Global carbon intensity is falling - but not quickly enough to avoid worst impacts of climate change

  • 08 Sep 2014, 14:55
  • Mat Hope

Chimneys | Shutterstock

World leaders are set to meet in New York in two weeks time to discuss how best to address global climate change. High on the agenda will be working out how to wean countries off cheap fossil fuels while keeping their economies afloat.

A new  report by consultancy PwC shows that for all the  politicians' promises , the global economy is still far from being "green". Current efforts to incentivise cleaner economic growth are falling short of those needed to avoid dangerous global warming, it says.

Emissions 'cuts'

Global carbon intensity - annual emissions divided by GDP - has  fallen by 1.2 per cent, the report shows. But that somewhat masks what's actually happening to global emissions.

Carbon intensity is a measure of how efficiently countries use their polluting energy resources, such as coal, oil and gas.

So long as a country's energy sector emissions grow at a slower rate than its GDP, the carbon intensity of its economy falls. But although some countries are ramping up renewables, many still rely on burning large amounts of fossil fuels to drive economic growth.

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Daily Briefing | World's carbon intensity falling, but not fast enough

  • 08 Sep 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

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Emerging economies outpace G7 on tackling climate change 
The world's main developing economies, including India and China, cut emissions associated with the generation of each dollar of GDP - known as carbon intensity - by 1.7 per cent this year. Meanwhile, the G7's developed economies only cut their carbon intensity by 0.2 per cent. The figures come from the latest Low Carbon Economy Index from consultancy PwC. It shows the world is currently on track for three degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels, Reuters reports. If the world wants to keep to its two degrees goal, carbon intensity must be cut by 6.2 per cent, PwC says. Annual carbon intensity is currently being cut by about 1.2 per cent per year. 
Financial Times 

Climate and energy news

Fracking's Wastewater, Poorly Understood, Is Analyzed for First Time 
The toxicity of waste water from fracking varies significantly well by well, new research shows. The study analyses the chemical composition of a waste product from shale gas extraction known as produced water. The waste is controversial as anti-fracking protesters claim it can contaminate local water supplies. The research finds that produced water is less toxic than waste from coal bed methane mining, but results are inconsistent across the samples. The study's lead author says more research is needed but the initial results suggest the environmental impact of produced water "was not quite as bad as we thought." 
Inside Climate News 

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Why undersea fracking is unlikely to give Scotland a £600 billion windfall

  • 05 Sep 2014, 13:30
  • Mat Hope

Scotland flag waving | Shutterstock

As Scotland prepares to decide whether to vote 'yes' for independence, the North Sea oil and gas industry's economic prospects have become something of a political football.

Today, a new report backed by the 'Yes' campaign claims the industry's taxes could be worth over £600 billion. But other experts have been quick to cast doubt on the findings.

Geologists think there's still plenty of oil and gas under the North Sea. The problem is that companies have extracted most of the easy-to-reach resources. Uncertainty around the fate of the remaining oil and gas has created space for speculation over how much the industry is worth.

That's where today's  report from consultancy N-56, founded by  a Yes campaign board member, fits in. It claims there could be around 45 billion barrels of oil and gas remaining - almost double previous estimates - worth £665 billion in tax receipts.

Conventional oil and gas

The North Sea's oil and gas reserves are becoming depleted, with companies extracting fewer and fewer barrels each year. Experts believe the industry could persist for  a few more decades, but only if companies are willing to explore hard to reach spots.

Whether they will - or even can - access such resources is very open to debate, however.

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Daily Briefing | Report boosts Scotland's hopes of a fracking bounty

  • 05 Sep 2014, 00:00
  • Carbon Brief staff

CC: J Macdonald

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£600bn in North Sea oil? That's a fracking fortune 
The Scottish Sun covers a report claiming offshore fracking technology could lead to a new oil and gas bonanza from the North Sea. The report comes from Scottish business think tank N-56 and oil industry consultancy Tulloch Energy. 
Scottish Sun 

Climate and energy news

Aircraft Emissions May Be Next for US Climate Rules 
The US Environmental Protection Agency is considering regulating aircraft greenhouse gas emissions, it announced yesterday. It will release findings of a scoping study by next April. If it deems aircraft emissions a risk to public health, it will begin the process of writing rules. 
Bloomberg New Energy Finance 

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Scientists may have solved a climate change mystery using Greenland ice cores

  • 04 Sep 2014, 19:09
  • Robert McSweeney

Greenland Camp | Oregon State Uni

Scientists have long known that carbon dioxide is the main cause of most of the warming we've seen since pre-industrial times. But there are periods in the Earth's distant past when the connection between carbon dioxide and temperature rise has been harder to see.

New research into Greenland's ice sheets now seems to have explained one of the mysteries of our climatic past, confirming the importance of carbon dioxide on global temperature changes.

Mystery interval

Around 20,000 years ago the Earth was emerging from an ice age as orbital changes meant it received slightly more of the sun's energy.

As ice sheets melted into the oceans, sea levels rose and ocean circulation patterns changed.

