Analysis

UK flooding pushes public acceptance of manmade climate change to five-year high

  • 29 Jan 2015, 00:01
  • Robert McSweeney

Berkshire floods 2014 | Shutterstock

There is growing public acceptance of the human contribution to climate change, according to a new study published today. The latest results from a national survey show public agreement that humans are causing climate change is at its highest level for 5 years.

The researchers also find that those affected by the UK winter floods in 2013-14 were significantly more likely to be concerned about climate change than those that weren't affected.

Public acceptance

A year on from the major winter flooding in the UK, the new study led by Cardiff University sheds new light on public perception of climate change. Researchers interviewed 1,002 people across the country about their views on climate change and the floods.

The results of the survey show almost nine in 10 respondents said the world's climate is changing (88 per cent), and more than eight in 10 said human activity was at least partly the cause (84 per cent). This represents the highest level of acceptance that the climate is changing since surveys began asking the question in 2005. More than a third (36 per cent) said that climate change is mainly or entirely caused by humans, which is the most agreement on the human impact on climate change since the question was first included in comparative surveys in 2010.

Capstick Et Al (2015) Is The Climate Changing

Responses from this and previous surveys to the question 'As far as you know, do you personally think the world's climate is changing?'. Source: Capstick et al. (2015).

Capstick Et Al (2015) Causes Of Climate Change

Responses from this and previous surveys to the question 'Thinking of the causes of climate change, which best described your opinion?'. Source: Capstick et al. (2015).

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Claims that climate models overestimate warming are "unfounded", study shows

  • 28 Jan 2015, 18:00
  • Roz Pidcock

A new paper takes an in-depth look at the suggestion that climate models routinely overestimate the speed at which Earth's surface is warming - and finds the argument lacking.

A look back over the past century shows that, by and large, what we see in global average temperature is extremely well captured by models, the authors tell Carbon Brief.

The new research, a collaboration between scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the University of Leeds, is published today in the journal Nature.

Recent trends

Climate scientists study how Earth's temperature changes over several decades. They also seek to understand how natural fluctuations influence the picture over shorter time periods.

The past 15 years has received a  fair bit of attention. It's notable that 14 of those years  topped the charts as the warmest on record. But the difference between individual years has been slight, meaning the earth's surface has risen a fair bit slower than in previous decades.

Most climate models haven't captured this slower rate of warming. Instead, they show continued warming, arriving at global temperatures that are above what we're seeing now.

Prof Tim Osborn, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia, tells Carbon Brief even the  news that 2014 was probably the hottest year on record doesn't change the picture much:

"Despite being very warm, 2014 still leaves the observed warming in the lower part of the range of climate model simulations."

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Arctic sea-ice decline erratic as expected

  • 28 Jan 2015, 14:30
  • Ed Hawkins

Sea ice | Shutterstock

This is a cross-post from the  Climate Lab Book blog.

Imagine a ball bouncing down a bumpy hill. Gravity will ensure that the ball will head downwards. But, if the ball hits a bump at a certain angle it might move horizontally or even upwards for a time, before resuming its inevitable downward trajectory. This bouncing ball is an analogy for the behaviour of Arctic sea-ice.

Post based on Swart et al., Nature Climate Change

Arctic sea-ice melts in summer, reaching a minimum each September, before refreezing through the winter and a maximum extent in March. Over the past 35 years, the extent of September sea-ice has reduced by about 35% overall. But, this decline has not been smooth. The linear trend over the second half of this period is larger than over the first half, suggesting an acceleration, and in 2007 and 2012 the summer extent was dramatically lower.

Estimates of the volume of sea-ice suggest even larger reductions, although necessary historical observations of the thickness of sea-ice are less comprehensive and the uncertainties are greater than for extent. The CryoSat-2 and SMOS satellites are now measuring sea-ice thickness from space, but only during October-April because the presence of melt ponds on the ice in the melt season confuses the thickness retrieval. The available thickness data also shows year-to-year variations in the volume of Arctic sea-ice, similarly to the extent observations.

