Analysis

The Carbon Brief Interview: Christiana Figueres

  • 11 Jun 2015, 14:20
  • Leo Hickman
Christiana Figueres

Christiana Figueres | Carbon Brief

Christiana Figueres has been the executive secretary of the  United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since July 2010 and was reappointed for a second three-year term in July 2013. Before then, she was a member of the Costa Rican negotiating team at the UNFCCC from 1995-2009. In 1995, she founded the non-profit Center for Sustainable Development of the Americas, based in Washington DC.

On defining success at the Paris climate conference this coming December: "If financial support for developing countries to be able to follow that path [to bring their population out of poverty but to do so in a low-carbon, high-resilient way] is made evident, then I think we have success."

The political possibility of limiting the global average temperature rise to 1.5C: "I don't know that it is possible to say right now are we going to end up with 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9C? But it's got to be within that range. There is no doubt that it has to be below 2C."

The legal form of the Paris agreement: "I don't think that the whole agreement is actually going to have the same legal nature [as the Kyoto protocol], but rather there will be several components, key components, that will have different legal nature."

Whether the world could tackle climate change without the UNFCCC: "This has to be done in a way that protects the most vulnerable. That would not occur without the UNFCCC."

How the IPCC can best complement the UNFCCC: "There has been a very clear intent to be more and more guided by science. And you see it in all of the negotiations now that there is much more direct dialogue, in fact, even between the delegates and the scientists, which is a very welcome development."

The usefulness of the IPCC's carbon budgets to the UNFCCC: "I think [they have] brought a sense of realism and a sense of urgency into this discussion."

The challenge and reviewing and aggregating the INDCs [intended nationally determined contributions]: "What we have here is a fruit salad. We have apples, we have pears and we, in fact, even have bananas."

The importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the UNFCCC: "If we do not address climate change in a timely fashion, we will wipe out all the development gains that have been made in the past 15-20 years. We will wipe that out."

The challenge for the UN of managing these parallel, inter-related processes: "When I first saw it I thought how is this going to be possible, and it is very, very difficult, but...we will remember 2015 as being a very important year in the history of the design of mankind."

On reports that the French will present their own text for a climate deal, if progress at the UNFCCC is slow: "They are not going to come with their own text. This is not a Copenhagen 2.0."

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Climate change could cut growing days of plants and crops by 11%

  • 11 Jun 2015, 10:45
  • Robert McSweeney

Sunrise over meadow | Shutterstock

The number of days each year when conditions are suitable for plants to grow could fall as the climate warms, according to new research.

Researchers in Hawaii found rising temperatures and falling soil moisture could curtail growth of plants and crops across much of the tropics. And if emissions remain unchecked, gains in plant growth at higher latitudes won't make up for these losses.

But other scientists, not involved in the study, tell Carbon Brief the new research may have overestimated the negative impacts of climate change.

Plant growth

Climate change is likely to have both positive and negative impacts on plant growth.

A warmer, more carbon-rich atmosphere could provide better conditions for growth. On the other hand, rising temperatures could make conditions too hot for plant growth. How much water and nutrients plants and crops have access to will also affect how much they can grow.

Scientists have conducted numerous studies into how these factors are likely to play out for different plants and different regions of the world.

The new study, published in open-access journal PLoS Biology, takes a different approach. Rather than estimating how much plants might grow, the researchers focus on how many days each year we'll see conditions favourable for plant growth in the future.

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Daily Briefing | BP cautions on China energy slowdown

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

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10 charts showing why carbon emissions stalled last year 
Strong growth in solar and wind was accompanied by stalling growth in fossil fuels use and energy-related emissions last year, the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015 shows. Carbon Brief breaks down the reasons behind last year's shifting energy use into 10 charts and maps, with China dominating the picture.      Carbon Brief

Climate and energy news

BP cautions on China energy slowdown 
BP's latest energy statistics generated a number of headlines today. The FT highlights how China's energy consumption grew at its slowest rate last year since the 1990s. The Telegraph points out that this was a trend echoed globally, with total energy consumption growth slowing to just 0.9% in what BP's chief economist called a "watershed" moment. The Guardian reports BP chief Bob Dudley's comment that "something substantial" needs to be done to tackle climate change at the UN climate summit this December, which the Guardian says widens the "transatlantic rift" between energy companies over global warming. Carbon Brief also covers the story.     The Financial Times 

UN climate conference: Silence over emissions targets 
As UN talks on climate change rumble into their final day, media coverage has focused on the slow pace of the negotiations. Procedural concerns have overtaken discussions of the adequacy of proposed emissions cuts, a Chinese diplomat tells the BBC. RTCC adds that a new draft text of the future deal is expected to be presented today by the two men responsible for shepherding the talks.     BBC 

