Daily Briefing | US scientists weigh in on need for climate action

  • 19 Mar 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Credit: Buggalo

Scientists Sound Alarm on Climate 
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, a large scientific society in the US, has released a report identifying areas of scientific certainty in relation to climate, and warning of the dangers of climate change. The NYT calls it " sharper, clearer and more accessible than perhaps anything the scientific community has put out to date." 
The New York Times

Climate and energy news:

Global warming will cut crop harvests by 2% each decade, researchers say 
New research suggests that global crop yields could fall by 2 per cent a decade in the second half of this century, if global temperature rise reaches two degrees by 2050. The research, reported in the Guardian, also suggests that higher temperature rises could lead to very substantial crop yield losses from some plants. 
The Guardian 

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Budget 2014: Why freezing the carbon price floor is a symbolic blow to UK's climate commitment

  • 18 Mar 2014, 15:25
  • Mat Hope

Sometimes, the Chancellor must feel like he just can't win. When he introduced the UK's top-up carbon tax - the carbon price floor - environmentalists called it costly and ineffective. Now that he's announced it's going to be frozen, the same groups are accusing him of abandoning the UK's climate change agenda.

Derided policy

The carbon price floor is a top-up tax: it exists to bolster the existing EU price of carbon.

Energy companies already pay to pollute under the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS), buying permits to emit greenhouse gases when they generate electricity. But the price of the permits crashed to a  record low last year, meaning there's much less of a financial incentive for companies to cut their emissions.

The carbon price floor is meant to solve this by putting a minimum price on how much power generators in the UK pay to pollute. If the ETS price drops below this level, companies pay the difference to the UK Treasury. The carbon price floor was set to increase each year, from around £16 per tonne of carbon dioxide in 2013, to around £70 by 2030.

Carbon price Mar14The EU carbon price, March 2014

This may sound like a neat way to get polluters to pay for their emissions, but the policy was generally derided when it was introduced.

Left-leaning thinktank, IPPR, said the scheme was socially  regressive, and risked hitting the poor the hardest. Meanwhile Greenpeace's deputy political director, Joss Garman, described the policy as "precisely the sort of measure that  destroys public confidence in environmental policies".

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Daily Briefing | Previewing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's next report

  • 18 Mar 2014, 09:30
  • Carbon Brief staff

Credit: Abhi Sharma

Official prophecy of doom: Global warming will cause widespread conflict, displace millions of people and devastate the global economy 
The Independent takes a look at the second instalment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's major climate change report, focusing on impacts. It lays out what climate change means for coastal systems, food security, the economy, landscapes, and human health and security. The report outlines how "climate change will displace hundreds of millions of people by the end of this century, increasing the risk of violent conflict and wiping trillions of dollars off the global economy", the Independent concludes. 

Climate and energy news:

Geneva Motor Show: Electric cars no longer the exception? 
The BBC asks why car makers are increasingly developing hybrid or electric models. Porsche's research directors offers a clue: "we know our duty and we have big concerns about the environment", he says. Porsche's new hybrid sports car sits alongside a wide range of its competitors' electric offerings at the Geneva car show, with cars from Renault, Nissan, and BMW also catching the BBC reporter's eye. 
BBC News 

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The carbon price floor: disliked, divisive and about to be frozen

  • 17 Mar 2014, 12:45
  • Robin Webster

Source: Arnold Paul

A controversial government measure aimed at increasing the price of fossil fuels looks likely to be frozen in this week's budget, in a move the Telegraph says will " reignite the row over green taxes". But unusually for low carbon legislation, the carbon price floor (CPF) is unpopular with green campaigners, while attracting support from some in the energy industry. What is it, and why is it earmarked to be chopped? 

Designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, the CPF first appeared in George Osborne's budget speech in March 2011. The chancellor announced the government's intention to increase certainty for investors in low-carbon generation by putting a minimum price on the greenhouse gases emitted by the power sector. 

It sounds like it should have been good news for supporters of low-carbon energy. But the CPF wasn't popular. Last year, left-leaning  thinktank IPPR and  manufacturing industry group EEF both called for it to be scrapped. Even  Greenpeace says it is costly and ineffective. 

But as the possibility of the CPF being reformed has come closer, the renewables industry has expressed  support for the measure - and worries about what happens if it's curbed. 

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From London to Los Angeles: Tailoring climate policy to meet cities’ needs

  • 17 Mar 2014, 12:30
  • Mat Hope


From London's bright lights to LA's jammed highways, no two cities are alike. And the way they go about cutting their greenhouse gas emissions should be just as unique, a new paper argues.

Cities are responsible for around  75 per cent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. So if policymakers are going to keep to internationally-agreed climate pledges, they're going to have to cut urban emissions.

But there's no one-size-fits-all solution to reducing a city's emissions, according to a new  paper published in Nature Climate Change today. It looks at 22 cities across the globe, and tries to work out how climate policies can be tailored to fit each city's "unique characteristics".

Comparing emissions

Some cities are much more polluting than others. To work out how to design city-specific climate policies, the researchers first looked at where each city's emissions come from.

The graph below shows the average emissions per person across the 22 cities the study looked at. Each bar shows how much cities emit per resident and is separated by the sector the emissions come from, such as electricity, heating, and transport:

Cities emissions bars

The wealthiest cities tend to have the highest emissions as their residents generally use more energy, the study finds.

As you can see, big US cities such as Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles have much higher emissions per resident than than less wealthy cities in Africa and South America. Likewise, China's sprawling megacities have much higher emissions per capita than their neighbours in Southeast Asia.

