How air pollution caused Europe’s rivers to fill

  • 06 Oct 2014, 17:02
  • Robert McSweeney

River Wisla | Shutterstock

Air pollution from Europe resulted in a 25 per cent increase in river flows in Poland and Germany during the late 20th century, a new study finds. The researchers say their findings show how the impact of burning fossil fuels is not just limited to increasing temperatures.

Solar dimming

In the sixties and seventies, air quality across much of Europe was very poor. Coal power stations and inefficient cars belched out tiny particles, known as aerosols, into the atmosphere. These aerosols caused widespread health problems and contributed to the famous 'pea-souper' smogs in London.

This new piece of research, published in Nature Geoscience, finds that these aerosols also caused an increase in the amount of water flowing in rivers across Europe.

Some sources of aerosols are natural, such as volcanoes, plant vapours and chemicals released by tiny sea creatures. However, since the industrial revolution, humans have been emitting more and more aerosols through fossil fuel burning.

One type of aerosols, called sulphate aerosols, are emitted from cars and power stations. Once in the atmosphere, these aerosols affect the climate in two ways. They directly scatter sunlight and reflect it back out to space. They can also react with clouds in complex ways, causing the clouds to reflect more light back out to space. This process, known as 'solar dimming', reduces the amount of the sun's energy that reaches the Earth's surface.

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What the UK’s capacity market could mean for the future of coal, gas and energy sector emissions

  • 06 Oct 2014, 16:00
  • Mat Hope

The government has a new policy to make sure the lights always stay on, even when demand is high and the weather means renewables aren't generating electricity.

It's introducing a new scheme called a capacity market to ensure power stations are always ready to generate enough electricity to meet the UK's needs.

But it's not yet clear which power stations will be included in the scheme. That's important, as it will determine how much coal, gas, or oil gets burned for power generation, and what the impact on the UK's emissions will be.

We explain how the capacity market should work, and how it fits with the government's wider energy and climate change policy goals.

Making a market

Even though  electricity demand is gradually reducing, the UK's peak demand isn't shrinking much, and is set to remain at around 53 gigawatts.

The UK has lots of old coal, gas and nuclear power plants. As they age, they get more prone to breaking, so if the power companies don't want to invest millions in upgrading them they usually shut them down.

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Daily Briefing | Scientists respond to criticisms of their call to ditch the 2-degree target

  • 06 Oct 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Getting Beyond the 2-Degree Threshold on Global Warming 
Scientists David Victor and Charles Kennel respond at length to criticisms of their Nature opinion piece last week, in which they called for the longstanding target of limiting warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels to be ditched. Fellow scientist Stefan Rahmstorf posted a stern critique on the RealClimate blog. Scientists tell us what they think of the two degree target and the Nature commentary here.   New York Times 

Climate and energy news

Farmers fear fracking could spell financial ruin 
Ministers pushing for shale gas exploration cannot take the support of rural communities for granted, warns the National Farmers' Union. Farmers fear they could face financial ruin from government plans to allow fracking beneath their land without compensation. Meanwhile, a farmer who lost 800 acres of land in last winter's flooding says more needs to be done to help farmers recover from extreme rainfall and flooding.   The Telegraph 

Tougher energy efficiency target would boost UK economy by £62bn 
EU policymakers could create an additional 30,000 jobs by setting a higher energy efficiency target, according to unpublished EU figures seen by the Guardian. Setting a target to cut energy use by 40 per cent could create 40,000 jobs, it claims. A 30 per cent target could create 13,000 jobs. EU energy and environment ministers are gathering in Milan to discuss energy efficiency targets as part of a broader package of climate and energy goals for 2030.   The Guardian 

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Has DECC signed a dud deal for renewables?

  • 03 Oct 2014, 10:05
  • Simon Evans

Business contract | Shutterstock

Contracts for renewable electricity signed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in May were poor value for taxpayers, according to an influential committee of MPs.

The contracts, worth up to £16.6 billion over their lifetime, were awarded in May to eight projects including five offshore windfarms and three plants that will burn wood to generate power. The National Audit Office published a report on the deals in June that made very similar complaints to the MPs.

So why are the contracts being criticised?

Regime change

The government is introducing a new subsidy scheme for low carbon energy starting in April 2015, called contracts for difference (CfDs). DECC decided to sign early CfDs with these eight large projects because it was worried there would otherwise be a gap in investment as we change over from the previous subsidy regime.