Ethiopia submits carbon cutting plan for UN climate deal 
Ethiopia has become the first least developed country and third African nation to submit its intended pledge to the UN's climate body. It's target of a 64% cut in emissions on business-as-usual by 2030 has been hailed as "ambitious" and "far-reaching" by Oxfam.     RTCC 

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10 charts showing why carbon emissions stalled last year

  • 10 Jun 2015, 16:45
  • Simon Evans
Solar energy panels and wind turbines

Solar and wind power | Shutterstock

Strong growth in solar and wind was accompanied by stalling growth in fossil fuels use and energy-related emissions last year, the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015 shows.

Solar continues to exceed expectations, with output expanding by 38% during 2014. Wind also grew in double digits, though its 10% growth rate was down on the 24% average rate seen in the previous decade. Coal demand growth slumped from 3.6% over the decade to just 0.4% last year. Oil and gas also grew by less than 1%, far below historical averages - in line with predictions from the International Energy Agency.

Shifts in China's model of economic growth once again dominated the global energy story. It accounted for three-quarters of the increase in renewable electricity generation, while its coal use and emissions stalled.

Carbon Brief has produced ten charts using BP review data, showing why these shifts in energy use helped global energy-related carbon emissions stall in 2014.

Emissions and coal

The BP data confirms that previous growth in carbon dioxide emissions stalled in 2014, in line with early indications first  reported by the Financial Times in March. What's even more remarkable is that the global economy performed strongly last year, growing by 3.2%.

This suggests GDP and emissions could be decoupling. Indeed, the 2014 figure appears to be part of a trend towards slower emissions growth that has followed the post-recession bounce in 2010 (blue bars, below left).

Previous pauses or reductions in global emissions have been associated with seismic events that caused a weak economy (red line, below left), for instance the financial crisis in 2008/9 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Graph 1

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Daily Briefing | British companies call for government action on climate change

  • 10 Jun 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Prime Minister David Cameron

PM David Cameron | Shutterstock

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Irreversible loss of world's ice cover should spur leaders into action, say scientists 
We need only look to the world's ice cover to see the urgency with which emissions need to come down, scientists told delegates at this week's climate talks in Bonn, Germany. New observations show the cryosphere in serious and irreversible decline, they warned at a press conference yesterday.      Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

British companies call for government action on climate change 
A coalition of businesses has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to push for a cap on global warming of 2C above pre-industrial levels. In a letter to Downing Street, 80 British businesses including BT, John Lewis, Coke, Mars, IKEA and Marks & Spencer urged the government to set an ambitious fifth carbon budget from 2028-2032 and to bring in clearer long-term policies that encourage investment in low-carbon energy. RTCC and BusinessGreen have the story.     Reuters 

Swansea Bay tidal energy lagoon gets green light from Amber Rudd 
Planning permission has been granted for a £1bn project to build a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay. Energy secretary Amber Rudd gave the go ahead for the project, which could be up and running by 2018. A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said a contract for subsidies paid by consumers to the developers in return for electricity, which is yet to be agreed, would be "subject to strict value for money considerations." BusinessGreen has more on the decision.     The Telegraph 

Appeals court tosses suits challenging climate change plan 
The U.S. Court of Appeals has dismissed a pair of high-profile lawsuits challenging the Obama administration's sweeping plan to tackle climate change. The judge ruled the challenge against the Environmental Protection Agency was premature since the plan to curb emissions from coal-fired power plants could still be changed before it becomes a final regulation.     Associated Press 

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Irreversible loss of world's ice cover should spur leaders into action, say scientists

  • 09 Jun 2015, 16:25
  • Roz Pidcock
Icebergs in Disko Bay Greenland

Icebergs in Greenland | Shutterstock

We need only look to the world's ice cover to see the urgency with which emissions need to come down, scientists told delegates at this week's climate talks in Bonn, Germany.

At a  press conference today, US and German scientists updated negotiators and journalists with the latest science on the state of Arctic sea ice, the Antarctic continent and thawing permafrost.

New observations gathered since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report show the cryosphere in serious and irreversible decline, they warned.

Pam Pearson, director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, the network of policy experts and researchers holding the event, told the audience:

"This is not like air pollution or water pollution, where if you clean it up it will go back to the way it was before."

Sea ice in decline

Arctic sea ice has been retreating rapidly in recent years as a result of greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere, explained Dr Dirk Notz, sea ice expert at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. The biggest losses are happening in summer, he said:

"Over the past 10 years or so, we've roughly seen a 50% loss of Arctic sea ice area. So, the ice in the Arctic is currently retreating very, very rapidly."

