US climate pledge promises to push for maximum ambition

  • 31 Mar 2015, 16:25
  • Simon Evans

President Obama | Shutterstock

The US has set out its contribution to a new international climate change agreement, due to be agreed in Paris this December.

It promises to cut emissions by 26% to 28% in 2025 against a 2005 baseline, confirming an existing goal jointly announced with China in November. It says the US will make best efforts to cut emissions by the maximum 28% by 2025.

The expert consensus is that the pledge can be met without new climate laws being passed by the US Congress, but that further executive action will be required. This puts the target at risk after next year's presidential election, if a Republican is elected.

Carbon Brief runs through the key points of the US intended national determined contribution (INDC) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Road to Paris

INDCs are due to be submitted by all parties well in advance of UN climate talks in Paris in December. Carbon Brief has a detailed explainer on the history, context and expectations for the INDC process here.

The US is the second major economy to file its pledge, following the EU submission earlier this month. They are joined by Mexico, Norway and Switzerland meaning 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions are now covered by pledges.

The New Climate Institute, a climate policy research organisation, says it expects submissions to cover around half of global emissions by June, once China's INDC is filed, rising to around 75% by the time the Paris talks take place.

The US INDC says:

"The United States is strongly committed to reducing greenhouse gas pollution."

As with the EU pledge, the US has not gone beyond its already-announced climate goals. It promises to cut emissions by 17% by 2020 and by between 26% and 28% by 2025, both against a 2005 baseline.

These targets are slightly lower than planned by the US in 2010, but, unlike that earlier range, international carbon offsets are excluded, at least for now (the submission says "at this time"). The US target includes land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) as expected.

The US INDC adds a new promise "to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%". This is similar to wording from China around peaking emissions by 2030, but making "best efforts" to peak earlier.

As expected, the US INDC does not include any reference to adaptation or climate finance, as many developing countries had been calling for.

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Explainer: What are 'Intended Nationally Determined Contributions'?

  • 31 Mar 2015, 12:32
  • Sophie Yeo

UN talks | Flickr

The UN is a world of many acronyms, but there is one in particular that is likely to dominate climate policy over the next eight months: INDC.

It stands for "intended nationally determined contribution". This is the phrase that countries are using to describe the climate pledges that they will make ahead of the UN negotiations in Paris later this year.

The success of the UN's new climate agreement will, to a significant degree, depend on the ambition of these pledges, which will determine the rate of action to tackle climate change after 2020.

Carbon Brief takes a look at what makes an INDC, what happens between now and Paris, and why it matters.


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Daily Briefing | Regrowth of forests stems global warming

  • 31 Mar 2015, 10:30
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Green forest | Shutterstock

Regrowth of forests stems global warming 

The Earth's vegetation expanded over the past decade, despite the shrinking of the rainforests, as vast woodlands grew back in Russia and China, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change. Global warming would be more rapid if it were not for the growing mass of world vegetation, say the authors. The  MailOnline reports that nearly 4 billion tonnes of carbon have been added to plants above ground in the decade since 2003. The authors have also written an article for the  Conversation. The Times

Climate and energy news

US offer for climate treaty: Up to 28 percent emissions cut 
AP reports that, "in a highly anticipated announcement", the US will today offer a "roughly 28%" emissions cut as its so-called "INDC" (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) for the Paris climate summit taking place later this year, according to people briefed on the White House's plans. AP sources added that the US will also assert that its contribution is "both ambitious and fair". Today marks the informal deadline for nations to submit their INDCs to the UN, but, to date, few have done so. Meanwhile,  RTCC reports that Australia "risks climate credibility" with what analysts are describing as "coal-friendly" proposals for its INDC. The  Guardian reports the first analysis of the emissions pledges already made by nations ahead of Paris. The Health and Environment Alliance report concludes, if emissions were slashed by around 55%, major economies would boost their prosperity, employment levels and health prospects.  Associated Press via Fox News 

Britain's leading private university 'becoming a mouthpiece for fossil-fuel industry' 
In an exclusive, the paper reports that the University of Buckingham has appointed an anti-windfarm campaigner to set up a new "energy institute". The university, which already has links to the climate-sceptic lobby group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, has "raised further concerns about its academic neutrality by hiring John Constable to head the new unit".  The Independent 

Rich nations' fossil fuel export funding dwarfs green spend: documents 
The world's wealthiest nations provided around five times as much in export subsidies for fossil-fuel technology as for renewable energy over a decade, according to OECD data seen by Reuters. Reuters says the OECD figures are "central" to a debate on targeting funding ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris at the end of the year. Reuters

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Natural variability could slow the pace of Arctic summer sea ice loss, study says

  • 30 Mar 2015, 20:00
  • Robert McSweeney

Arctic landscape | Shutterstock

Natural fluctuations in the oceans and atmosphere are currently conspiring to amplify the impact of manmade global warming on summer Arctic sea ice, according to a new paper.

