Get ready for hotter summers and more flooding in the UK, say scientists

  • 29 Sep 2014, 16:10
  • Roz Pidcock

Weather-wise, the UK saw it all last year. The coldest spring for 50 years, a sweltering summer heat wave and the wettest winter since records began. Today, a new report examines whether climate change is upping the odds of these events occurring.

The collection of papers, published in a  bumper edition of journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, looks at 16 weather events that took place last year across the world. From Colorado to Korea, the scientists examine heatwaves, droughts, heavy rain and storms.

Human fingerprints

Globally, there is  evidence for changes in some types of extreme weather, and evidence for a human fingerprint in those changes. But different types of event are affected differently.

Climate change is greatly increasing the odds of heatwaves worldwide, today's report concludes. For storms, rainfall and drought the picture is less clear, however. Big differences between regions, natural variability in the climate and limited data make detecting changes over time far more difficult.

The science of disentangling human and natural influences on our climate is known as attribution. Dr Peter Stott, head of the climate change detection and attribution team at the Met Office and an editor on the report, explained more in a recent  guest blog  for us:

"[The aim is] to compare what actually happened with what might have happened in a world without anthropogenic climate change."

Understanding how our activities are changing the risk of some types of extremes is important for making decisions about how we can prepare for the future.

Hot summers

In summer 2013, western Europe experienced an extreme heatwave. Average temperatures for the June to August period sit just below those of 2003 - the hottest summer in Europe for at least  500 years.

At the same time, the UK experienced its hottest day since 2006 with temperatures of 33.5 degrees Celsius recorded at Heathrow airport, the report notes.

UKheatwave 2014

Sun-seekers flock to Margate in July 2013. Source:   UK heatwave via Shutterstock

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California is in drought, but is climate change to blame?

  • 29 Sep 2014, 15:43
  • Robert McSweeney

California dry ground | Shutterstock

On the 17th January 2014, California's Governor declared a State of Emergency. The drought that had taken hold the year before was showing no signs of abating, with rivers and reservoirs at record lows.

As the situation worsened through 2014, one question was asked again and again - to what extent was human-caused climate change playing a role? A new report out today says the evidence is inconclusive, although it says there are still questions to be explored.

'Ridiculously Resilient Ridge'

Over 95 per cent of California is currently experiencing at least 'severe' drought (shown in orange in the map below), with almost 60 per cent in 'exceptional' drought (deep red).




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IEA: Four charts that show what a solar powered future looks like

  • 29 Sep 2014, 14:30
  • Simon Evans

City solar | Shutterstock

The sun could be meeting a quarter of the world's electricity needs by 2050, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says.

Today it published two solar technology roadmaps: one for solar thermal electricity where heat from the sun is used to heat liquid and drive a turbine; and another for the more familiar solar photovoltaic cells.

The IEA says that by 2050, solar PV could be providing 16 per cent of the world's electricity. Solar thermal could account for another 11 per cent, it thinks.

The march of solar PV

Solar panels have been spreading across rooftops around the world like a rash. Installed solar PV capacity has increased by half again each year for the past decade, as the chart below shows.

Source:  IEA solar PV technology roadmap 2014

Much of that growth has been in Europe, particularly in Germany, Italy and Spain where generous subsidies had driven deployment.

Those subsidies have been cut, leading to reduced installation rates. But other countries have started to pick up the slack.

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Your questions on climate sensitivity answered

  • 26 Sep 2014, 16:00
  • Roz Pidcock

How sensitive is the earth to carbon dioxide? It's a question that's at the heart of climate science.

It's also complicated, and scientists have been grappling with pinning down the exact number for a while now.

But while the exact value of climate sensitivity presents a fascinating and important scientific question, it has little relevance for climate policy while greenhouse emissions stay as high as they are.

Nevertheless, each time a new research paper comes out suggesting climate sensitivity might be low it's misused by parts of the media to argue cutting emissions aren't so urgent after all.

The latest example comes in an  article in today's Times, which claims a new low climate sensitivity estimate means "Climate change could be slower than forecast".

So what is climate sensitivity? What does and doesn't it tell us about future warming?

               Times Climate Sensitivity

Source:  The Times, 26th September 2014

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Shale gas drilling rules to be eased despite overwhelming opposition

  • 26 Sep 2014, 13:45
  • Simon Evans

No trespass | Shutterstock

Fracking firms could benefit by up to £105 million a year from a legal change that is being pushed through despite overwhelming public opposition.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has long had plans to change the law so that drilling for shale gas deep under peoples' properties is no longer considered trespass.

Yesterday DECC said it would go ahead with the change. That's despite the opposition of 99 per cent of the 40,647 people that responded to a public consultation on the plans.

Trespass no more

To extract shale gas from deep under the UK, firms plan to drill into shale rocks and then split them apart with high-pressure water, chemicals and sand. This takes place at depths at least several hundred meters below the surface.

Under current law, drilling fracking wells under peoples' homes constitutes trespass. This would not prevent fracking from taking place. But it would entail a potentially lengthy legal process that would be expected to lead to compensation for landowners. Case law suggests this compensation would be relatively minimal.

The government held a public consultation until mid-August on plans to change the law to speed up the process. It would formalise a standard compensation package for communities affected by drilling.