In March, Arctic sea ice reached its lowest maximum extent in the satellite record. Last week, the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre confirmed Arctic sea ice extent for May was the third lowest on record.

Antarctic sea ice has been at record high levels in 2015 but this should be viewed  in perspective with what's happening at the other end of the planet, Notz said:

"There is a slight increase, but it's nothing compared to the very, very rapid loss that we've seen in the Arctic."

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Daily Briefing | G7 leaders agree to phase out fossil fuel use by end of century

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

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G7 leaders target zero-carbon economy 
Global climate talks received a symbolic boost today, as the G7 group of rich nations threw their weight behind a long-term goal of decarbonising the global economy over the course of this century. Today's declaration backs a long-term goal of cutting global greenhouse gas emissions at the "upper end" of 40-70% below 2010 levels by 2050 and decarbonising completely "over the course of this century".       Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

G7 leaders agree to phase out fossil fuel use by end of century 
The G7 leading industrial nations have agreed to cut greenhouse gases by phasing out the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has announced, in a move hailed as historic by some environmental campaigners. The G7 also agreed on a global target for limiting the rise in average global temperatures to a maximum of 2C over pre-industrial levels, but stopped short of agreed immediate binding targets. The move has been hailed as a 'historic decision' in the fight against climate change, reports The Financial Times, Roger Harrabin at BBC News describes the move as a 'seismic shift', and the MailOnline goes with the headline 'The hills are alive with the sound of Merkel'. Also in The Guardian, Karl Mathieson says that persuading 'climate recalcitrants' such as Japan and Canada to sign up for fossil fuel phase out is a significant achievement by Angela Merkel. While Pilita Clark in The Financial Times describes the decision as a 'turning point', but warns 'many questions remain about whether such an outcome will ever be achieved'. Elsewhere, The TelegraphReutersBusinessGreenClimate Progress and RTCC also cover the news. And you can read Carbon Brief's coverage of the story here.      The Guardian 

Do 'whatever it takes' for a deal, says majority in global climate survey 
Nearly two-thirds of people believe that negotiators at the UN climate talks in December should do "whatever it takes" to limit global warming to a 2C rise, according to a new global survey. 89% said climate change should be a national priority in their country, and 80% said their country should take measures to reduce emissions even if others do not. The survey involved 10,000 citizens from 79 developed and developing countries. Meanwhile, RTCC says the survey shows China is lagging behind the rest of the world in public support for climate action.      The Guardian 

China's greenhouse gases could peak early, easing climate fears 
China's greenhouse gas emissions could peak by 2025, five years earlier than indicated by Beijing, suggests a study by the London School of Economics. The report notes that China's "coal consumption fell in 2014, and fell further in the first quarter of 2015". An earlier peak would help the world get on track for limiting global warming to 2C above pre-industrial times, the researchers say.     Reuters 

Why warmer storms could lead to more flooding than expected 
A new study of storms in Australia suggests the likely intensification in flooding caused by climate change may be even greater than expected. This is because of changes to the distribution of rainfall within storms, the researchers say. The findings suggest climate change could cause an increase in flood peaks even if the amount of rainfall stays the same, because more of the rainfall is concentrated into intense bursts, they say.     The Conversation 

MEPs threaten to block trade deal over rights to regulate carbon emissions 
The European parliament will block a new trade pact unless it guarantees states' rights to regulate over climate, health and social laws, a key parliamentary leader has warned just days before a related crunch vote on trade liberalisation with the US. Environmentalists have warned trade deals such as the Trade in Services Agreement (Tisa) could outlaw attempts to set bloc emissions limits for airlines or ships.       The Guardia

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G7 leaders target zero-carbon economy

  • 08 Jun 2015, 17:00
  • Simon Evans & Sophie Yeo

Global climate talks received a symbolic boost today, as the G7 group of rich nations threw their weight behind a long-term goal of decarbonising the global economy over the course of this century.

The  joint communique from the leaders of Japan, Germany, the US, UK, Canada, Italy and France reaffirms their commitment to the internationally agreed  target of limiting warming to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels. It also reiterates their commitment to deep cuts in emissions by 2050.

Today's declaration goes a step further, however, backing a long-term goal of cutting global greenhouse gas emissions at the "upper end" of 40-70% below 2010 levels by 2050 and decarbonising completely "over the course of this century".

These milestones are broadly in line with  the path to avoiding more than 2C of warming, set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year. The IPCC said this would require "near zero emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases by the end of the century".

