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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The Carbon Brief Interview: Ed Davey

  • 05 Mar 2015, 06:00
  • Leo Hickman

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston and Surbiton, has been the UK's longest-serving secretary of state for energy and climate change since taking office in February 2012. The Liberal Democrats have been in coalition with the Conservative party since the last general election in 2010.

Here, Davey discusses a wide range of issues: his vision for a zero-carbon Britain by 2050; why the Treasury's economic modelling assumptions are "rubbish"; why some Conservatives are "crazy" about fracking; why the proposed Hinkley C nuclear plant would be value for money; why the world needs to get off fossil fuels within "30-40 years"; why maximising North Sea oil doesn't contradict low-carbon objectives; what form of energy he'd invest his own money in; and why energy bills would have been higher if a Conservative had been in charge of his department since 2010 instead of a Liberal Democrat...

CB: This week, you've been setting out the "Green Magna Carta" and the Lib Dems have pledged for the UK to be zero-carbon by 2050. What does that mean exactly and how do you intend we get there? And how are we going to pay for that?

ED: The Green Magna Carta is going to be on the frontpage of the Lib Dem manifesto. It's basically five green bills and I had that idea because I wanted to make sure that we could build on the success that we've had here in energy and climate change, in our department, but also fill in the gaps in other departments, DCLG [Department for Communities and Local Government], DEFRA [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and others, to really take forward the environment and climate change agenda, very strongly in the first half of the next Parliament, with a big legislative agenda. So, we've got the green transport bill, the zero waste bill, the green homes bill, a nature bill and a zero-carbon Britain bill. The zero-carbon Britain is about raising our ambition.

View on YouTube

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Polar bears and climate change: What does the science say?

  • 04 Mar 2015, 13:45
  • Roz Pidcock

We've all seen the pictures of polar bears stranded on sea ice. They're  all too often used as the iconic poster animals of a rapidly changing climate.

Every now and again, claims emerge in the media that polar bears' plight might not be so serious after all. Just recently, Peter Hitchens said in the  Mail on Sunday polar bears are "doing extremely well right now" and that claims otherwise are "just hot air".

Carbon Brief has dug through the literature and spoken to polar bear experts. While little is known about some remote bear populations, it's clear there's no scientific basis for such optimism. As temperatures rise, polar bears face a bleak future ahead, scientists tell us.

Claims about polar bears on the up

The crux of Hitchens' argument is that polar bear numbers are rising around the world, not falling. He quotes biologist  Dr Susan Crockford, who says:

"On almost every measure, things are looking good for polar bears ... It really is time for the doom and gloom about polar bears to stop."

                                       Screenshot 2015-03-04 14.42.14

Source: Ben Webster, The Times,  Feb 27th 2015

This stems from a report authored by Crockford and published last week by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate skeptic think tank. Entitled, "  20 good reasons not to worry about polar bears", the report describes itself as a "resource for cooling the polar bear spin".

The Times quoted the report's conclusion that:

"Polar bears are not currently threatened with extinction due to declining sea ice, despite the hue and cry from activist scientists and environmental organisations."

Similarly, a Mail on Sunday  article from last September, also featuring Crockford, claimed: "The poster boys of climate change thrive in the icy Arctic: Polar bears defy concerns about their extinction."

So, what is the evidence for the claims? And do other scientists agree there's no cause for alarm?

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Daily Briefing | Focus on green tech to tackle climate change, says UK's climate adviser

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

German wind turbine | Shutterstock

Focus on green tech to tackle climate change, says UK's climate adviser 
Former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, Sir David King, has called for a stronger emphasis on green technology to curb climate change, alongside countries' pledges to cut emissions. Speaking at an IPPR event in London, King said if new biofuel technology were rolled out in China, for example, the effect could be "enormous". RTCC reports King's comments about the UK government "working overtime" to secure an ambitious deal at the Paris climate talks, calling climate change the "biggest diplomatic challenge of our time".      The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

Power plants paid to stay idle, MPs say 
MPs have warned the government's new "capacity market" - aimed at making sure there's enough power generated at peak demand - favours fossil fuels over "promising" clean technology by providing payments for power plants to stay online that would otherwise be closed or mothballed. The Energy and Climate Change Committee said the initiative risks raising carbon emissions and could also lead to higher energy costs. BusinessGreen has more on yesterday's report.      BBC News 

China set to tighten coal and carbon caps in next five year plan 
A leading expert on China's climate strategy has said the country's next Five Year Plan, covering 2016-2020, is likely to include tougher caps on coal burning. Speaking at an event in London, the official said he expected absolute limits to extend beyond the 30 percent of provinces currently covered, and that peak emissions may happen sooner than 2030. BusinessGreen has more on the story.      RTCC 

Bank of England warns of huge financial risk from fossil fuel investments 
The Bank of England has warned Insurance companies they could suffer a "huge hit" if their investments in fossil fuel companies are rendered worthless by action on climate change. Though such concerns are yet to fully permeate the sector, there are already a few "specific examples of this having happened", a representative of the bank told an insurance conference yesterday.       The Guardian 

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