Uncertainty behind climate projections could be cut in half by 2030, study shows

  • 23 Feb 2015, 16:00
  • Robert McSweeney

Smoke stacks | Shutterstock

Scientists will soon be able to forecast climate change more accurately, according to new research. Projections of future temperature rely on estimates of how sensitive the Earth's climate is to rising emissions, and the uncertainty in those estimates could be halved within 15 years.

More certainty about the climate's sensitivity to emissions means a better assessment of our chances of keeping global temperature rise below the two-degree limit, the researchers say.

Climate sensitivity

Climate sensitivity is the amount of warming we can expect when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reaches double the level before the industrial revolution. On current emission trends, we're set to reach that point shortly after 2050.

There are two ways to express climate sensitivity. Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) refers to the total amount of warming once the Earth has had time to adjust fully to the extra carbon dioxide. ECS allows for 'feedbacks' in the climate system that can amplify or slow the pace of warming, many of which act over decades or even centuries.

An alternative option is the Transient Climate Response (TCR), which is the warming at earth's surface we can expect at the point of doubling. This doesn't take into account long term feedbacks, and so estimates of TCR are lower than for ECS.

In its 2013 report, the IPCC estimates TCR is likely to lie between 1.0 and 2.5 degrees Celsius. The new research, published in Nature Geoscience, suggests scientists will be able to reduce the uncertainty around these estimates by about 50 per cent by 2030.

Bigger proportion

The new paper deals with one way to estimate TCR, which is to compare how much greenhouse gases have risen over the industrial period with observations of how much the temperature has changed in that time.

But factors such as aerosols and other greenhouse gases have contributed to the observed temperature change, making it difficult to calculate TCR from historical observations.

Aerosols are released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned. These tiny particles have a direct effect on temperature by scattering sunlight, and an indirect effect by stimulating cloud formation, preventing sunlight reaching Earth's surface.

Although scientists know that aerosols have an overall cooling effect on the climate, they aren't as certain about the size of the temperature effect as they are for carbon dioxide.

But uncertainty over aerosols is set to be less of a problem in the near future, the study says.

While emissions of carbon dioxide are expected to rise in the next few decades, emissions of aerosols and other greenhouse gases are expected to slow, or fall. This means carbon dioxide will make up a bigger proportion of the human-caused factors affecting the climate.

You can see this in the graph below: the influence of carbon dioxide on the climate (red line) is projected to increase more rapidly than aerosols and other gases over the next 15 years (blue and green lines).

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Labour leader Ed Miliband's plan for the Paris climate deal

  • 23 Feb 2015, 15:20
  • Simon Evans

Prospective UK prime minister Ed Miliband has set out his vision for a global climate deal, in an article for the Observer newspaper.

The Labour leader's article says tackling climate change would be one of his highest priorities as prime minister, calling it an "economic necessity" and the "single most important thing we can do for our children and our grandchildren". He says last year's winter floods showed climate change is a security threat to the UK, as well as globally.

Carbon Brief summarises reactions to the piece and looks more closely at Miliband's vision for the Paris climate deal, due to be agreed at the end of this year.

Political reactions

The piece has attracted wide press coverage in the UK because of Miliband's decision to appoint former deputy prime minister John Prescott as a senior climate adviser.

Lord Prescott has a long track record in the international climate arena, as does Miliband, who was energy and climate change secretary when the UK Climate Change Act was passed in 2008. Prescott was the lead EU climate negotiator when the Kyoto Protocol was agreed in 1997.

Miliband says of Prescott: "There is no one better than John at bashing heads together to get a deal." In a column in the Sunday Mirror, Prescott says any head-bashing will be of the intellectual variety and says his brief is to "raise ambition on this crucial issue".

The Guardian says the appointment will give Prescott a "frontline general election role", with the BBC taking the same line. The Daily Mail says the move "will be seen as an attempt to turn the clock back to when Labour used to win elections".

In an article for the Express, Leo McKinstry calls Prescott a "charmless old bruiser" and says Prescott's "two Jags" nickname means he has "zero credibility in peddling the green agenda". The Telegraph calls Prescott "the bulldog who saved Labour", but says the appointment may irk Labour's shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint.