The paper identifies three factors in particular which affect each city's emissions: how tightly packed together residents are, how the city's residents get around, and where each city gets its electricity from.


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Daily Briefing | Britain needs to show commitment to low carbon energy, nuclear chief says

  • 17 Mar 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

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Britain has the right energy policies in place, it just needs to keep the costs down 
Energy chief Vincent de Rivaz adds his voice to those lobbying for the government to keep its carbon floor price. He argues it needs to send a strong signal that it remains committed to its energy policies, even if that means "short-term and temporary adjustments to them". 

Climate and energy news:

Households win reprieve from fuel price rise after Mail on Sunday report 
New charges for power firms that could have seen consumers' annual bills leap by as much as £20 will be delayed for two years after a Mail on Sunday report, the paper claims. It says Ofgem had failed to consider new information on its plans to charge energy companies for using the National Grid's network - a move intended to make it easier for smaller companies to introduce low carbon generation into the UK's power supply. 
Mail on Sunday 

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UK public believes in benefits of climate action: poll

  • 14 Mar 2014, 16:30
  • Ros Donald

75 per cent of people believe it's wrong to say human activity is not significantly affecting the climate - and most believe the benefits of tackling climate change outweigh the risks, according to new polling. We take a look at what the new data says about UK attitudes to climate change

Humans are the main cause of climate change

Data from Ipsos  Mori's Public Attitudes to Science 2014 collected data from 1,740 adults UK-wide aged over 16 and a booster survey of 510 16-24-year-olds. It shows only 14 per cent of people think human activity does not have a significant effect on the climate. In contrast, three quarters of respondents say they disagree with that statement. This attitude appears to have changed little since the survey was last conducted in 2011.

The results raise interesting questions about how we ask people what they think about climate change.

When asked directly whether climate change is caused by humans, the answers appear to be different. In polling last August, Carbon Brief asked which statement they agreed with most: 'climate change is happening and is mostly caused by humans', 'climate change is happening and is mostly caused by natural processes', and 'climate change is not happening'.


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Telegraph uses Sky-high estimate for cost of energy infrastructure

  • 14 Mar 2014, 16:00
  • Robin Webster

Credit:  Richard Humphrey

The cost of building new power stations, windfarms and upgrading the grid will cause consumer energy bills to "  soar" another £640 by the end of the decade, announces Sky News. But the claim - repeated in the  Daily Telegraph - is probably a significant over-estimate.

The future cost of energy bills is a regular  feature in newspapers. But the numbers that make it into the papers are not always what they seem - based on unstated assumptions for example, or  inaccurately reported. 

In this case, Sky cites consumer group Which? as the source of the story. But a spokesperson for the watchdog tells us "this figure isn't ours. We don't recognise it". 

So what's going on? We tracked the number down. 

£118 billion for new energy infrastructure? 

A range of factors are blamed for pushing consumer energy bills up - including  rising gas prices, energy company profits and energy infrastructure investment. 

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Daily Briefing | Sweden leads the way on European renewable energy

  • 14 Mar 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Credit: Rock Cohen

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Three EU Countries Hit 2020 Renewable Benchmarks Early 
Sweden is sourcing 51 per cent of its energy from renewables, according to new data from Eurostat. It's one of 20 European countries that are more than halfway to meeting their 2020 renewables goals. The UK ranks third last in Europe, generating 4.2 per cent of its energy from renewables. 
Climate Central 

Climate and energy news:

EU exempts shale gas from tougher environmental assessments 
An update to the European Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive, agreed by MEPs this week, excludes shale gas from tougher rules addressing the environmental impact of oil and gas exploration. UK and Poland argued intensely last December against the inclusion of shale gas, and specific references to it were scrubbed out of the text. 

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Thames Barrier’s extraordinary year prompts government to reconsider long term flood plans

  • 13 Mar 2014, 15:00
  • Mat Hope, Ros Donald & Robin Webster

Paul Farmer

Are the Thames' flood defences still up to the job? That's the question on London mayor Boris Johnson's lips.

He's called for a  review of the capitals flood prevention plans after this winter's extreme wet weather pushed the number of times the Environment Agency needed to use London's main flood defence, the Thames Barrier, to unprecedented levels.

As the Thames Barrier breaches the Environment Agency's own 50 closures per year limit for the first time, we look at when it thinks the risk of London flooding might get bad enough for the government to need to take action.

Extreme weather

The Thames Barrier earned its keep this winter, keeping the flood waters at bay more than twice as often as it ever had before.

That's led some - including London's mayor Boris Johnson - to wonder whether the current plans to protect London from flood risk is enough.

Environment Agency data shows the barrier has been closed 173 times to prevent flooding in its history, with over 50 of the closures in the winter of 2013/14. This graph gives an idea of quite how extraordinary this winter was:

Thames barrier closures updated

Source: Data from the Environment Agency, graph by Carbon Brief

The Environment Agency  predicts the flooding risk in this country is likely to increase in the next few decades as a result of climate change. That's concerning, as the Environment Agency says that if the barrier is closed 50 times a year on average or more, new defences will need to be put in place.


The Thames Estuary 2100 Plan lays out a range of options the government can choose to implement if it is concerned about the increased risk of flooding. The accompanying technical document identifies three thresholds that would trigger a decision on new defences.

Threshold 1 is the level at which the current flood defences can no longer cope. Threshold 2 would be passed if the current Thames Barrier and improved defences upriver of the barrier look like they could get overwhelmed. Threshold 3 is set at a point where an improved Thames Barrier combined with increased flood storage and better defences upriver and downriver are no longer enough to keep the floods at bay.

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