Analysis

Daily Briefing | Pope to weigh in on climate change action

  • 29 Apr 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Pope Francis | Shutterstock

Pope to weigh in on climate change action 
In a sign that Pope Francis will aggressively push for climate change action in his much anticipated encyclical, a senior Vatican official yesterday launched an attack on fossil fuels and urged wealthy nations to slash their carbon emissions. Addressing the Vatican climate summit yesterday, United Nations chief Ban-Ki moon yesterday strongly supported the Pope's treatment of climate action as a moral imperative, says The Times. Meanwhile, climate change sceptics claim Pope Francis is "deeply ill-informed" about global warming, having been fed false information by the UN, reports The Telegraph. In a hotel conference room nearby, the Heartland Institute - a climate skeptic US thinktank - gave a press conference accusing the pontiff of scare-mongering on the issue. But prominent UK skeptics, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley and James Delingpole, were interrupted by "papal heavies" half-way through making their point, reports The IndependentThe New York TimesRTCCAP and The Washington Post all have more on the story.      The Financial Times 

Climate and energy news

Shell and BP alone eclipse renewable energy sector on access to ministers 
The fossil fuel sector is enjoying far more access to government than renewable energy companies, according to Guardian analysis. Between 2010 and 2014, ministers held 230 meetings with Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Total, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and the trade organisation Oil & Gas UK compared to 119 for organisations in the renewable sector. Former green MP Caroline Lucas criticised the apparent priority given to fossil fuel giants, saying: "The chasm unearthed here is sadly illustrative of a government out of touch with the vast opportunities offered by the renewables industry".       The Guardian 

BP first-quarter profit falls 20% as crude oil price plunges 
BP's profits in the first quarter of 2015 fell to $2.1bn, a 39% decline on the same period last year. But this is better than expected, says The Telegraph, as analysts predicted the oil giant would feel a much tighter pinch from falling crude prices. Chief executive Bob Dudley says the company's performance is down to a careful period of "resetting and rebalancing" investment priorities. The company has cut expenditure by 20% this year and laid off staff in high-cost operating areas such as the North Sea. The BBC also has the story.     The Financial Times 

Artificially manipulating Arctic climate by 'whitening' surface of ocean to reflect sunlight back into space will fail, say scientists 
Attempts to whiten the surface of the Arctic Ocean to reflect sunlight are doomed to fail, according to new research. This radical suggestion for how to artificially manipulate the climate in the event of a "global emergency" may allow some ice to reform but warming in the region would persist, says the Independent. Even if ocean whitening held some potential for lowering temperatures or preserving permafrost, there is currently no technically feasible way to do it, the researchers note.      The Independent 

Read more

How successfully can the Arctic Council tackle climate change?

  • 28 Apr 2015, 14:45
  • Sophie Yeo

warnsweet | Shutterstock

The US has promised to make climate action a priority of its two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

The Arctic Council is the main forum for intergovernmental cooperation in the Arctic. Its permanent members include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. The US counts as an Arctic nation by dint of Alaska, which was purchased from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million.

The US government set out its domestic  strategy for the region in 2013, with a plan of  implementation released in January 2014. In July 2014, the State Department appointed its first-ever special representative for Arctic issues, Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr. This is the second time that the US has held chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

Despite this, the US is widely regarded as a minor player in Arctic issues, with Washington-based think tank Center for a New American Security accusing the administration of failing to dedicate  sufficient financial resources to cement their interest in the region.

Read more

Prof Richard Muller: Not adjusting global temperature records would be "poor science"

  • 28 Apr 2015, 13:45
  • Roz Pidcock

The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), Lord Lawson's UK-based climate skeptic lobby group, has  announced it is launching an inquiry into the integrity of global surface temperature records.

Of particular interest, the group says, is whether "adjustments" to the raw data to account for gaps and inconsistencies have increased the warming trend over the industrial period.

Carbon Brief has spoken to Prof Richard Muller, physicist and  self-professed skeptical scientist, who carried out a very similar inquiry a few years ago as part of the Berkeley Earth surface temperature ( BEST) project, based in California. Muller tells Carbon Brief:

"From a scientific point of view, it would be irresponsible not to adjust … it would be considered poor science to avoid such corrections … [and] they do not affect the substantial results."

The BEST project

In 2011, Prof Richard Muller and daughter Liz, co-founders of Berkeley Earth, embarked on a  project. They, too, questioned the reliability of global surface temperature records. Muller says:

"We have been watching the [GWPF] Data Review Project with interest. The project is looking hard at exactly the sorts of issues that got us into this arena five years ago. It is good that we are included in the organisations that they are looking at, because we feel we have not only addressed most of the issues, but have done so transparently, and discuss them openly in our published papers."