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Daily Briefing | Ed Miliband brings back John Prescott as an adviser on climate change

  • 23 Feb 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

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Climate and energy news

Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for a Doubtful Climate Scientist 
Climate skeptic scientist Willie Soon failed to declare income from fossil fuel firms in eight of 11 papers published since 2008, the New York Times reports. Soon has received more than $1.2 million in industry support over the last decade.  Nature and the  Guardian have the story. Soon's receipt of fossil industry funds was first reported  several years ago. New York Times 

Ed Miliband brings back John Prescott as an adviser on climate change 
Former deputy prime minister John Prescott will advise Ed Miliband on climate change and help to raise foreign governments' ambition. Prescott was part of talks that agree the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.  Sky News, the  Mirror and the  Telegraph have the story. Prescott also has an  opinion piece in the Mirror. The Independent 

Top U.N. climate official to miss key meeting due to sex harassment complaint 
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chair Rajendra Pachari will miss a meeting over the panel's future this week following allegations of sexual harassment. The planned IPCC summit in Nairobi will be led by the panel's vice chair. Pachauri denies the allegations, saying his email account was hacked to send inappropriate messages.  Reuters 

WHO warns of climate impact on tropical disease spread 
The incidence of diseases such as dengue and chagas fever could accelerate as a result of climate change, according to a World Health Organisation report covered by RTCC. Changes in global temperature, rainfall and humidity levels are expected to increase the distribution of at least some tropical diseases, the report says. The Royal Society released a  special journal issue on the same topic last week.  RTCC 

George Osborne tax break to boost North Sea 
The pre-election budget is likely to introduce new tax breaks for the North Sea oil industry reports the Times. Trade body Oil & Gas UK's annual survey on Wednesday is expected to report negative impacts of recent low oil prices for North Sea jobs. The  Financial Times' Nick Butler says the North Sea should not be abandoned. The Green Alliance says the North Sea oil industry should turn to  carbon capture and storage to secure its future.  The Times 

Chinese demand fuels renewables sector turnround 
Increased demand from China is fuelling a turnaround in fortunes for the world's largest manufacturers of wind turbines and solar panels, the Financial Times reports. More than 50 gigawatts of wind was installed globally in 2014, up 40 per cent on the previous year. Global solar panel production rose 30 per cent.   Financial Times 

The proof we got a bad deal on offshore wind farms 
Five large offshore windfarms awarded early contracts worth £12 billion last year were more expensive than necessary, argues a Telegraph article. The results of a competitive auction due to be announced this week will prove that the contracts could have been cheaper, it says.  Emily Gosden, Sunday Telegraph 

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Daily Briefing | Green energy project stuck on amber

  • 20 Feb 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Biomass pellet | Shutterstock

Green energy project stuck on amber 
Conversion of the Lynemouth coal-fired power plant in Northumberland to burn biomass has been delayed after the European Commission said householders facing subsidies to pay for the scheme risk being overcharged. The power plant was one of eight renewable projects to get a new type of subsidy last April, paid for via levies on consumer energy bills. The Department of Energy and Climate Change has said the government would work to resolve the Commission's concerns. BusinessGreen has more on the story.     The Times 

Climate and energy news

British Gas owner Centrica sees profits fall steeply 
Shares in British Gas owner Centrica plunged more than nine per cent yesterday as the company cut its dividend for the first time since it was created in 1997. The response was an "urgent" step to protect its credit rating as warmer weather and falling oil and gas prices led to a 35 per cent drop in annual profits, says the Financial Times. Two of Centrica's 20-year old gas-fired power stations, Killingholme and Brigg, are to close as they are losing money. While most of the blow to profits was down to low oil and gas prices, perhaps a fifth was self-inflicted, caused by errors or poor decisions, says Allister Heath in The Telegraph.     BBC News 

UN climate chief Rajendra Pachauri investigated about sexual harassment 
Police in Delhi are investigating claims of sexual harassment against Rajendra Pachauri, made by a staff member at The Energy and Resources Institute. Pachauri, who has also been the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since 1992, strongly denies all claims, telling the Times of India "unknown cyber criminals" had accessed his personal email account without authorisation. RTCC has more on the story.     The Independent 

New hopes that tar sands could be banned from Europe 
A landmark EU directive to encourage greener road fuels has been given a reprieve and will not be scrapped at the end of the decade. The fuel quality directive has been a platform for measures intended to price tar sands out of the European market and for targets to provide 10 per cent of Europe's transport fuel from low carbon sources by 2020. The EU's vice president for the energy union said the directive would likely survive past 2020 but would be adjusted for "all the lessons learned from biofuels".     The Guardian 

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Five charts showing how BP's vision differs from a climate-friendly future

  • 19 Feb 2015, 15:00
  • Simon Evans

Oil firm BP says the world is still failing to do enough to tackle climate change, despite major policy announcements over the past year from the US, EU and China.