Were these different cycles to weaken or reverse, they could instead dampen the warming effect in the Arctic, and slow the rate of Arctic sea ice loss, the author says.

But any change of pace would only be temporary, Dr Ed Hawkins, who leads an Arctic predictability project, tells Carbon Brief. We should expect the decline in sea ice to continue in the long-term, he says.

Declining summer sea ice

Scientists have been using satellites to measure Arctic sea ice since 1979. As one measure of the Arctic's health, scientists record its smallest extent each year, which it usually hits at the end of summer. You can see the long-term decrease in September sea ice in the graph below, with the eight smallest summer extents all recorded in the last eight years.

Monthly _ice _NH_09

Average September Arctic sea ice extent from full satellite record (1979-2014), Source:  NSIDC

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The Carbon Brief Interview: Tim Yeo

  • 30 Mar 2015, 14:00
  • Leo Hickman

Tim Yeo has been the Conservative MP for South Suffolk since 1983 and is the current chair of the Commons'  Energy and Climate Change (ECC) committee. Yeo served as the minister for environment and countryside from 1992-3. Yeo is standing down as an MP at the general election in May after being deselected by his local party members in 2013.

In his final in-depth interview before stepping down as the chair of the ECC select committee, Yeo discusses…

Fracking: "By the late 2030s we won't need to be fracking in this country, but for the time being, I think it's better than not doing so."

The Paris COP: "What I would like to see, it something which facilitates the move towards a global cap and trade."

The Fifth Carbon Budget: "I'll be very surprised if there isn't quite a high penalty on those companies and industries that have not decarbonised by the 2030s. And the fifth carbon budget needs to be challenging, so that people can start making their plans now."

Beyond the Climate Change Act: "We know that unless we've got to that net-zero by mid-century, the danger is that the concentration in the atmosphere will be so great, and for so long, that the cost then will become very expensive, and very disruptive."

Wind power: "Onshore wind is relatively good value for money, but it's being blocked at the planning system, which is a mistake. We've put, I think, too much into some of the expensive ones, offshore wind, the early CFDs."

Investing, hypothetically, his own money: "Well, I think I'd put a decent chunk into solar."

The Green Deal: "It's been a failure, I'm afraid"

The "older, white male" climate sceptic Tories: "To be brutal, they're going to die off. Very few people under the age of 40 now, I think, seriously question the science."

The UK exiting the EU: "Given we have got quite ambitious [carbon] targets set domestically, I don't think it should have too much of a damaging effect on our own approach."

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Daily Briefing | US to submit plans to fight global warming; most others delay

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

President Obama | Shutterstock

U.S. to submit plans to fight global warming; most others delay 
The US will submit plans for slowing global warming to the United Nations early this week but most governments will miss an informal March 31 deadline, Reuters reports. The US submission, due on Monday or Tuesday according to a White House official, will add to national strategies presented by the EU, Mexico, Switzerland and  Norway. Other emitters such as China, India, Russia and Brazil say they are waiting until closer to the Paris summit - complicating work on a global climate deal due in December.  Scientific American also has the story.        Reuters 

Climate and energy news

Earth hour: millions will switch off lights around the world for climate action 
The annual Earth Hour, where millions of homes, businesses and landmarks symbolically switch off their lights, has extra significance in the run-up to UN climate talks in Paris says UN chief Ban Ki-moon.  Time  says citizens from Australia to Austin are "sending a message about climate change", while  AP has a video of Prince Charles on the importance of the campaign.    The Telegraph has a selection of Earth Hour photos from around the world.        The Guardian 

Mexico Announces Ambitious Climate Target 
Mexico announced a 'landmark' climate target on Friday, making it the first developing country to present a formal pledge under the United Nations process. It promised that its emissions of greenhouse gases will peak by 2026 and then begin to decline - with a cut of 22% by 2030. Hitting the target will mean sharply raising fuel efficiency, and Mexico has also set goals for increasing the share of renewable and nuclear energy in its power sector. The  Washington Post,  the Guardian and  RTCC also have the story.       Inside Climate News 

Antarctica Recorded Its Hottest Temperature Ever This Week 
According to the weather blog Weather Underground, on March 24 the temperature in Antarctica rose to 63.5°F (17.5C) - a record for the polar continent. Setting a new all-time temperature record for an entire continent is rare and the verification process could take months. But even in their unofficial capacity "the readings are stunning", Climate Progress writes.       Climate Progress 

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Carbon capture and storage: Can the UK hit climate goals without killing off heavy industry?

  • 27 Mar 2015, 10:00
  • Simon Evans

Credit: Tata Steel

The UK should develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) clusters incorporating industrial sites as well as power plants, says the thinktank Green Alliance.

This would increase the amount of carbon captured nine-fold while cutting costs per tonne by two thirds, but it won't happen without new financial incentives, says the 25 March  report. Meanwhile new government roadmaps show heavy industry needs CCS to make significant emissions reductions.

