Global emissions trading scheme 'should be based on UN carbon budget'

  • 12 Mar 2015, 18:30
  • Sophie Yeo and Simon Evans

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) carbon budget could provide the scientific basis for a global cap on emissions, suggested Tim Yeo, the outgoing chair of the UK's energy and climate change committee.

In its most recent report, the UN-backed panel of climate scientists calculated that total carbon dioxide emissions must be limited to 3,670 gigatonnes for a likely chance of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius. Around 1,890 gigatonnes of this "budget" had already been emitted by 2011.

Yeo told a conference in London today that the remaining gigatonnes could guide governments in capping carbon globally through an emissions trading scheme.

He said:

"The IPCC fifth assessment report suggested there's now a cap for global emissions over all time which can safely be emitted. That seems to be a natural opportunity to say, well, let's make that the cap for a global system. Of course, there are lots of hurdles to try and implement that, but the concept seems one that is good."

This would mean translating the IPCC's uncertain scientific budget into a political target. While scientists have worked out the how many gigatonnes remain in the budget for a likely chance of two degrees, it remains for governments to decide whether to make  two degrees the target and whether they want to convert the carbon budget into policy.

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Scientists link Arctic warming to intense summer heatwaves in the northern hemisphere

  • 12 Mar 2015, 18:00
  • Roz Pidcock

The Arctic is warming up, and the impacts are being felt right across the world. A new study suggests rising temperatures there could even be contributing to longer-lasting heatwaves in the northern hemisphere, like the one Russia experienced in 2010.

Published today in the journal Science, the paper is the latest in a line of research suggesting how rising temperatures in the high north could be affecting our weather patterns much further south.

But there's a lot still to understand before the links can be well and truly pinned down, scientists say.

Extreme Arctic warming

The Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the globe as a whole. Scientists begun noticing the pattern emerge in temperature records since about the year 2000. It's known as  Arctic Amplification.

Part of the reason for it is that, as sea ice is diminishing, heat from the sun that would have been reflected back to space by snow and ice is being absorbed by the oceans instead, warming them up.

As the Arctic warms faster than the rest of the world, the temperature difference between the pole and the equator is getting smaller. Since this temperature contrast drives much of the atmospheric circulation in the northern hemisphere, the smaller it gets, the weaker the circulation becomes.

These atmospheric circulation patterns are responsible for delivering the weather systems that create warm, cold or wet conditions in the northern hemisphere. So, it follows that disrupting the circulation will, in turn, have consequences for the weather we see.

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Daily Briefing | Eon plans spin-off as it reports record annual loss

  • 12 Mar 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Nuclear power station | Shutterstock

Eon plans spin-off as it reports record annual loss 
Eon, the German utility giant, posted a record annual loss of €3.2bn on Wednesday as the shift to renewables continues to squeeze the earnings of conventional power generating businesses, reports the Financial Times. In a shift of strategy, Eon is expected to spin off its fossil fuel and nuclear generation business and focus on renewables. "The earnings situation reflects the persistently difficult situation on energy markets in Germany and Europe," Eon said, as energy companies grapple with the sharp fall in oil prices. The BBC also has the story.      Financial Times 

Climate and energy news

Boris Johnson told to divest £4.8bn pension fund from fossil fuels 
Boris Johnson has been told by London assembly to pull City Hall's £4.8bn pension fund out of coal, oil and gas, as members voted in support of the fossil fuel divestment movement. The motion calls on the mayor to publicly support the principle of divestment and to begin the process of dumping the fossil fuel portfolio - but the vote is non-binding, meaning the mayor is bound only to consider its proposals and write a response. The motion was proposed by the Green party's Jenny Jones and was unanimously supported by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.     The Guardian 

China eyes fundamental shift in energy policy 
Rather than another 'giant' increase in coal consumption, for the first time in 15 years government data shows that China's annual coal consumption declined by 2.9%, with an accompanying 1% fall in carbon dioxide emissions, the BBC reports. Talk is now is of "peak coal", the moment when China begins to wean itself off fossil fuels. While this shift may partly be down to economic factors, there is wide recognition that a significant shift in Chinese environmental policy is also playing a part.      BBC News 

Call to stop demonising diesel cars 
The diesel car is being unfairly "demonised" for polluting, according to car makers. Diesel was less heavily taxed than petrol for years because of its lower carbon emissions, but it has fallen from favour because of its harmful particulates. Mike Hawkes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said it was "a folly to introduce blanket bans", the Times reports. His organisation has launched a "stop demonising diesel" campaign.       The Times 

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Five charts showing the EU's surprising progress on renewable energy

  • 11 Mar 2015, 13:06
  • Simon Evans

Renewables provided 15% of the EU's energy in 2013, according to new data published yesterday by Eurostat, the EU's official statistical body.