It's these early contracts that the NAO and MPs on the Public Accounts Committee are unhappy about. Both are unconvinced that an investment hiatus would really have materialised.

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Daily Briefing | Government cuts solar subsidy angering industry

  • 03 Oct 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

UK renewable energy subsidy changes anger solar industry 
The solar industry has hit back at the government's new Contracts for Difference scheme, saying it unfairly curtails the burgeoning industry at a critical time. The CfD scheme will provide £300m worth of support to the renewable power industry but will require that more mature technologies, such as onshore wind and solar, compete for subsidies with less established - and more expensive - sectors. Labour has waded into the row over solar subsidies, accusing the government of undermining support for the industry, reports BusinessGreen.  The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

Expensive green energy a 'bad gamble' as ministers slash gas price forecasts
The Department of Energy and Climate Change has released new forecasts slashing its gas price forecasts for this decade by as much as 20 per cent. With nuclear and wind set to remain more costly relative to gas, this undermines the Government's case for backing green energy, says The Times. Cheaper gas could be good news for consumers, shaving close to £100-a-year off a typical dual-fuel bill, reports the Telegraph.  The Telegraph 

Investment in clean energy rising after two years of decline 
Globally, just over $175 billion was poured into solar, wind and other green energy sources in the first nine months of 2014, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. China's solar boom made the single biggest contribution, catapulting total investment by 16 per cent on last year. But there's no room for complacency, says Bloomberg chairman Michael Liebreich. More is needed to support the rapid transformation of the power system needed to see carbon dioxide emissions peak in 2020.  The Financial Times 

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Scientists weigh in on two degrees target for curbing global warming

  • 02 Oct 2014, 13:15
  • Roz Pidcock

Yesterday, two scientists published a  stern critique of the longstanding target to limit global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Branding the target "wrong-headed" and "tenuous", the authors argue we should ditch the two degree target in favour of a suite of "vital signs" that would let us track the Earth's health.

The  commentary, published in the journal Nature, has  generated a  certain  amount of  interest. We asked climate scientists for their thoughts.

Setting a target

In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) decided the objective of global climate policy should be to stabilise humans' influence on the climate below the level at which it can be considered "dangerous".

As temperatures rise, so do the risks of climate change. As the recent report on climate change impacts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) puts it:

"Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts."

With governments worldwide recognising the need to keep rising temperatures in check, it's important to have a goal, Professor Nigel Arnell, director of the Walker Institute for Climate System Research, tells us:

"When we're trying to work out what future climate change might do and how to reduce it, you need some form of metric or indicator on order to judge how well particular policies achieve that goal."

A good indicator

Curbing temperature rise has been central tenet of climate policy for two decades. One of Victor and Kennel's main criticisms in the Nature commentary is the international community's narrow focus on temperatures at earth's surface.

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Conservative conference keeps quiet on climate change

  • 01 Oct 2014, 17:00
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 mrgarethm

Climate change doesn't appear to be part of the Conservative Party's electoral strategy. At its annual conference in Birmingham this week it has seemed a case of the less said on the subject, the better.

The Tories' internal contradictions on climate are no secret. The likes of former environment secretary Owen Paterson have loudly opposed efforts to tackle emissions, while Tory heavyweights like Lord Deben and Michael Howard are firm advocates of action.

These contradictions have left some commentators asking who really speaks for the Conservatives on climate change.

Is it David Cameron who last week called climate change "one of the most serious threats facing our world" and told the conference the UK was leading on climate? Or George Osborne, whose conference speech  avoided the subject?

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Analysis: Will Labour’s energy efficiency overhaul work?

  • 01 Oct 2014, 14:05
  • Mat Hope

House heat | Shutterstock

Is energy efficiency about to become an electoral issue?

The Labour party last week put a plan to help UK households cut energy use, save money, and reduce their carbon footprint at the core of its  election agenda.

Speaking at Labour's annual conference last week, the shadow energy and climate secretary Caroline Flint declared  a "war on cold homes". UK household's are horribly inefficient, she argued, calling the government's current policies "useless".

Labour's plan would make five million homes more energy efficient within 10 years, all "without spending any more money or adding to anyone's energy bill", Flint claims.

So what are the new policies, and how do they differ from the government's current schemes? Most importantly, would it work?

Policy plan

Labour's plan has five parts.