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Fracking divides UK media as Lancashire Council defers Cuadrilla decision

  • 28 Jan 2015, 12:55
  • Mat Hope

Preston County Hall | Geograph.org.uk

Lancashire Council today decided to  defer a decision on whether to give fracking company Cuadrilla planning permission for two developments. Cuadrilla submitted revised plans after the council released a  planning report recommending its applications be rejected.

Councillors will meet again in eight weeks to make a final decision, having today taken legal advice on how to proceed after Cuadrilla submitted its new plans.

County Hall was unusually swamped today with journalists eager to hear the decision. The case is being interpreted by many in the media as a litmus test for the UK's appetite for a domestic shale gas industry. MPs stoked the fire earlier this week as they  debated fracking regulations as part of the mammoth infrastructure bill on the same day the Environmental Audit Committee branded fracking  "incompatible" with the UK's climate goals.

The time has come

Some parts of the press are brimming with frustration that policymakers at all levels continue to obstruct shale gas exploration. The Sun today painted a dramatic picture of the decision Lancashire's councillors face, saying:

"They can abandon reason and give in to a hysterical mob. Or they can see the bigger picture, work with exploration firm Cuadrilla and make it happen. It's their choice."

The editorial expanded on points made in its  'Sunifesto', which lays out the paper's demands for any new government. It said, "[s]hale gas must now be quickly examined and exploited. Yet even our MPs are in thrall to hysterical scare stories about its harmful effects, despite scientific evidence proving otherwise."

The Times was similarly scathing in an editorial attacking Lancashire council's planning report, saying it showed how "committees of bumpkins" could be "influenced by marauding locals". It called on the national government to do more to remove obstacles to shale gas exploitation, saying "Sometimes we elect a government because we want it to trample on the barons of local government and get on with making the country richer."

The Telegraph is similarly eager for fracking to proceed, outlining its case in an editorial yesterday headlined "let the drilling begin". It said the government has been cautious enough in putting in place a "a robust regulatory regime" and "the time has now come to get fracking. The country will simply not understand it if our parliamentarians continue to stand in the way of the opportunities it provides to underpin our energy security", it argued. 

 

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Daily Briefing | Obama moves to allow drilling in Atlantic, but limit it in Arctic

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

Obama's Plan: Allow Drilling in Atlantic, but Limit It in Arctic 
The Obama administration moved on Tuesday to open up a vast stretch of waters off the American East Coast to oil and gas drilling. The decision could have a profound impact on the economic and environmental future of states from Georgia to Virginia, the New York Times says. Meanwhile, in a political balancing act to appease environmentalists, the Obama administration will ban drilling in portions of the Arctic Ocean. The overall 5 year-leasing plan mean that nearly 80% of oil and gas resources on the US continental shelf are available to explore, reports RTCC.     New York Times 

Climate and energy news

Pennsylvania Fracking Companies Regularly Commit Serious Environmental Violations 
Pennsylvania fracking companies commit environmental violations once a day, on average, campaign group Environment America finds. The violations include land spills, well failures, surface water contamination, and site restoration problems. A separate report from UK researchers found one-third of a set of 3,533 wells in Pennsylvania had been reported for environmental violations between 2008 and 2011.      Climate Progress 

What a Warming World Means for Snowstorms 
More than 5,000 flights have already been cancelled as America prepares for a potentially record-breaking blizzard. It may seem strange to talk about a major winter storm in the context of a warming world, but as the climate changes we are likely to get fewer but more extreme storms. This is because a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, which can mean more snow as long as temperatures remain cold enough. Grist also reports on the seemingly counter-intuitive weather.     Scientific American 

