Global warming 'set to speed up to rates not seen for 1,000 years' 
New evidence suggests the rate at which temperatures are rising in the northern hemisphere could be 0.25 degrees Celsius per decade by 2020 - a level not seen for at least 1,000 years. Different scenarios of future emissions showed that even at the lower end of greenhouse gas generation, climate change picked up speed in the next 40 years. The Daily Mail and Scientific American also have the story. Carbon Brief covered the new study here.       Press Association via Guardian 

Nasa animation reveals perfectly choreographed orbits of crafts around Earth 
NASA has created a mesmerising video showing the path its 18 satellites take as they orbit earth 400 miles above our heads. The spacecraft circle the planet once every hour and a half measuring rainfall, solar irradiance, clouds, sea surface height, ocean salinity and other global properties. Some satellites circle Earth at the poles, monitoring the entire globe as it rotates beneath them. Some keep their positions fixed relative to the sun at all times, allowing them to study each spot on Earth at the same local time every day. Others take a diagonal sweep across Earth's surface. Wired also covered the new NASA video.     Mail Online 

Study: electric cars could save UK $13bn in fuel costs by 2030 
By 2030 the cost of fuelling the average new low carbon car could be £600 cheaper than the average car today, with electric cars saving almost £1,000 every year in reduced fuel bills, according to new research. Low carbon technologies could cut carbon dioxide emissions from cars and vans in the UK by as much as 47% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, says the new report by Cambridge Econometrics. Meanwhile, a separate report by Massachusetts based BCC Research says the global electric vehicle market is expected to reach £72.7 billion by 2019, reports BusinessGreen.       BusinessGreen 

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Earth entering new era of rapid temperature change, study warns

  • 09 Mar 2015, 16:00
  • Robert McSweeney

Trees at sunset | Shutterstock

The rate of climate change we're experiencing now is faster than at any time in the last millennium, a new study shows.

Researchers compared how temperature varied over 40-year periods in the past, present and future, and concluded that the Earth is entering a new "regime" of rapid temperature change.

We're already locked into fast-paced changes in the near future because of past emissions, the researchers say.

That means we'll need to adapt to minimise the impacts of climate change, even if greenhouse gas emissions are cut substantially.

Peaks and troughs

A look back at how global temperatures have changed over the past century shows how temperature  rise of the Earth's surface has been anything but smooth.

These peaks and troughs are in part caused by natural phenomena, such as  volcanic eruptions and  El Niño, which influence the Earth's climate from year to year.

The graph below shows average global surface temperatures for every year back to the 1850s. You can see that temperature changes from decade to decade do not always happen at the same pace. This is the impact of  natural cycles in climate, which can either work to enhance or dampen the long-term warming trend over short timescales.

A new study, published in Nature Climate Change, shows how much faster temperature has increased in recent decades compared to any time over the last 1,000 years.


Tempdatasets 2--5_cropped

How the major global surface temperature datasets compare. Showing NASA GisTEMP (purple), JMA (orange), NOAA MLOST (green) and Met Office/CRU (blue). Credit: Rosamund Pearce, Carbon Brief

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Daily Briefing | Smart meters energy saving project at risk, say MPs

  • 09 Mar 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Electricity meter | Shutterstock

Smart meters energy saving project at risk, say MPs 
Plans to install energy saving smart meters in every UK home and business by 2020 are falling behind, an influential group of MPs has warned. The Energy and Climate Change committee says the project was in danger of becoming a costly mistake, with a series of "technical, logistical and public communication issues" resulting in delays. The energy industry may struggle to recruit and train up to 10,000 engineers that will be needed to install the 53 million meters, The Telegraph reports. The Guardian says one key delay has been an argument between utilities and the government over how much of the £200 cost of each installation should ultimately be added to consumer bills.      BBC News 