The figures show the EU is on track to meet its 20% renewables target in 2020. Transport and heat are lagging behind progress in electricity, where wind and solar remain relatively small contributors. The figures also show that the UK is further behind its 2020 renewable energy target than all other member states.

Carbon Brief breaks down the figures to show how the EU is progressing towards its 2020 target, which sectors are going green and where it's getting renewable energy from.

Member state performance

Under the headline 20% by 2020 EU renewables target, each member state has its own goal. These were set in early 2008 and reflected progress at the time and capacity to add further renewable energy by 2020. The sum of national targets adds up to the overall 20% goal.

Progress varies widely among the 28 member states. For instance, Sweden, which got 39% of its energy from renewables in 2004, has a 49% target for 2020. It has already exceeded this target by 3% (far left column, below).

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 At 11.46.21

Member states' gaps between their renewable energy shares in 2013 and their targets for 2020. Sweden (SE) has exceeded its target. The UK is furthest behind, closely followed by the Netherlands (NE). Source: Eurostat. Chart by Carbon Brief.

The UK is near the bottom of the pile, with a 5.1% renewable share in 2013 up from 1.2% a decade earlier. Only the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Malta get a lower share of their energy from renewables than the UK.

The UK is further behind its 2020 target than any other member state, remaining 10% short of  its 15% goal for 2020 (far right column, above). Renewable energy's share of the energy mix has grown more quickly in the UK than in most other member states, however.

In the decade to 2013, the UK renewable share quadrupled, a feat matched only by Belgium, Luxembourg and Malta. The German renewable share doubled over the same period.

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Daily Briefing | Ineos to embark on 'fracking' in northwest England

  • 11 Mar 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Ineos to embark on 'fracking' in northwest England 
Petrochemical firm Ineos has bought exploration rights to drill for shale gas in northwest England from smaller rival IGas in a £30 million deal.  The Telegraph says the deal will see Ineos drill up to 11 wells and frack six of them, but could affect  planned payments to communities. Ineos hopes to be the UK's largest shale gas company says  Business Green. Meanwhile Durham University's Liam Herringshaw asks  what happened to Europe's shale gas boom.       Financial Times 

Climate and energy news

Flood risk amplified by 'foolhardy' building, MPs say 
Building on floodplains is putting thousands of homes at risk, according to a report from MPs covered by Business Green. The UK's programme on adapting to climate change is failing to address the issue, the MPs say. The need to adapt is "unavoidable" and flooding poses the biggest adaptation challenge to the UK, the MPs say.          BusinessGreen 

Vatican official's speech hints themes of Pope Francis' upcoming encyclical on climate change 
Recent global warming is not contested and Christians have a duty to address the problem, according to a Vatican official who helped draft Pope Francis' expected 'encyclical' on climate change. Cardinal Peter Turkson says Christians should be tackling the problem "irrespective of the causes", reports the Associated Press. The Pope's climate message is due to be released in June or July.        Associated Press via Fox News 

Florida governor Scott denies banning phrase 'climate change' 
Florida's governor Rick Scott has denied reports he banned employees of the state's environment agency using the terms "climate change" and "global warming", reports RTCC. The  Washington Post says at minimum officials "perceived" a ban. It compares Florida's attempt to control the message on climate to similar efforts by former president George W. Bush.        RTCC 

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How ambitious is the EU's offer to the Paris climate change talks?

  • 10 Mar 2015, 12:15
  • Simon Evans

Paris | Shutterstock

The EU has set out its contribution to a new international climate change agreement, in advance of talks in Paris this December.

The EU pledge, known as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), was submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on Friday and is the second official submission, following first-placed Switzerland.

Carbon Brief runs through the key points from the EU's offer and summarises reactions to the announcement.

The EU's ambition for the world

The EU's INDC is set out in a relatively brief three-page table repeating climate and energy targets for 2030 agreed by EU leaders last October. The headline is to reduce domestic EU greenhouse gas emissions by "at least 40%" by 2030, against a 1990 baseline.

The EU says this is in line with an existing EU objective to cut emissions by 80-95% in 2050 against 1990 levels. It also says the target is consistent with "the need for at least halving global emissions by 2050 compared to 1990".

The EU's more detailed Paris Protocol, published on 25 February, says UN talks in Paris should set a long-term 2050 climate goal, as part of a legally binding climate agreement applicable to all countries. It proposes a 60% cut in global emissions by 2050 against a 2010 baseline.

This is consistent with the latest science, which says global emissions should be between 40 and 70% below 2010 levels in 2050, reaching net-zero between 2080 and 2100, if warming is to be limited to two degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.

The EU proposal is not consistent with a more ambitious global climate target of limiting warming to below 1.5 degrees, however. On Friday, African ministers published the Cairo Decleration which backs a 1.5 degrees goal for Paris. This would require a 70-95% reduction in emissions by 2050 and be net-zero by between 2060 and 2080.