After reanalysing all the existing surface temperature data, with and without adjustments, the BEST team concluded that the world has warmed 1.5C over the past 250 years.

The GWPF inquiry will look at  three major datasets to study global temperature, compiled by the UK Met Office, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA) and NASA, as well as the BEST reanalysis.

The GWPF says the review won't look at satellite records of lower troposphere temperature, which  show a warming trend over the last 35 years consistent with the surface data. The reasons aren't given, other than that satellites are "beyond the scope of this inquiry".

You can read much more about  global surface temperature and  satellite records in Carbon Brief's explainers, and see how their trends compare in our graphic, below.

Read more

Daily Briefing | Study: Global warming has dramatically upped the odds of extreme heat events

  • 28 Apr 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Dunes | Shutterstock

Study: Global warming has dramatically upped the odds of extreme heat events 
The Washington Post, along with many other media outlets, reports the findings of a new study by Switzerland-based climatologists Erich Fischer and Reto Knutti, in which they perform an analysis, not for any individual event, but rather for all daily heat and precipitation extremes of a "moderate" magnitude occurring over land in our current climate. The Post stresses that "this does not mean that these extreme events are 'caused' by climate change; rather, it means they were made more likely to occur in a statistical sense." The IndependentMailOnlineGuardianTimeNatureNBC News andReuters all carry the story. And Carbon Brief explains the study, speaking to Knutti.      Washington Post 

Climate and energy news

Vatican urges action on climate change 
The BBC's environment analyst is in Rome ahead of today's Vatican conference "Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity", which is being held at the Vatican Science Academy. The meeting is a precursor to the much-anticipated papal encyclical on climate change expected next month. Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sondoro, who heads the academy, tells Harrabin that the "oil industry was fomenting distrust of science in the US because it did not want society to change". The New York Times Nature and the Washington Post also preview today's meeting. Meanwhile, DesmogUK reports on attempts by a small group of climate sceptics to influence the meeting. Earlier this month, Carbon Brief published an explainer on the papal encyclical.       BBC News 

Prince Charles on brink of ending all fossil fuel investments 
The Prince of Wales is on the "brink of eradicating all fossil fuel investments from his financial holdings", according to the Guardian. Over the weekend, sources at Buckingham Palace confirmed to the Financial Times that "his private investments and his charitable foundation do not have any fossil fuel holdings". The Guardian has now also received a statement from the £900m Duchy of Cornwall estate, from which the heir to the throne extracts an annual income. It said it "does not have any direct hydrocarbon investments. A review of collective investments is currently being undertaken".        The Guardian 

UK people happy to cut energy use, but wary of smart meters 
A study published in Nature Climate Change has found that many people in the UK are worried about having smart meters in their homes because they fear that data about their personal energy use will be shared. In an online survey of more than 2,400 people in the UK, Alexa Spence of Nottingham University found that a fifth would be "uncomfortable" with smart meter data sharing. However, those who were more concerned about climate change tended to be more amenable to data sharing. The Guardian also carries the story.        New Scientist 

Read more

Hydrofluorocarbon emissions up 54% with air conditioning on the rise

  • 27 Apr 2015, 20:00
  • Robert McSweeney

Air conditioning units | Shutterstock

As spring temperatures in the UK inched above 20C in recent weeks, air conditioners in offices across the country will have rumbled into life after a silent winter.

But while these machines cool our buildings and cars, they could be having an increasing warming effect on the planet, a new study says.

Air conditioners and fridges contain potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The new research shows global emissions of HFCs have risen by more than half between 2007 and 2012.

And as temperatures and incomes rise during this century, air conditioning use is set to grow rapidly in warm countries around the world, a second study finds.

Potent greenhouse gases

In 1987, countries around the world signed the Montreal Protocol, an agreement to phase out use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).

Scientists had found the gases were depleting the ozone layer, the atmospheric shield that filters the Sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the Earth's surface.

CFCs and HCFCs were used as refrigerants in air conditioning units and fridges, propellants in aerosol sprays, and fire suppressants in extinguishers.

Scientists invented HFCs to take their place. HFCs don't damage the ozone layer, but as with their predecessors, they are potent greenhouse gases - as much as several thousand times stronger at absorbing heat than carbon dioxide.

Now a new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds their emissions have risen rapidly in just five years.

Dramatic rise

Researchers estimated the abundance of the five most common HFCs from two global datasets: the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE) and Japan's National Institute Environmental Studies (NIES ).

The data showed a dramatic rise in HFC emissions from 303 to 463 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between 2007 and 2012. This equates to an increase of 33 million tonnes per year, similar to the annual fossil fuel carbon emissions of New Zealand, the researchers say.

