Daily Briefing | Europe backs a new nuclear plant at Hinkley

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

Hinkley | Shutterstock

Europe backs Hinkley nuclear plant 
The European Commission has given the UK government the go-ahead to subsidise the building of the country's first new nuclear plant in 20 years. The government signed a deal with energy company EDF to build the plant last October. But the commission was called in to check the deal didn't contravene laws designed to prevent governments giving particular industries an unfair advantage. Yesterday, the commission cleared the plans after the government made a couple of tweaks to the deal. TheTelegraph Financial Times and  Guardian all focus on the commission's claim that the plant will cost around £24 billion to build, £8 billion more than the UK government originally estimated.     BBC News 

Climate and energy news

Clegg's 'green crap' jibe at Cameron draws mixed reaction 
The Deputy Prime Minister told the Liberal Democrat party conference that a sustainable environment will "remain at the heart" of his party's "vision for Britain's future". Taking a dig at his Conservative coalition colleagues, he added, "it's not green crap to us". But campaigners warned the Liberal Democrat leader has little environmental success to brag about, BusinessGreen reports. The party failed to get a decarbonisation target in last year's Energy Act and has had to back down on a range of other green policies while in government, campaigners say.     BusinessGreen 

Friendless candidate for top EU energy job heads for exit 
Former Slovenian prime minister Alenka Bratusek looks like she may have messed up her chance to be confirmed as the EU's new energy commissioner. Bratusek looks unlikely to be confirmed after a "disastrous" performance in front of MEPs on Monday, RTCC reports. Slovakia's Maros Sefcovic and current Slovenian commissioner Janez Potocnik have been suggested as possible substitutes.     RTCC 

Glasgow University to sell its fossil fuel investments 
Glasgow University has become the first academic institution in Europe to announce it will sell off shares in fossil fuel companies. The university will divest £18 million of shares over the next decade. Other UK universities are also considering the move, with the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies expected to make a decision in the next month. The  Guardian has a brief history of the divestment movement.     BBC News 

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Behind the pictures: What does climate change mean for the walrus?

  • 08 Oct 2014, 16:36
  • Robert McSweeney

Group of walrus | Shutterstock

Last week the media was awash with pictures of a ' mass haul-out' of around 35,000 walrus on the shores of Alaska. The sight of so many walrus lounging on land rather than sea-ice led many to herald it as further evidence of climate change.

We take a look at what retreating sea-ice might mean for this iconic Arctic mammal.


Walrus are typically found in the shallow coastal waters of the Arctic circle, migrating with the sea-ice as it expands and contracts through the seasons. Walrus typically 'haul-out' by climbing onto sea ice and using it as a platform for feeding, resting and breeding.

There are two main types of walrus, Atlantic and Pacific, named after the oceans in which they're found. It was the latter that were captured on camera in such large numbers on the Alaskan coast last week.

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Three charts that show how efficiency has saved a continent’s worth of energy

  • 08 Oct 2014, 15:30
  • Simon Evans

Facade windows | Shutterstock

Energy efficiency has saved more energy than is used by the EU, China or the US according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). It is an "invisible powerhouse" for the global economy, improving energy security, reducing bills and making it easier to avoid dangerous climate change, says IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven.

The IEA was singing the praises of energy efficiency a month ago but governments seem to be failing to embrace its full potential. Its latest publication takes a more optimistic view of recent progress.

So how much has efficiency achieved since the turn of the century?

Continent-scale energy saving

The most arresting comparison made by the IEA report is that efficiency efforts in the decade to 2011 saved more energy (the large light blue bar on the chart below) than a year's worth of consumption in the US, China or EU (the dark blue bars).

IEA EE Chart

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Why the European Commission approved the UK’s plans for a new nuclear plant

  • 08 Oct 2014, 12:50
  • Mat Hope

Shutterstock | Sizewell nuclear

The European Commission today gave the go-ahead for the UK government to subsidise the building of two new nuclear reactors. The decision is something of a U-turn for the commission, which outlined a range of objections to the deal late last year.

