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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Assessing the climate and environment impact of London's airport plans

  • 02 Sep 2014, 16:48
  • Robert McSweeney

Airplane taking off | Shutterstock

The Airport Commission has  dismissed Mayor of London Boris Johnson's proposal for a new hub airport in the Thames estuary. With remaining options for expansion at either Heathrow or Gatwick what are the potential climate and environmental impacts of each?

The Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, recommended adding a second runway to south east England by 2030, with the possibility of another by 2050.

In December 2013, the Commission shortlisted three options for the first additional runway in its  Interim Report - a second runway at Gatwick, a third runway at Heathrow or an extension to the second runway at Heathrow (so it operates like two).

Any expansion of airport capacity will lead to more flights and more passengers, and increase carbon emissions from aviation.

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Who is Donald Tusk and what does he think about climate?

  • 02 Sep 2014, 15:50
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 M. Śmiarowski/KPRM

Polish prime minister Donald Tusk will be the next president of the European Council where heads of state meet four times a year to set the direction of EU affairs.

Poland has resisted stronger EU climate policy in the past and has built its economy around coal, the most polluting source of electricity. So just who is Donald Tusk, what does he think about climate change - and does it matter?

Tusk became prime minister of Poland in 2007, 16 years after first being elected to parliament.

Under his leadership Poland has long resisted climate action, including controversial use of its veto to attempt to block long-term EU policies and targets. He is also an advocate for shale gas.

UK climate secretary Ed Davey has called Poland the main barrier to agreement of targets for 2030. Indeed in March, Tusk said Poland could not agree to any new EU climate targets. But at last year's UN climate talks in Warsaw Tusk said that climate change was a fact that could not be ignored and that it posed a real threat.

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How the IPCC is sharpening its language on climate change

  • 01 Sep 2014, 17:40
  • Simon Evans

Barometer | Shutterstock

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is sharpening the language of its latest draft synthesis report, seen by Carbon Brief.

Not only is the wording around how the climate is changing more decisive, the evidence the report references is stronger too, when compared to the previous version published in 2007.

The synthesis report, due to be published on 2 November, will wrap up the IPCC's fifth assessment (AR5) of climate change. It will summarise and draw together the information in IPCC reports on the science of climate change, its impacts and the ways it can be addressed.

We've compared a draft of the synthesis report with that published in 2007 to find out how they compare. Here are the key areas of change.

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Some important context on Arctic sea ice melt

  • 01 Sep 2014, 16:31
  • Robert McSweeney

Iceberg | Shutterstock

The Mail on Sunday  reports that Arctic summer ice is on the increase, disproving the "myth of Arctic meltdown".

But the article, by journalist David Rose, acknowledges a declining trend in summer Arctic sea-ice. And scientists tell us the increase in ice is natural year-to-year variation.

Climate change is warming the Arctic, and scientists think it will make the region ice-free in summer at some point this century - points that despite the hyperbolic headline, the Mail on Sunday notes.

Ice gain or loss?

The Mail article reveals "how melt has slowed over ten years" using the graph below, showing Arctic sea ice extent from 2004 to 2014.

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In brief: How much do volcanoes influence the climate?

  • 29 Aug 2014, 12:00
  • Roz Pidcock

Overnight, a volcano in Iceland called Bardabunga began erupting, triggering a flurry questions about the possible impacts for the UK and further afield.

In 2010, Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland  disrupted global transport - shutting down air traffic across Europe for several days.

Volcanoes also have an effect on the climate. Throughout earth's history, volcanic eruptions have punctuated the temperature record. We take a quick look at the role of volcanic eruptions in climate - past, present and future.

A tiny contribution to global warming

Volcanic eruptions can affect climate in two main ways. First, they release the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, contributing to warming of the atmosphere.

But the warming effect is  very small. Volcanic carbon dioxide emissions since 1750 are at least 100 times smaller than those from fossil fuel burning, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A two-year cooling effect

As well as carbon dioxide, volcanic eruptions also blast a cloud of ash, dust and sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere, which is quickly blown around the globe.

Sulphur dioxide combines with oxygen and water to form sulphuric acid "aerosols". These particles directly reflect sunlight and encourage clouds to form.

This cooling effect outweighs the warming contribution from carbon dioxide, causing an overall cooling that tends to lasts for about two years after a major eruption.

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The trouble with Europe’s ageing nuclear power plants

  • 29 Aug 2014, 11:35
  • Mat Hope

Shutterstock: Nuclear power plant

Four of Britain's nuclear reactors were  taken offline due to unexpected faults earlier this month. Owners EDF said it took the "conservative action" after finding a defect in one of the boilers, built in the 1980s.

As nuclear plants are prone to breaking with age, a new report warns network operators across the world should be braced for more of the same.

Britain is by no means a special case. Most of the EU's 211 operational nuclear plants were built in the 1970s and 1980s and were designed to last around 40 years, so many are due to close.

But with the EU committed to decarbonising its energy sector, and nuclear power able to act as a low carbon source providing electricity around the clock, policymakers face a choice: either spend billions eking out a few extra years of generation, or close the plants and build potentially expensive replacements.

The  World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2014 suggests that without swift measures, nuclear power in Europe could be entering its twilight years. It warns that unless policymakers make immediate plans to replace ageing plants, by the mid-2050s, nuclear power across the globe could become a thing of the past.

Ageing plants

Forty years is a typical lifespan for a nuclear power plant built in the 70s or 80s. While it's quite common for plants to have their operational lifetime extended, particularly in the US, many close earlier.


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Why we’re going to be breaking renewable records for the foreseeable future, and what that means

  • 28 Aug 2014, 13:00
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 William Kunz

UK wind power shattered records last week, spinning out 22 per cent of electricity demand for a day. One in five of our morning cups of tea was renewably-powered, if you like.

Sound familiar? It should, because renewables keep  breaking  records. In 2013 records were smashed. The same was true in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. We've been building a lot of windfarms, solar panels and biomass conversions recently.

The rest of the world has too but it's been building huge numbers of fossil-fired power plants at the same time. But even though renewable electricity output around the world will continue to break records through to 2020, we'll still only get a quarter of our power from renewables.


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Why fossil fuel divestment won’t be easy

  • 27 Aug 2014, 15:45
  • Simon Evans

Sai Yeung Chan | Shutterstock

There's a growing global campaign to stop investments in the fossil fuel industry. The British Medical Association, the World Council of Churches and Stanford University are among those pledging to take their money out of oil, coal and gas firms.

But if the idea catches on, it won't just cause headaches for oil moguls. Investment managers will be scratching their heads too. If they can't invest in fossil fuel firms, where should they put their money?

Clean energy firms simply aren't big enough to soak up $5 trillion currently invested in oil and gas firms, according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). But divesting from coal would be much more feasible, it finds.


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