Scientists think these changes caused carbon dioxide from the oceans to be released into the atmosphere.

Yet despite the planet being closer to the sun and higher levels of carbon dioxide, records for Greenland didn't seem to show much change in temperature. While the rest of the northern hemisphere appeared to warm, Greenland didn't seem to follow suit for another 3,000 years. Scientists couldn't explain why, and it was even dubbed the 'mystery interval' by one study.

But now the new study published in the journal Science suggests that temperatures actually had risen - but the rise wasn't captured by earlier ice core records.

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The fossil fuel alternative that comes from food poisoning

  • 04 Sep 2014, 14:30
  • Simon Evans

E. coli | Shutterstock

Scientists at London's Imperial College have tricked E. coli bacteria into making renewable propane that could replace the petrol in your fuel tank. Their work has caught the imagination of the nation, receiving wide press coverage, and it's not hard to see why.

E. coli bacteria are commonly found in the human gut, with some strains associated with food poisoning. It may sound unpleasant, but if it were possible to conjure carbon-neutral gas using clever biochemistry, what's not to like?

Well, allow us to explain...

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Daily Briefing | National Grid prepared for power crunch

  • 04 Sep 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Pylons | Shutterstock

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UK seeks extra electricity ahead of 'uncertain winter' 
The National Grid is having to seek additional supplies of electricity this winter. A series of unplanned shutdowns at large power plants means that supplies are "uncertain" and measures are being taken as a "sensible precaution". The decision was support by the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the energy regulator Ofgem. 
BBC News 

Climate and energy news

Fuel plan 'could slash greenhouse gases' 
A british engineering firm has developed a way of using nanotechnology to cut the level of nitrogen oxide in diesel fuel by up to 60 per cent. The firm claim their idea - which involves a new mixing process - is reminiscent of the government's efforts during the Second World War to create emulsions to make fuel go further. The company intends to test the technology this week. 

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Is there enough water to frack?

  • 03 Sep 2014, 12:40
  • Mat Hope

Derrick rig: Shutterstock

There are many reasons policymakers across the world have been casting envious glances at the US's shale gas boom: from falling energy prices to curbing emissions. But a range of geological, economic, and social obstacles have made it  tricky to replicate elsewhere.

A new  report from the World Resources Institute (WRI) thinktank highlights another: water availability.

Getting shale gas or oil out of the ground can be very water intensive. Knon as fracking, it involves shooting large amounts of water and chemicals into the shale rock to create fractures through which the resources can be pumped. The  International Energy Agency estimates it could require anywhere between a few thousand to 20 million litres of water per well.

That's a problem, the WRI says, as many of the countries with the largest shale resources don't have much water to spare.

Water availability

For the first time, the WRI has mapped global water availability alongside the location of the world's shale resources. It finds that 38 per cent of the countries thought to have the largest shale resources also have strained water supplies.

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Daily Briefing | Burning garbage, what a waste

  • 03 Sep 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Landfill: Shutterstock

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Burning Trash Bad for Humans and Global Warming 
Some 1.1 billion tons of waste is burned in open piles, potentially contributing more greenhouse gas emissions than scientists previously thought. The National Centre for Atmospheric Research provides the first comprehensive estimate of global emissions from burning waste. It suggests five per cent of global emissions could be attributed to waste, though it's likely much higher in particularly poor localities. 
Climate Central via Scientific American 

Climate and energy news

Stalled El Niño poised to resurge 
Researchers at Colombia University say there is a 75 per cent chance there will be a weak to moderate El Nino weather event by the end of the year. Scientists across all disciplines - from marine biologists to meteorologists - are keenly watching for the event to try and understand how it affects both past and future climates. Nature News focuses on one scientist hoping to use the El Nino to calibrate records of past climate that are preserved in fossilized coral. Shifting ratios of oxygen isotopes captured in coral layers can reveal changes in ocean temperature, providing a record of El Niño events going back thousands of years, it says. 
Nature News 

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Analysis: China's big carbon market experiment

  • 02 Sep 2014, 17:05
  • Mat Hope

Macau: Shutterstock

China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Historically, it has been reluctant to cut emissions, fearing that doing so could impede its economic growth. But there are signs that position is shifting.

Late last year, the government  banned the building of new coal power plants in particular areas due to air pollution concerns. Now it has announced it will seek to implement  a national carbon market by 2016.

The announcement wasn't much of a surprise. Since 2011, China has been developing seven pilot carbon markets with the aim of one day creating a national scheme. The National Development and Reform Commission - the department responsible for the schemes - has long said it wants to include plans for a national market in  China's next five year plan.

But could a carbon market form the backbone of China's response to climate change?


China has  pledged to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy - the level of greenhouse gas emitted for each Yuan of GDP generated - by 40 to 45 per cent. That means its economy is destined to become more efficient, but doesn't guarantee an overall emissions cut.

The government is putting  a range of policies in place to help hit that goal. Its now clear a carbon market is also part of the plan.

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