You can see this increase as the blue line in the graph below. The researchers also divided the results between developed countries (Annex I, green line) and developing countries (Non-Annex I, red line).

Lunt Et Al 2015 Fig2

Combined emissions of five HFCs from 2007 to 2012 for the world (blue line), developed countries only (green) and developing countries only (red line). Dotted and dashed black lines show emissions reported to the UNFCCC (for developed countries only). Grey, orange and purple lines show estimates from other studies. Source: Lunt et al. (2015)

Read more

Human activity responsible for three out of four heat extremes, study finds

  • 27 Apr 2015, 16:45
  • Roz Pidcock

A new study says 75% of extreme hot days and 18% of days with heavy rainfall worldwide can be explained by the warming we've seen over the industrial period.

In a future world with 2C warming above pre-industrial levels, almost all extreme hot days and 40% of heavy rainfall days will be down to rising temperatures, say the authors.

The  new study, published today in Nature Climate Change, is the first to estimate how climate change has favoured some types of extreme event right across the globe.

And the message for policymakers is "striking", says Prof Peter Stott, who leads the Met Office's climate attribution team but who wasn't involved in the study.

Extreme weather

Global temperature today is about  0.85C above what it was before the industrial revolution, and most of the rise is driven by human activity. But rising greenhouse gases mean more than an increase in global average temperature. It means changes in extreme weather, too.

Prof Reto Knutti from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and co-author of the new study, tells Carbon Brief:

"Warmer temperatures overall create more hot days, and warmer air can hold and transport more moisture, which at some point must come down. These physical principles have been known for decades."

number of scientific studies have linked increases in  extreme temperatures and heavy rainfall to a warming climate.

But what has been lacking up to now is an estimate of the fraction of extreme events occurring worldwide that are attributable to human activity, says Stott in a summary article accompanying the new paper.

Using a number of climate models, the new study compares the chances of daily temperature or rainfall extremes crossing a given high threshold in today's climate, compared to a pre-industrial world. The difference between the two probabilities is the contribution of climate change, the paper explains.

Read more

Daily Briefing | Number 10 warns of opposition to potential BP bid

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

10 Downing St | Shutterstock

Number 10 warns of opposition to potential BP bid 
The Government has recently met with BP to express its opposition to any potential takeover of the oil major. The move comes on the back of speculation that BP could be the next company to be caught up in the wave of consolidation in the energy sector, as ExxonMobil - the world's biggest non-state owned oil company - has been linked with making a move for BP. "It is in the UK's interest to have British companies competing and succeeding at home and abroad", a Number 10 spokesperson said. Westminster's opposition to a BP takeover marks a significant step-change from the UK's typical open market approach, perhaps a sign that the laissez-faire UK is becoming 'a bit more Gallic', says the Financial Times.       Telegraph 

Climate and energy news

Pension funds failing to manage climate risk could get sued 
Some 85% of major asset owners are doing little or nothing to cut carbon, the Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP) has found. If funds refuse to engage with these risks, AODP and Client Earth are preparing to help pension holders take legal action, RTCC reports. Only 7% of asset owners surveyed for AODP's index even had the ability to calculate their carbon footprints. Just 1.4% had cut their carbon intensity in the past year and 2% planned to do so next year.        RTCC 

Leading group of climate change deniers accused of creating 'fake controversy' over claims global temperature data may be inaccurate 
Lord Lawson's climate change skeptic thinktank, The Global Warming Policy Foundation, says it will investigate "adjustments" to the four major global temperature datasets to account for data gaps. The group says these "known errors and biases" in some cases result in a larger warming trend than exists in the raw data. A similar inquiry in 2011 by an independent group of scientists, the Berkeley Earth group, concluded from its reanalysis of global temperature data that the world has, in fact, warmed 1.5C over the past 250 years. David Rose reports on the GWPF's inquiry for the Mail on Sunday and Christopher Booker has a comment in The Sunday Telegraph. Here's Carbon Brief's explainer of how scientists take Earth's temperature.        The Independent 

Like shale oil, solar power is shaking up global energy 
WIth Japan turning off the lights at giant oil-fired power plants, and nuclear power in the doldrums after Fukushima, it's solar energy that is becoming the alternative, Reuters writes. Solar power is set to become profitable in Japan as early as this quarter, according to the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, freeing it from the need for government subsidies and making it the last of the G7 economies where the technology has become economically viable. A crash in the prices of photovoltaic panels and improved technology that harnesses more power from the sun has placed solar on the cusp of a global boom, analysts say, who compare its rise to shale oil.        Reuters 

Read more

HSBC outlines four ways to divest from fossil fuels

  • 24 Apr 2015, 16:12
  • Sophie Yeo

Palurtchaivong | Shutterstock

The divestment movement is gathering steam, with universities, cities, charities and pension funds under increasing pressure to move their money out of the fossil fuel industry.