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Daily Briefing | DECC energy statistics on wind, coal and gas

  • 26 Sep 2014, 09:40
  • Carbon Brief staff

UN climate chief: New York Summit is 'clearly not enough' 
Christiana Figueres, head of the United Nations climate change secretariat, has warned politicians and businesses against becoming complacent following the success of this week's New York Summit. Figueres said the summit had delivered beyond her expectations, but the commitments announced would still not be enough to keep global warming below two degrees. "Very good, celebrate, but it is clearly not enough," she said.  BusinessGreen 

Climate and energy news

 Green Deal Finance Company warns investors it could be wound up 
The Green Deal Finance Company (GDFC) has privately warned investors it could be forced to close in the near future, after the Green Investment Bank raised concerns about whether the company will be able to meet the criteria for for future funding. The GDFC provides the loans that underpin the government's flagship Green Deal energy efficiency financing scheme. It has informed the Department of Energy and Climate Change a rescue package has to be put in place by October 14 or it will have to consider voluntary liquidation. BusinessGreen 

US Homeland Security moves to tackle climate change risks 
Protecting the infrastructure of American cities from the effects of climate change is rising on the agenda of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to a top agency official. The statement came at a three-day 'Rising Seas Summit' aimed at building resilience to threats such as rising sea levels. The department has already launched regional efforts to assess where gaps in adaptation and preparedness may be, the official said.  Reuters 

Climate change could be slower than forecast 
Carbon dioxide emissions have less impact on the global average temperature than has been claimed by the UN's climate change advisory body, according to a study. The authors found that warming of the atmosphere was likely to occur more slowly than predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The study found that if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled, the temperature would rise by up to 1.8 degrees centigrade over 70 years. The IPCC said in its report last year that the increase would be up to 2.5 degrees. The Times 

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China tops new list of countries most at risk from coastal flooding

  • 25 Sep 2014, 12:14
  • Robert McSweeney

Ride on flood | Shutterstock

Over 50 million people in China will be at risk from coastal flooding by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to stay high, a new study finds.

The research shows Asian countries dominate a top-20 ranking of most vulnerable nations from rising sea levels, with China topping the list.

Interactive map

A team of researchers from the US climate news website Climate Central mapped sea levels around the world using a global database of tide gauge measurements. They then combined these measurements with projections of how much scientists expect sea levels to rise with climate change.

The result is an interactive map, showing the number of people in each country likely to be living with significant risk of flooding by the end of the century. The map can be adjusted for different scenarios of future carbon emissions and sea level rise.

The size of squares shows population at risk, while the colour indicates the proportion of total population at risk.

Climate Central _floodmap

Global estimates of population number (square size) and proportion (square colour) at risk from coastal flooding by 2100 by country. Assumes current emissions trends continue, and a central estimate of sea level rise.   New York Times

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UK coal power back to historic lows as electricity demand continues to fall

  • 25 Sep 2014, 10:45
  • Mat Hope & Simon Evans

Aragon windfarm | Shutterstock

The UK's demand for electricity is falling and generation is becoming less carbon intensive, new government statistics show.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change's (DECC)  quarterly energy statistics show gas partially replaced coal power between May and July this year. Low carbon energy sources such as wind, solar and nuclear generated almost five per cent more electricity than in the same three months last year, the data shows.

Coal returns to historic low

The share of electricity generated by coal-fired power stations fell to 28.2 per cent in the second quarter of 2014, compared to 34.5 per cent in the same quarter last year. This matches the historic low coal-fired electricity generation reached in 2009-10.

Since then, falling coal prices and impending plant closures due to EU legislation had seen a surge in coal use. The latest data suggests this was a temporary blip, as we  predicted earlier this year.

So what did we turn to instead of coal? Gas, nuclear and renewables all claimed a larger share of the generation.

Renewables fall

Despite renewables' overall share of generation increasing, the total amount of electricity generated by wind and solar farms actually fell by about 10 per cent in the second quarter of 2014, compared to the same period last year, as the chart below shows.

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Daily Briefing | Reflecting on Ban Ki-moon's climate summit

  • 25 Sep 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

China and U.S. Promise to Combat Climate Change 
The world's two largest polluters committed to taking action against global warming but offered few specifics, says Climatewire's Lisa Friedman. The nations' statements fell well short of what some had hoped for, she reports. AP has 'factchecked' president Obama's speech and  concludes it "spins statistics". Two videos, one from  Bloomberg and one from  The Telegraph, look at how serious China is about tackling climate change. 

Climate and energy news

Natural gas is not a good climate solution, even without methane leakage 
The authors of a new research report take to Grist to explain why they think the idea of natural gas as a bridge fuel towards electricity sector decarbonisation is flawed. More abundant natural gas is unlikely to cut electricity emissions much on its own, they say, even assuming there is no methane leakage. They come to this conclusion after modelling the US electricity sector under a range of scenarios. 

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Behind the scenes at Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit: The view from New York

  • 24 Sep 2014, 17:40
  • Ed King

Wreathed in red and clutching her microphone tightly, a nervous Natasha Bedingfield surveyed what must have been the oddest audience in her brief career. The British pop star was an unusual choice to wrap up what was a fairly extraordinary UN climate summit, held in and around its headquarters alongside New York's East River.

"Love is a powerful thing", she told the remaining delegates inside the sumptuous General Assembly hall, who were probably as surprised as she was to see her on stage. In many ways her appearance summed up this meeting. Eye-catching, full of endeavour and high notes, ending with little tangible to take home, bar the memories.

Ban Ki -moon Opens Climate SummitBan Ki-moon opens the climate summit. Credit: UN Photos

That may sound unfair, given the bombardment of low carbon pledges from governments, businesses and foundations built on oil money over the best part of 48 hours. By the time he had finished his closing summary, just before Natasha swept onto the podium, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon could proudly say the summit had seen progress on forests, cities, finance and much more.

How much of this money was new, and how many of these plans - some of which seemed hastily cobbled together - will withstand scrutiny is likely to become clear in the next few days.

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