The latest annual Energy Outlook shows how BP sees the world changing in terms of economic growth, energy use and emissions. While BP expects countries to meet current climate pledges, it does not think they will be enough to avoid dangerous climate change.

Carbon Brief takes a look at how the media reported the Energy Outlook and how BP's vision differs from a climate-friendly future.

Rising energy use and emissions

The BP outlook predicts energy demand will grow by 37 per cent between 2013 and 2035, reports the Guardian. This is "at odds with the fight against climate change", the paper says.

A more climate-friendly future is set out in the International Energy Agency (IEA) two degrees scenario. This shows how energy efficiency must play a large part in limiting emissions.

Global energy demand increases by just 14 per cent between 2012 and 2035 in the IEA two degrees scenario, slower than over the past two decades (blue line, below). In contrast, BP expects the recent rapid growth in energy demand to continue (green line).

Global energy demand in the BP Energy Outlook and IEA two degrees scenario. Source: BP Energy Outlook 2035 and IEA World Energy Outlook 2014. Chart by Carbon Brief.

BP's outlook expects two thirds of the increase in energy demand to be met by fossil fuels, reports RTCC. Gas would overtake coal as the number one energy source, reports City AM.

The Financial Times reports BP saying that oil producers' cartel Opec will make a comeback while the Times and Independent focus on low expectations for the UK shale gas industry.

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Daily Briefing | Catholics in 45 countries are fasting for climate action

  • 19 Feb 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Catholics in 45 countries are fasting for climate action 
This Lent, Catholics all over the world are making a statement with their abstinence by giving up food and carbon-intensive habits to raise awareness for climate change, Grist reports. The climate justice fast, organised in part by the Global Catholic Climate Movement, aims to galvanise political leaders into committing to climate change action. Each of the 45 countries that signed up for the climate justice fast were assigned a day to abstain, beginning with Peru, the site of the most recent UN climate talks. RTCC also has the story.     Grist 

Climate and energy news

EU introduces new rules to make cooking greener 
The sale of energy wasting ovens and cooking hobs will be banned across the European Union, following a new set of rules designed to improve the efficiency of cooking appliances, Reuters reports. The European Commission says the policy, known as ecodesign, could consumers' yearly bill by 50 euros per year. The law was given a "warm welcome" from celebrity chefs and the Women's Institute, according to The Guardian.       Reuters 

UK watchdog says big energy groups do not enjoy unfair advantage 
Britain's competition authority has yesterday rejected suggestions that the biggest energy suppliers enjoy an unfair advantage by owning their own power generating businesses. This suggests that the big six suppliers may avoid a forced break-up of their generating and retail operations.     Financial Times 

Gulf states facing social and economic crisis as oil revenues crash 
Declining oil revenues and young populations could land Middle East leaders with growing headache, according to a new study by Chatham House. Gulf states must stop relying on fossil fuels as their main source of income or face a social and economic crisis. "The situation is more pressing than many observers realise, even for these wealthy countries, because their public spending is rising so fast", the study says. The price of oil is hovering just over $50 and experts are divided on how long that might last.       RTCC 

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The Carbon Brief Interview: Lord Deben, part 1

  • 18 Feb 2015, 11:00
  • Leo Hickman

Lord Deben, or the Rt Hon John Selwyn Gummer, is the current chair of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). He is also chair of the sustainability consultancy Sancroft International, honorary president of the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International) and a non-executive director of the Catholic Herald newspaper. Gummer was a Conservative MP from 1970-1974 and from 1979-2010. From 1993-1997, he served as the Secretary of State for the Environment.

In Part 1, Lord Deben discusses the Conservative party's attitude to climate change, the forthcoming UK general election, "green crap", the fifth carbon budget and fracking...

CB: As a Conservative peer and former minister, please can you explain the various dynamics and tensions at play within your own party when it comes to tackling climate change? You have the Lawsons and the Ridleys on the one side, and the Barkers and Rudds on the other. Why has it become such a problematic issue for certain sections of your party?