The UK government last October signed a deal with energy company EDF to build the first new nuclear power plant in the UK for 20 years, worth between £16 billion and £24.5 billion. The government agreed to pay a guaranteed price for the plant's electricity and underwrite the loans needed to get construction started.

The European Commission was called in to check the deal didn't  contravene EU laws designed to avoid governments giving unfair support to particular industries. Last December, the commission published a  long list of objections to the deal. But today it has decided the deal can go ahead after all.

So why the change of heart?

Clawing back profits

It's hard to know exactly what went on  behind the scenes over the last 10 months, but the commission claims two changes to the Hinkley deal were enough to get it to change its mind.

The commission originally said the UK government hadn't forced EDF to agree to pay enough money back if the Hinkley plant was more profitable than expected. The government agreed to tweak the agreement  earlier this month, and seems to have won the commission round.

The commission was unhappy with how the government and EDF initially agreed to split the profits from the plant once it was up and running, called a 'gain share mechanism'.

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Attributing extreme weather to climate change in real-time

  • 08 Oct 2014, 11:00
  • Dr Friederike Otto

The question of how extreme weather events might be linked to climate change is a key one.

It's particularly important because in many regions, extreme weather like heatwaves, floods and droughts cause more damage than other, more predictable consequences of climate change, such as sea-level rise.  

Scientists know that an increase in average temperature as the climate changes will lead to an increase in the number or magnitude of some extreme events, while others will get less likely.

But the chaotic nature of weather means it's generally impossible to say, for any particular event, that it only happened because of climate change.

European Heatwave

During the 2003 heatwave in Europe, summer temperatures rose several degrees above those in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004. Image by Reto Stöckli, Robert Simmon and David Herring, NASA Earth Observatory, based on data from the MODIS land team

Probabilistic event attribution

On this basis, some people have concluded that it's effectively impossible to attribute extreme weather events to greenhouse gas emissions.

But this isn't quite right, and there are ways we can explore the links.

My colleagues and I work on the emerging science of  Probabilistic Event Attribution (PEA), which tries to  assess how much human-induced climate change is  affecting local weather events such as  flooding or  heatwaves.

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Daily Briefing | EU leaders poised to agree tougher climate and energy goals

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

EU poised to agree 2030 climate, energy goals-draft 
EU leaders are poised this month to agree three new, tougher climate and energy goals for 2030 and poorer nations will get help to shoulder the cost, according to a draft document prepared for summit talks, says Reuters. The document, dated October 7th, showed the EU is considering a 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. It is also seeking a 30 per cent increase in energy savings compared with projected consumption and a goal to get 27 per cent of energy from renewable sources.     Reuters 

Climate and energy news

Friends of the Earth calls for EU rethink on renewables state aid guidance 
A recent change to EU state aid guidance is threatening to create "big problems" for renewables projects, campaigners warned. Friends of the Earth has filed a formal request to the European Commission calling for an urgent review of guidance that requires all renewable energy projects with more than 1MW of capacity to undergo a competitive bidding process in order to secure government support. They warn that it would make it much harder for mid-sized renewable energy projects, such as community-owned solar farms or large rooftop solar arrays, to secure support.     Business Green 

Sea ice surrounding Antarctica reaches record levels as it hits 20 MILLION square kilometers 
Sea ice surrounding Antarctica has reached a new record high. NASA says it now covers more of the southern oceans since the satellite record began in the late 1970s. The upward trend in the Antarctic, however, is only about a third of the magnitude of the rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. The new Antarctic sea ice record reflects the diversity and complexity of Earth's environments, say NASA researchers.     Mail Online 

Without New Policies, Federal Watchdog Says Canada Will Fail To Meet Climate Goals 
Canada's government isn't doing enough to meet its 2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, according to a new report from the country's environmental watchdog. Canada had pledged to reduce its emissions 17 per cent by 2020, but a new report says Canada's emissions look set to be virtually unchanged. According to the report, the lack of regulations on Canada's burgeoning oil and gas industry are contributing heavily to the country's failure to reduce emissions.     Climate Progress 

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Is burning wood for energy worse for the climate than coal?