Climate and energy news

Climate summit's pledges on carbon cuts 'won't avert global disaster' 
Pledges at this year's climate summit to cut carbon emissions are likely to fall far short of the targets needed to avoid a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise. That is the stark conclusion of a report by a team led by British economist Nicholas Stern. Planned cuts in global emissions will still leave the world emitting 10 billion tonnes of carbon a year too much, the report says.     The Observer 

Climate change must stay on political agenda, say protesters 
Thousands of climate change activists marched on the Houses of Parliament yesterday to urge politicians to start taking global warming seriously. The march, called "Time to Act", was designed to increase support for action ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris in November. Organisers said that 20,000 people turned out, but other estimates put the crowd at about 5,000, says the Independent. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood spoke to the crowd via video link, reports The Times, warning the government that "The clock is ticking". Green party MP Caroline Lucas, Head of Greenpeace UK John Sauven, and author Naomi Klein also gave speeches, says The Guardian.      The Independent

Arctic sea ice near its all-time minimum low and could break previous record 
Sea ice in the Arctic is near its all-time minimum for the end of winter and could break the previous record within the next two weeks if it fails to grow, according to the latest satellite data. The area of the Arctic covered by floating sea ice is already the lowest for this time of year, reports The Independent. Scientists at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre say it is still too early to say whether the record is likely to be broken this year.       The Independent 

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Atmosphere 'has finally woken up' as El Niño gets underway in the Pacific

  • 06 Mar 2015, 14:55
  • Roz Pidcock

The long-awaited El Niño has arrived. After keeping a close eye on evolving conditions in the Pacific, scientists yesterday announced the official onset of El Niño, a phenomenon affecting weather worldwide. But the nascent event is likely to have little global impact, scientists say.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Centre upgraded its assessment from 'El Niño Watch' to 'El Niño Advisory', meaning an event is now occurring.

Scientists have classified the current event as a "borderline, weak El Niño" with a 50 to 60 per cent chance of persisting through Spring. Its weak strength and late timing mean "widespread or significant global impacts" are unlikely, yesterday's report says.

An unsure start

Every five years or so, a change in the winds causes a shift to warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean - known as  El Niño. Together with its cooler counterpart, La Niña, this is known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and is responsible for most of the fluctuations in global weather we see from one year to the next.

The  official threshold for when the ocean passes into an El Niño state is when sea surface temperatures, averaged over three months, exceed 0.5 degrees Celsius in the central and eastern Pacific. The  latest data for February show average sea surface temperatures 0.6 degrees above average, as the map below shows. (Click  here for an animated version.)

Screenshot 2015-03-06 11.37.20

Average sea surface temperature in the tropical Pacific for the week of 25th Feb. Anomalies are relative to 1981-2010 weekly average. Source:  NOAA Climate Prediction Centre

Normally, warmer water at the sea surface triggers a sequence of interactions between the atmosphere and ocean that amplifies the initial warming, and an El Niño builds.

Sea surface temperatures have been hovering at or around the critical point for  several months, prompting predictions that El Niño was on its way as far back as  last April.

But until this week, the atmosphere had "largely failed to respond" as expected, with leading experts dubbing El Niño's failure to emerge as "puzzling" and  "an enigma".

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Reflections on climate-conflict research: More confusion than knowledge

  • 06 Mar 2015, 14:25
  • Prof Halvard Buhaug

A guest post from Prof Halvard Buhaug, Research Director and Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO).

Does climate change constitute a threat to peace and security? Many agree that it does. The US administration's new National Security Strategy, launched last month, portrays climate change as 'an urgent and growing threat.'

And this week, a new  study appears to add scientific credibility to this concern, suggesting human-caused climate change contributed to the drought that preceded the Syrian civil war.

So does the Syrian case represent a general pattern, where climate changes and extremes are systematically increasing conflict risk? The short answer is no. But if scientists want to explore these links more closely, there are a few steps they need to take.

Cacophony of different findings

Recent  research has reported a strong effect of climate extremes on violent conflict,  yet many researchers question the robustness of such a link. Some even argue the relationship between climate and conflict is so complex that it can never fully be captured and understood.