Those behind the push have sold it as both an ethical and financial imperative. In the first case, investors should not be propping up an industry that divestment advocates say is responsible for the bulk of human-caused emissions.

In the latter, they argue that climate change regulations could lead to investments in the fossil fuel industry losing their value, since the  majority of reserves cannot be burnt if the world is to avoid exceeding 2C of warming.

HSBC released a  report on divestment last week, confirming that it sees the risk of stranded assets as a genuine threat for investors in the fossil fuel industry.

But the threat is not spread equally, it said, and nor is there one blanket solution to deal with it.

Carbon Brief looks at which investors are most at risk from the possible devaluation of the fossil fuel industry, and the different strategies that they can take to protect themselves.

Read more

World's plants and soils to switch from carbon sink to source by 2100, study shows

  • 24 Apr 2015, 15:40
  • Robert McSweeney

Autumn forest | Shutterstock

Every year, trees and plants across the world absorb a vast amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But a new study suggests this massive carbon sink could instead become a source of carbon dioxide by the end of the century.

This means we might not be able to rely on plants soaking up our emissions for much longer, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.

Extra carbon dioxide

Through photosynthesis, plants convert carbon dioxide, water and sunlight into the fuel they need to grow, locking up carbon in their branches, stems and leaves in the process.

Research suggests that as human-caused carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere, plants will grow more quickly because the rate of photosynthesis speeds up. This is called 'carbon dioxide fertilisation'.

This argument is sometimes used in parts of the media to suggest that additional carbon dioxide is beneficial for the Earth as extra food for plants.

But research published this week in Nature Geoscience suggests that plants won't have enough nutrients to make full use of the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  So any benefits will be limited, say the authors.

Nutrient needs

Plants need the right mix of nutrients to grow. Two of the most important nutrients are nitrogen and phosphorus. But there isn't an endless supply in soils for plants to use, lead author Dr Will Wieder, from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, tells Carbon Brief:

"Many ecosystems appear to be co-limited, meaning that both nitrogen and phosphorus are important for plant growth. There are places where one element or the other may be slightly more limiting, but at the end of the day plants need both to build roots, leaves and wood. This is why many fertilizers used in gardens and farms come with both nitrogen and phosphorus."

While nitrogen is abundant in the air we breathe, most plants can only take it up from the soil. Nitrogen gets into the soil by being 'fixed' from the air by microbes and certain plants, such as soy, Wieder says. Phosphorus primarily originates from rocks, and reaches the soil when they are worn down by the weather.

Nutrients can come from a little further afield as well, Weider adds:

"Both nitrogen and phosphorus can be moved around and transported through the atmosphere as dust or air pollution. The subsequent deposition of nitrogen and phosphorus also can contribute new nutrients to an ecosystem."

Read more

Daily Briefing | Oil and gas drilling triggers man-made earthquakes in eight states, USGS finds

  • 24 Apr 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Oil and gas drilling triggers man-made earthquakes in eight states, USGS finds 
The US Geological Survey says the oil and gas industry is causing man-made earthquakes, reports the Associated Press, mainly by injecting wastewater underground. Oklahoma lawmakers have acknowledged the link, says Yale Environment 360, in an interview with a geologist about the issue.Reuters says 17 regions have been newly designated for seismic hazards attributed to the fossil fuel industry. The Daily Mail says oil and gas drilling has caused tremors across the US.        The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

Australia's new carbon price fails to attract big polluters 
The Australian government will pay AUS$14 a tonne to cut emissions by 47 million tonnes after its first new carbon reduction auction to be held after the country scrapped its carbon tax last year. The Guardian reports on Australian government plans to hand $4 million to controversial climate commentator Bjørn Lomborg, who is defended in a separate article in the paper by Roger Pielke Jr.       Reuters 

Fifth of Labour and Lib Dem candidates pledge to defy party line on fracking 
More than 1,000 prospective parliamentary candidates have signed a pledge to oppose fracking, reports the Guardian. The list includes around 300 Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates - a fifth of those parties' total - and a handful of Conservatives, despite all three parties' support for fracking. About half the list are Green party candidates.      The Guardian 

Japan May Target 25% GHG Reduction Cut by 2030, Asahi Reports 
Speculation over Japan's pledge to the UN climate talks continues, with Bloomberg reporting on Japanese media speculation over a 25% by 2030 target. The base year could be either 2005 or 2013, the reports say. The Japanese government may target 20-22% nuclear energy by 2030, down from 30% pre-Fukushimi, reports Reuters.        Bloomberg 

Read more