No US-India deal on climate change 
Since Obama's "historic" climate deal with China last November there have been hopes that India - the world's third largest emitter - would follow a similar route during the US President's visit. Despite reports that the US was keen for a similar deal with Delhi, the Indian government was not willing to make any major commitments, particularly about when its emissions may peak. Despite making little headway on climate change progress was made on clean energy, with deals to boost nuclear and solar. The Daily Mail also has the story.      BBC News 

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Global Calculator shows how the world can 'prosper' while tackling climate change

  • 28 Jan 2015, 07:20
  • Simon Evans

The world's population could live a prosperous, European-style lifestyle by 2050 at the same time as avoiding dangerous climate change, according to a new Global Calculator developed by the UK's Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The online tool shows how global prosperity can increase, even as emissions fall by 60 per cent from current levels in line with climate targets. This feat, according to the calculator, would require a series of massive changes to how we use energy, such as a shift from fossil fuels towards nuclear and renewables, and much wider use of electric heat and transport.

DECC's tool shows this transition might be slightly more, or slightly less expensive than the cost of doing nothing to tackle emissions. Either way, the difference in costs would be minimal, relative to expected growth in global wealth.

The new global tool has already been used by organisations, including DECC, Shell, the International Energy Agency and Friends of the Earth, to imagine the world in 2050. However, not all of these future scenarios are compatible with a safe climate.

Carbon Brief takes you through the nuts and bolts of the tool, DECC's version of a prosperous two-degrees world and how the calculator can be used to compare competing visions of the future within a common frame of reference.

How the tool works

Anyone can use the web-based Global Calculator tool to model the world in 2050, by making a series of choices about lifestyle (such as diet and appliance use), transport, buildings, industry, land use and energy. The tool then shows whether these choices are consistent with meeting the internationally agreed target to limit warming to two degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.

The summary dashboard for DECC's Global Calculator. Credit: globalcalculator.org

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Warming Arctic to break down barriers between Atlantic and Pacific fish, study finds

  • 27 Jan 2015, 16:23
  • Robert McSweeney

Fishing off Greenland | Shutterstock

For millions of years, fish species in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans have stuck resolutely to where they belong, kept from venturing between oceans by the cold water of the Arctic.

But new research suggests a warming Arctic could soon see fish putting aside their differences and bridging this chilly divide. And this could have implications for native species and commercial fisheries, the researchers say.

A natural barrier

For most of the last 2.6 million years, the cold temperatures and low nutrient levels of the Arctic have deterred fish species from crossing between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The cold conditions mean at present only 135 of more than 800 known fish species are found in latitudes north of where the UK sits, in either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean.

But a new study, published in Nature Climate Change, finds that with Arctic temperatures increasing almost twice as fast as the global average, this natural barrier is set to weaken.

Melting sea ice will mean ocean currents can carry warmer water and nutrients into Arctic water, taking fish further north and potentially allowing them to mix between oceans.

'Rapid explosion in fish biodiversity'

The researchers use computer models to forecast future ocean conditions such as surface temperatures, salinity, and currents, and project how the distribution of different fish species could respond to climate change.

They analysed how suitable the Arctic seas would be for over 500 fish species during this century if greenhouse gas emissions continue at current rates.

The maps below show that many species will gradually progress north, eventually reaching the northern coasts of Canada and Russia, where fish from each ocean can mix. Their modelling shows that by 2100, 44 species could enter the Atlantic from the Pacific, with 41 species potentially crossing back the other way.

Wisz Et Al . (2015) Fig 1 Fish Interchange

Projected number of fish species in high latitudes under business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions. Results shown for 2015, 2050 and 2100. The dark blue show areas with the most species present. Source: Wisz et al. (2015).

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In depth: Infrastructure bill amendments on fracking, fossil fuels, and zero carbon homes

  • 27 Jan 2015, 12:15
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Docklandsboy

  • MPs vote to increase restrictions on fracking.
  • Conservatives and Labour claim credit for creating a positive investment environment for UK shale gas industry.
  • Government agrees to obligation to outline how fracking fits within the UK's climate targets.
  • Industry react positively to amendments. Environmental groups fear changes are superficial.
  • Opposition fails to remove a clause obligating the UK to "maximise" oil and gas extraction.
  • Infrastructure bill leaves House of Commons with watered-down proposal for building new zero-carbon homes.