LD: I'm not sure that it has really in that sort of way. I mean, the truth is that the problem with climate change is that it demands a long-term solution, which is also a consistent solution. We're talking about cutting our emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Now, for those for whom planning is a dangerous word because you want the market to work effectively and that what planning often does is to second guess the market and then find itself wrong. This concept of having to deal in the long term is simply very difficult to grasp and, of course, the considerable efforts of those who don't believe in climate change and to try to undermine the basic science has had its effect. It's becoming less and less, but it isn't instinctively something which people on the very extreme right find easy to accept.

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The Carbon Brief Interview: Lord Deben, part 2

  • 18 Feb 2015, 11:00
  • Leo Hickman

Lord Deben, or the Rt Hon John Selwyn Gummer, is the current chair of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). He is also chair of the sustainability consultancy Sancroft International, honorary president of the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International) and a non-executive director of the Catholic Herald newspaper. Gummer was a Conservative MP from 1970-1974 and from 1979-2010. From 1993-1997, he served as the Secretary of State for the Environment.

In Part 2, Lord Deben discusses the UK's preparedness for climate change, the international climate talks, the need for a carbon intensity target, the Pope's encyclical on climate change and his use of Twitter...

CB: Is the UK prepared enough for the impacts of climate change in the years and decades ahead?

LD: No. No, not at all. It's a real issue, and it's not just the UK, it's throughout the world. There has been a dangerous dysfunction between adaptation and mitigation. The people for whom climate change is - as it is for me - the most material threat facing mankind, we have tended to focus on mitigation, because we can't see how we can achieve these ends without dealing with that. Some of those who are much less convinced, and some of those who are outright deniers, um, have been saying that you can do it all through adaptation. So they've almost tried to make a competitiveness between these two. And, oddly enough, our Climate Change Committee structure has made the links more difficult because, first of all, there is a separate chairman, perfectly rightly, of the adaptation committee, from the overall committee.

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Daily Briefing | BP says CO2 emissions unsustainable, warns on global warming

  • 18 Feb 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

BP says CO2 emissions unsustainable, warns on global warming 
Oil major BP says carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are unsustainable and calls for a global carbon price to incentivise action, reports the Telegraph. The BP Energy Outlook 2035, published yesterday, sees emissions growing less quickly than it expected last year. Low-carbon energy sources could generate 38 per cent of power by 2035 in the outlook, reports the Financial Times. The Guardian also covers the BP outlookThe Times says the outlook finds UK shale gas production will be of "no great significance". Business Green has a summary of the outlook's findings.      The Telegraph 

Climate and energy news

EU on track for green energy goal but UK, Dutch lagging 
The EU is on track with a target to get one fifth of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, the European Environment Agency (EEA) says. That's despite the UK, the Netherlands and Luxembourg lagging behind, Reuters reports. Coal use would have been 13 per cent higher without renewables, the EEA says.      Reuters 

Biofuel from trash could create green jobs bonanza, says report 
Creating biofuels from waste could generate 36,000 jobs in the UK and save around 37 million tonnes of oil use annually by 2030, according to a report covered by the Guardian. Advanced biofuels from waste could replace 16 per cent of EU road transport fuel, the report says.     The Guardian 

G20 climate pledges likely to determine success of Paris summit 
The success of the UN's planned climate deal will hinge on emission reduction pledges made by major economies between now and October, a senior EU official tells RTCC. Artur Runge Metzger, head of international climate strategy at the European Commission, says Intended Nationally Determined Contributions from major economies including China, should be submitted in the first half of the year.      RTCC 

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New satellite reveals places on Earth most at risk from ocean acidification

  • 17 Feb 2015, 13:15
  • Roz Pidcock

images beamed back from space are helping scientists monitor how vulnerable the world's oceans are to human pressures. As the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises, it gets absorbed into the oceans, making them more acidic.

Ocean acidification is a serious but often overlooked concern facing the world's oceans and the ecosystems that depend on them, say the researchers.

The international team of scientists published some of their early findings and images in the journal Environmental Science and Technology today.

Acidifying oceans

quarter of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere dissolves into our seas. This changes the seawater chemistry, making it more acidic. This is known as ocean acidification.

Since the start of the industrial era, the pH of ocean surface water has dropped by 0.1, equivalent to a  26 per cent increase in acidity.

But acidification isn't happening at the same pace everywhere, some places are acidifying faster than others. Observing the earth from space using satellites can help identify which regions on Earth are most at risk from ocean acidification.

Alkalinity From Space

A global map of total ocean alkalinity, an indication of the sea surface's ability to buffer itself against ocean acidification. Credit: Ifremer/ESA/CNES

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