The 40-70% reduction on 2010 levels by 2050 is the range for 2C set out by research organisation Climate Analytics  earlier this year. It also just about reaches the 70-95% range of emissions reduction by 2050 that would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5C. A review of whether to adopt this tougher temperature target is expected to conclude at UN climate talks in Bonn this week.

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Daily Briefing | G7 poised for historic call to phase out fossil fuel emissions

  • 08 Jun 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Obama and Merkel

Obama & Merkel | Shutterstock

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Coal in the G7: Who's burning what? 
As the G7 meets in Germany, Oxfam has published a new report finding that coal-fired power plants in the G7 countries are responsible for more than twice the total emissions of the 54 countries of Africa, and ten times more than the 48 least developed countries of the world. Using the report's new research, which was produced by E3G, and our own research, Carbon Brief lays out the role that coal currently plays in each of the G7 countries.     Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

G7 poised for historic call to phase out fossil fuel emissions 
G7 leaders meeting in Germany appear to be edging towards agreeing on an historic target to wipe out greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century. "Talks on climate change ran late into Sunday night as officials debated a variety of carbon cutting options, RTCC understands," writes King. "These included a goal proposed by the EU to cut emissions 60% on 2010 levels by 2050, with full decarbonisation by 2100, and another goal for G7 countries to decarbonise their own energy sectors by 2050." The Associated Press reports that Angela Merkel is calling for G7 to throw its weight behind a long-standing pledge to seek $100bn to help poor countries tackle climate change. The Guardian reports that Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, has also been stressing how important this money is for securing a successful deal in Paris. Meanwhile, Reuters says that Japan says it is open to the G7 announcing its own collective carbon emissions target. It adds in another report that Merkel also wants the G7 to commit to 2C global warming goal. The meeting concludes today with a communiqué which is expected to provide more details about such pledges.      RTCC 

China greenhouse gases: Progress is made, report says 
China's greenhouse gas emissions could start to decline within 10 years, according to a report from the London School of Economics. This would be five years earlier than expected and would offer a boost towards efforts to protect the climate, says Harrabin. "The shift has been partly caused by a massive commitment to renewables. China is the world's top investor in wind and solar power. It has also been replacing old coal plants with cleaner new stations." The GuardianRTCC and BusinessGreen also carry the story. Separately, Reuters report that "China coal imports slump further in May as policies bite". Zheng Nan, an analyst with China's Shenyin Wanguo Securities, told the news agency: "Imports are constantly decreasing compared to last year due to new policies, and the use of new (renewable) energy."       BBC News 

'Beautiful' nuclear power stations can win over sceptics, says Energy Secretary Amber Rudd 
The Independent speaks to Amber Rudd, the new energy and climate change secretary, who tells the paper that Britain's new nuclear power stations and other energy infrastructure projects must be designed to look beautiful to garner essential public support. She says she has also set up a meeting with Lord Lawson, the climate sceptic former Tory chancellor: "I will be having a conversation with him. I'm hoping to win him over, so great is my ambition. But we will see." Extending the interview into the Sunday edition of the paper, Rudd added that spending on energy efficiency was being looked at: "We're reviewing that whole area." In a separate story, Tom Bawden reports that Greg Barker, the former DECC minister in charge of the Green Deal, blames the Big Six electricity providers for its failure.     The Independent 

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Coal in the G7: Who's burning what?

  • 06 Jun 2015, 00:01
  • Sophie Yeo
Flags of G7 countries and global map

G7 countries | Shutterstock

Tomorrow, leaders of the world's seven largest economies will meet in Germany to discuss what they view to be the most important issues facing the world today.

High on their  agenda will be climate change. With a new UN deal to curb emissions expected to be signed in December, it is already an issue that is uppermost in their minds, and all but Japan have formally submitted pledges to cut their greenhouse gases after 2020.

But while warm words about new actions are likely to abound, a new report from Oxfam, Let Them Eat Coal, has pointed out that all seven countries remain bound to coal - one of the most polluting fossil fuels.

According to the report, coal-fired power plants in the G7 countries are responsible for more than twice the total emissions of the 54 countries of Africa, and ten times more than the 48 least developed countries of the world.

Using modelling by Berlin-based researchers at Climate Analytics, which assumes all governments implement their existing policies, the report says that emissions from G7 coal plants will cause $84bn per year in climate-related costs in Africa by the end of the century, based on the expected the costs resulting from adaptation and damage.

This is more than three times the $24bn the G7 delivered in bilateral aid to Africa in 2013.

Globally, the report says that G7 coal emissions will cost $450bn per year by the end of the century.

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