If elected, Labour says it will make the homes of 200,000 low income households more energy efficient each year, for ten years, by paying for them to install insulation and more efficient boilers, among other measures. That would be two million homes in total by 2025.

Labour's plan differs from the government's current scheme for targeting low income households, the  energy companies obligation (ECO), in a number of ways.

Firstly, it targets all low income households, not just those in fuel poverty. The UK currently has around three million households in fuel poverty and six million classified as low income. So changing the scheme's focus "basically doubles the number of people [the government] can provide help to", Ed Matthew from campaign group Energy Bill Revolution argues.

Labour also promises to bring the homes up to energy efficiency grade C in one go rather than in stages, as the government currently plans to do. It also says the improvements will be made street-by-street, rather than one property at a time. It also hands control of the scheme to councils, taking it out the hands of energy firms.

The energy efficiency industry has long argued that area-based plans that make all the improvements at the same time are more efficient than the government's current property-by-property scheme, Matthews says.

For those not in fuel poverty, Labour plans to offer free energy assessments and interest free loans to make improvements - the second and third parts of its plan. That should help overcome two of the main obstacles to people participating in the government's current scheme, the  Green Deal, it says.

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Low-frequency noise study did not test for hearing damage or windfarm impacts

  • 01 Oct 2014, 13:45
  • Simon Evans

Wind turbines | Shutterstock

Living close to a windfarm could damage your hearing, according to articles in today's Telegraph, Times, Daily Mail and Express.

The Express said "Turbine buzz 'is deafening'" and said scientists were warning that noise from windfarms might lead to deafness. The Telegraph took a similar line, beginning "Living close to wind farms may lead to severe hearing damage or even deafness".

However, the research involved did not measure deafness, did not mimic wind turbines and did not show that windfarms cause hearing damage, according to the lead author of the study.

Drexl says the idea that he had shown wind turbine noise "is deafening" is incorrect.

"It's definitely not what we're saying in the paper. You cannot make this claim. It is not substantiated at the moment because we haven't shown whether low frequency sound is causing any damage to the inner ear. I also don't know of any cases of deafness being reported by people living near wind turbines."

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Daily Briefing | September set to be driest on record

  • 01 Oct 2014, 09:30
  • Carbon Brief Staff

September set to be driest on record 
Barring a monsoonal end to our Indian summer, this is set to be the driest September since records began. According to Met Office figures, it is also likely to be one of the warmest as well. From September 1-28, the UK as a whole has received 19.4mm of rain, just a fifth of the normal amount for the month. RTCC also has the story. While The Express reports the warm, dry weather is set to end this week. The Times 

Climate and Energy News 

Burning of grouse moors linked to global warming 
Burning of grouse moors is polluting rivers and contributing to climate change, a new study shows. Owners of grouse moors set fire to heather to encourage the growth of young heather on which red grouse feed, but the study suggested that the impact on the wider environment is overwhelmingly negative. Burning lowers the water table, causing the deep peat covering many moorlands to dry out and release pollutants into rivers and carbon into the atmosphere, researchers say. The Times 

Millennial generation: Today's CEOs are blocking green growth 
A new report by Coca-Cola, Cranfield University and the Financial Times, reveals a wide gap in the views that current and future managers hold on sustainability issues. The study polled around 150 MBA and MSc students and recent graduates, as well as 50 chief executives from across Europe. Researchers found the younger generation tends to view positive social impacts as a core part of the business strategy, while the older generation may see it as merely a corporate social responsibility "add-on" to their principal activities. Business Green 

India will be renewables superpower, says energy minister 
India will be a "renewables superpower" according to its new energy minister, but its coal-fired electricity generation will also undergo "very rapid" expansion. In an interview with the Guardian, Piyush Goyal, minister for power, coal and new and renewable energy, lays out his government's goal to bring electricity to 300 million Indians. Goyal expects $100bn (£62bn) to be invested in renewable energy in India in the next five years, while "coal also would have to expand in a very rapid way," he says. The Guardian 

No greenwash: Investors urged to disclose climate strategy 
The Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP) is upping the pressure on investments corporations to show they are serious about the commitments made at the UN Summit in New York. According to the AODP, investment funds typically have 50-60 per cent of their money in high carbon assets and less than 2 per cent in low carbon assets. The AODP have now challenged more than 1,000 major funds worth US$70 trillion to reveal their investment in high carbon assets. RTCC 

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