The Green Alliance report is the latest in a long line to highlight the pressing need for CCS to cut carbon cost-effectively, while noting a long history of false starts and proposing a fresh approach to energising the sector.

Carbon Brief takes a look at why industrial CCS is considered essential to decarbonise sectors such as steel and cement, and why meeting UK carbon targets will cost more without it.

The case for industrial CCS

The attraction of CCS, and the reason it is opposed by some, is that it seems to offer the chance to keep burning fossil fuels while reducing emissions.

In December, David Cameron told MPs that CCS was "absolutely crucial if we are going to decarbonise effectively". The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says avoiding dangerous warming will cost twice as much without CCS.

UK decarbonisation would also be about twice as expensive without CCS, says a 17 March report from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

However, research published in January shows CCS doesn't actually make much difference to the total amount of fossil fuel that can be burnt, within a budget that gives a likely chance of limiting warming to less than two degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.

This adds to arguments that CCS shouldn't be used to decarbonise coal- and gas-fired power stations on a large scale, since other low-carbon electricity sources are available. It's a different story for heavy industry, however, where CCS is one of the few ways to radically cut carbon in line with UK and EU targets to reduce emissions by 80% or more by 2050.

The new Green Alliance report says CCS is "the only currently feasible technology" to cut emissions of many energy intensive industries, yet the UK's current approach focuses only on cutting the cost of power sector CCS.

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Daily Briefing | Study reveals Antarctic ice shelves have shrunk by as much as 18% in ten years

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

Antarctic ice shelf | Shutterstock

Study reveals Antarctic ice shelves have shrunk by as much as 18% in ten years 
Antarctica's icy edge is disappearing in warming ocean waters, with the last decade seeing the rate of ice loss increase dramatically. Scientists combined 18-years of ice thinning data from three satellites, discovering that some ice shelves in West Antarctica have lost as much as 18 per cent of their volume in the last ten years and some in the Amundsen could disappear within this century. This could unlock extra sea level rise from larger ice sheets jammed behind them, the Guardian writes. Carbon Briefthe BBC Scientific American and Inside Climate News also have the story.       Mail Online 

Climate and energy news

Leaders of European cities make pledge to tackle climate change 
Leaders and representatives of 30 European cities gathered in Paris on Thursday to sign a declarationof their commitment to "clean' policies to fight climate change, pledging to curb their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030. It also commits them to use their collective purchasing power of around €10bn to buy eco-friendly. Mayors from 26 European cities, including London and Bristol, hoped that the move would have a "leverage effect on the private sector". The summit comes a week after Paris was declared the most polluted city on the planet. Business Green also has the story.      The Guardian 

'Cat litter mix' closed US nuclear waste repository 
A mixture that included organic cat litter forced the closure of the only underground nuclear waste repository in the US, a team of government experts has determined, the BBC reports. Cat litter used to absorb liquids in a barrel of nuclear waste was the wrong type, sparking a chemical reaction and a subsequent $240m radioactive leak, scientists told the Guardian. 22 workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico were contaminated and the release forced the repository to close indefinitely, Reuters writes.      BBC News 

Shell cuts jobs in North Sea as low oil price hits Aberdeen 
Royal Dutch Shell has said it plans to cut jobs and adjust shifts in the North Sea in a bid to counter the impact of falling oil prices on its operations in Aberdeen, the Telegraph reports. The Anglo-Dutch group said it would shed 250 roles - even after the Chancellor's recent announcement of a package of measures in the budget to boost the offshore petroleum industry. The Financial Times also covered the story.       The Telegraph 

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Antarctic ice shelf thinning is accelerating, reveals new study

  • 26 Mar 2015, 19:30
  • Robert McSweeney

Antarctic ice shelf | Shutterstock

A new study reveals ice shelves in the western part of Antarctica are melting much faster than a decade ago. Satellite data from three separate missions shows melting of these vast, floating ice shelves has increased by 70% in the last decade.

If current warming trends continue, the researchers say the ice could thin so much that these icy 'gatekeepers' risk collapsing, unlocking parts of the ice sheet to faster ice loss.

Floating sheets of ice

Ice shelves form where a glacier on land reaches the coast and flows into the ocean. They surround 75% of the Antarctic continent. If the ocean is cold enough, the ice doesn't melt but instead forms a floating sheet of ice that extends over the ocean.

Ice Shelf Diagram

Ice shelf diagram. Credit: Professor Helen Fricker, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

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Large fall in UK emissions in 2014, official figures confirm

  • 26 Mar 2015, 11:00
  • Simon Evans

Smoke stacks | Shutterstock

UK carbon dioxide emissions fell by 9.7% in 2014 year-on-year, according to official figures from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The provisional figures, published today, confirm Carbon Brief's estimate published on 4 March of a 9.2% reduction, as the table below shows.

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 At 09.56.01

Source: DECC emissions data and Carbon Brief analysis of DECC energy data

A 23% reduction in coal use and record warm temperatures were the main contributors to the decline in emissions. Continued falls in energy use were also a factor.

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