  • 07 Oct 2014, 16:50
  • Simon Evans

Drax Power

An article in today's Daily Mail says it is "lunacy" to run Drax power station on biomass instead of coal. Converting the plant to burn wood destroys forests and emits more carbon, it says. The paper calls this a "living, humming, forest-destroying symbol of the shameful absurdity of European energy policies".

Drax and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) do not agree. DECC is giving money to conversions at Drax and other power plants because they are helping the UK meet an EU target to get 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

DECC says this will cut carbon too, if the right kind of biomass is used. But what does the right kind of biomass look like? Let's try to unpack things a little.

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Around the world in 22 carbon capture projects

  • 07 Oct 2014, 11:52
  • Simon Evans and Rosamund Pearce

Avoiding dangerous climate change is still possible but will cost more than twice as much if we don't have plenty of  carbon capture and storage (CCS).

That's what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  concluded earlier this year.

If the world is going to avoid dangerous warming then CCS is probably going to play a pretty important role. The executive director of the International Energy Agency Maria van der Hoeven says it is "essential". Former UK chief scientist David King has   called CCS "the only hope for mankind".

So the  opening of the world's first major power station CCS project at Boundary Dam in Canada is being hailed as a historic milestone in efforts to tackle climate change.

Boundary Dam is significant because it's the first commercial scale power station to use the technology, even if CCS is fitted to just one of its generating units.

So where in the world is CCS being developed, and how much carbon will be captured?

We take you around the world in 22 CCS projects that are operational or under construction according to the Global CCS Institute.

The current state of CCS

North America has the largest number of CCS projects by far. The US boasts 16 of the 22 operational or under construction schemes and the lion's share of capture capacity, as the map below shows.

We've plotted the location and size of the world'c CCS on this map. The full, interactive Carbon Brief map is available over at   CartoDB.

The UK doesn't feature on the map. There are five planned CCS projects in the UK but none has reached the construction phase, let alone started operating. Their progress has been rocky at best, despite a government pledge of £1 billion in funding.

Only three of the 22 active global projects are power stations. The remainder include nine industrial facilities manufacturing iron or processing tar sands, for instance. Then there are ten projects at natural gas processing facilities.

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Daily Briefing | Japan's nuclear restart likely to hit oil usage

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

Shutterstock: Nuclear power plant

Japan nuclear restart to hit oil usage hardest 
Japanese utility companies have applied to restart twenty nuclear reactors from next year - the country gradually shut down all of its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. This Reuters piece takes a detailed look at the likely effect on oil and gas imports to the country. Oil imports are likely to fall, it says - Japan turned to expensive oil power as a stop-gap to replace nuclear generation.     Reuters 

Is global warming WORSE than we think? Ocean temperatures are rising 'up to 152% faster' than believed, study claims 
Satellite measurements of the Southern Ocean suggest that more heat has been absorbed by the upper layers of the seas than scientists had thought. That means global warming is worse than we thought, the Mail infers, and global ocean warming has been underestimated by between 24 and 58 per cent. Another piece of research,  also reported by the Mail suggests that the deep ocean has not warmed over the past few decades - although the researchers warn that their measurements are not accurate enough to say for sure. The  New York Times also covers the first paper, concluding "the finding that more heat has been taken up by the oceans may lead to revisions in estimates of the rate of sea-level rise [and] may affect assessments of how sensitive the climate is to [greenhouse gases]."      Mail Online 

Could CLIMATE CHANGE determine the sex of your child? Warmer temperatures are linked to a rise in baby girls being born 
Mail Online reports the findings of new research from Japan which suggests that more girls are born compared to boys when temperatures rise in the country. However, the study "makes it clear that climate change may not be responsible for skewing the number of girls and boys that are born". As the world heats, and if temperature does change the ratio of male to female births, "a change to the global sex ratio may happen one day" the article concludes.      Mail Online 

Vince Cable admits green taxes DO harm the British economy 
At the Liberal Democrat conference, Business Secretary Vince Cable has warned about the effect of 'green levies' on business. He is reported to have told a fringe meeting: "we have now introduced compensation schemes to offset some of those costs, but... it doesn't go the whole hog ... There's an issue here about the extent to which we are willing to tolerate the export of pollution because of our own system of taxing and charging industries which have a high energy content."      The Daily Mail 

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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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