MPs yesterday voted to increase restrictions on fracking while continuing to try and maximise exploitation of the UK's oil and gas reserves. They also voted to water down a commitment to provide zero-carbon homes.

All three items were contained in the mammoth  infrastructure bill. The energy and climate provisions were the focus of what has become an increasingly partisan fight to dictate the future direction of the UK's energy and climate policy.

Fracking

The most high-profile amendments to the bill were around the issue of whether the UK should go "all out" for shale gas. After several hours of debating, amendments were included to increase the stringency of regulations dictating where shale-gas companies can explore, and place further obligations on the government to explain how fracking fits with the UK's broader climate-change goals.

Before the debate, the parties made clear their positions on whether the government should support the nascent industry. Conservatives MPs, and  the chancellor in particular, are  very keen. Labour is willing to permit fracking with some additional checks. Some Liberal Democrats and the Greens remain staunchly against any fracking.

An amendment put forward by Labour for a fracking moratorium was rejected by 308 votes to 52. The government accepted an opposition amendment to allow fracking with "appropriate regulation and monitoring", broadly in line with recommendations from an  Environmental Audit Committee report released yesterday.

 

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Daily Briefing | Fracking moratorium rejected by MPs

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

Fracking moratorium rejected by MPs 
MPs have overwhelmingly rejected a bid to suspend fracking for shale gas, but have agreed to Labour proposals for 13 new conditions before shale gas extraction can take place. The proposed 30-month fracking moratorium was defeated by 308 votes to 52 after Labour MPs abstained having agreed a range of amendments to the Infrastructure Bill, including an "outright ban" on fracking in national parks. Other amendments agreed include tougher environmental monitoring, wider consultation, and a legal compulsion on companies to provide community benefit schemes, reports The Financial Times. However, Labour did not oppose the change to trespass laws, which allow fracking under people's home without their permission, says The Guardian. While The Telegraph described the Commons debate as a "series of u-turns that will significantly restrict where fracking can take place".     BBC News 

Climate and energy news

Keystone votes fail in Senate 
Democrat senators yesterday successfully filibustered a vote to force the approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. The filibuster worked partly because eight Republican senators were absent due to snow disrupting travel. The bill now goes back to committee.      Politico 

Charles warns of 'last chance' on climate 
World leaders will be condemned by their grandchildren if they fail to take action to save rainforests and prevent dangerous climate change, the Prince of Wales has said. Speaking at a meeting in London of the International Sustainability Unit, his environmental charity, the prince said that this year could be the "last chance before we end up in an irreversible situation".      The Times 

Greece: Syriza juggles coal, pipelines and climate ambitions 
Syriza's election victory in Greece has kindled hopes of an environmental champion pushing for greater climate ambition on the European stage, but the party will need to balance its green credentials, says The Guardian. Syriza are in favour of renewables, energy efficiency and decentralised energy production but it faces internal tensions over plans for new coal plants and, potentially, the world biggest gas pipeline.     The Guardian 

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Survey shows partisan split among MPs on climate and energy issues

  • 26 Jan 2015, 16:55
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Docklandsboy

With one hundred days to go until the election, analysts are eagerly looking for ways to differentiate between the parties. New data suggests MPs' views on energy and climate change could do just that.

Political analysts Dods asked 100 MPs what they thought about the scientific consensus around climate change and their energy preferences. Here's what they had to say.

Climate change

A large majority of the MPs surveyed, 72 out of 100, said they thought more than 75 per cent of scientists attributed climate change mainly to human activities. It was by far the most common answer for MPs from all the parties.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 16.15.24.png
Source:  Dods Energy Preference Briefing. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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