There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about the impacts of climate change on security. However, a decade of research into the area appears to have produced more confusion than knowledge. But the  cacophony of different findings and  inadequate scientific evidence could be the result of poor data and simplistic research designs, rather than because no relationship exists.

In trying to establish links that can be observed and quantified, I see five key challenges that need to be addressed.

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Daily Briefing | El Niño arrives later and weaker than expected

  • 06 Mar 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

El Niño arrives later and weaker than expected 
The long-awaited Pacific weather phenomenon has finally arrived - but will have not have a major impact on global weather patterns, forecasters say. "This Niño is weak in strength, and it's also quite late," the deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center told Nature. It therefore is unlikely to alleviate California's drought, reports Time. However, if even a weak El Niño persists through to summer, 2015 is likely to top 2014 as the hottest year on record, says Climate Progress. El Niños usually develop in the latter part of the year and peak from December to April, and are often associated with warmer temperatures and changing precipitation patterns. Climate CentralScientific American and the New York Times also covered the story.     Nature 

Climate and energy news

Ed Davey: 'Crazy' Conservatives would 'frack every bit of croquet lawn' 
Ed Davey has called parts of the Conservative Party "crazy" because they want to "frack every bit of croquet lawn" in Britain, says the Telegraph, covering an interview by Carbon Brief. The Lib Dem energy secretary also referred to the Tory MPs who believed shale gas was a "silver bullet" as the "frack-baby-frackers".     The Telegraph 

Arctic sea ice is getting thinner faster than expected 
Sea ice is not only covering less of the planet, it's also getting significantly thinner, a new study has found. Data compiled from a range of sources for the first time finds sea ice thickness down 65% since 1975 because of global warming - much faster than models have estimated.     Guardian Environment Network 

EU offers €100m to connect energy networks 
The European Commission has launched a €100 million (£72.3m) pot for projects aimed at connecting energy networks across the EU. It is inviting companies to bid for a share of the cash to "end energy isolation, eliminate energy bottlenecks and complete the European energy market", Energy Live News reports.      Energy Live News 

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Daily Briefing | Government tells Russian billionaire: you have seven days to save North Sea gas deal

  • 05 Mar 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

North Sea oil rig | Shutterstock

Government tells Russian billionaire: you have seven days to save North Sea gas deal 
The Government has given Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman seven days to explain why he should not be forced to sell North Sea gas assets. Mr Fridman gained control of the UK fields on Monday as part of a £3.6 billion deal to buy the oil and gas division of Germany's RWE. The Government is concerned production at the fields could be halted if the West imposes more sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, and it therefore wants them sold to a third party. The BBCThe Times and Reuters have similar coverage.       The Telegraph 

Climate and energy news

Industry lobbyists weakened Europe's air pollution rules, say Greenpeace 
New limits on air pollution in Europe have been watered down because governments are allowing some of the worst polluters to help draw up the rules, according to a Greenpeace investigation. Of 352 members of an European Union technical working group, 183 are either employed by the companies that are being regulated, or by lobby groups that represent those companies, the investigation found. The proposed EU standards on coal emissions will be less strict than in China, Greenpeace says.       The Guardian 

Energy networks face investigation over 'too high' costs to consumers 
Energy network companies face investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) after British Gas complained that the prices they charge are too high. Ofgem last year approved plans by five electricity distribution companies to spend £17 billion on their networks over the eight years from April. But British Gas has appealed to the CMA, saying it will be "materially affected by the decision", because it has to pass the costs on to customers.       The Telegraph 

Drax branches out into renewable heat market with wood pellet firm deal 
Drax has bought Billington Bioenergy (BBE), the UK's second largest wood pellet distributor, as the power generator ramps up its move into the renewable heat market. The acquisition, for an undisclosed fee, will see Drax supply wood pellets through BBE to commercial and domestic customers as a low carbon alternative to fossil fuels such as heating oil, LPG, and solid fuels.       BusinessGreen 

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