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Daily Briefing | First round-the-world solar flight takes off from UAE

  • 10 Mar 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Solar impulse | Shutterstock

First round-the-world solar flight takes off from UAE 
A plane began a ground breaking attempt yesterday to fly around the world using only solar power. The plane, which set off from Abu Dhabi for the 35,000km flight, has almost 17,250 solar cells built into the wing to supply four electric motors and recharge lithium batteries that allow the plane to fly at night. While solar power may not provide a solution to decarbonising the aviation industry, the event is meant to raise awareness of the potential for renewable technology to revolutionise everyday energy use, say the pilots. BusinessGreen and Ars Technica also reported on the launch. The Telegraph has the event in pictures.       Reuters 

Climate and energy news

Global warming 'set to speed up to rates not seen for 1,000 years' 
New evidence suggests the rate at which temperatures are rising in the northern hemisphere could be 0.25 degrees Celsius per decade by 2020 - a level not seen for at least 1,000 years. Different scenarios of future emissions showed that even at the lower end of greenhouse gas generation, climate change picked up speed in the next 40 years. The Daily Mail and Scientific American also have the story. Carbon Brief covered the new study here.       Press Association via Guardian 

Nasa animation reveals perfectly choreographed orbits of crafts around Earth 
NASA has created a mesmerising video showing the path its 18 satellites take as they orbit earth 400 miles above our heads. The spacecraft circle the planet once every hour and a half measuring rainfall, solar irradiance, clouds, sea surface height, ocean salinity and other global properties. Some satellites circle Earth at the poles, monitoring the entire globe as it rotates beneath them. Some keep their positions fixed relative to the sun at all times, allowing them to study each spot on Earth at the same local time every day. Others take a diagonal sweep across Earth's surface. Wired also covered the new NASA video.     Mail Online 

Study: electric cars could save UK $13bn in fuel costs by 2030 
By 2030 the cost of fuelling the average new low carbon car could be £600 cheaper than the average car today, with electric cars saving almost £1,000 every year in reduced fuel bills, according to new research. Low carbon technologies could cut carbon dioxide emissions from cars and vans in the UK by as much as 47% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, says the new report by Cambridge Econometrics. Meanwhile, a separate report by Massachusetts based BCC Research says the global electric vehicle market is expected to reach £72.7 billion by 2019, reports BusinessGreen.       BusinessGreen 

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Earth entering new era of rapid temperature change, study warns

  • 09 Mar 2015, 16:00
  • Robert McSweeney

Trees at sunset | Shutterstock

The rate of climate change we're experiencing now is faster than at any time in the last millennium, a new study shows.

Researchers compared how temperature varied over 40-year periods in the past, present and future, and concluded that the Earth is entering a new "regime" of rapid temperature change.

We're already locked into fast-paced changes in the near future because of past emissions, the researchers say.

That means we'll need to adapt to minimise the impacts of climate change, even if greenhouse gas emissions are cut substantially.

Peaks and troughs

A look back at how global temperatures have changed over the past century shows how temperature  rise of the Earth's surface has been anything but smooth.

These peaks and troughs are in part caused by natural phenomena, such as  volcanic eruptions and  El Niño, which influence the Earth's climate from year to year.

The graph below shows average global surface temperatures for every year back to the 1850s. You can see that temperature changes from decade to decade do not always happen at the same pace. This is the impact of  natural cycles in climate, which can either work to enhance or dampen the long-term warming trend over short timescales.

A new study, published in Nature Climate Change, shows how much faster temperature has increased in recent decades compared to any time over the last 1,000 years.


Tempdatasets 2--5_cropped

How the major global surface temperature datasets compare. Showing NASA GisTEMP (purple), JMA (orange), NOAA MLOST (green) and Met Office/CRU (blue). Credit: Rosamund Pearce, Carbon Brief

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Daily Briefing | Smart meters energy saving project at risk, say MPs

  • 09 Mar 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Electricity meter | Shutterstock

Smart meters energy saving project at risk, say MPs 
Plans to install energy saving smart meters in every UK home and business by 2020 are falling behind, an influential group of MPs has warned. The Energy and Climate Change committee says the project was in danger of becoming a costly mistake, with a series of "technical, logistical and public communication issues" resulting in delays. The energy industry may struggle to recruit and train up to 10,000 engineers that will be needed to install the 53 million meters, The Telegraph reports. The Guardian says one key delay has been an argument between utilities and the government over how much of the £200 cost of each installation should ultimately be added to consumer bills.      BBC News 

Climate and energy news

Climate summit's pledges on carbon cuts 'won't avert global disaster' 
Pledges at this year's climate summit to cut carbon emissions are likely to fall far short of the targets needed to avoid a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise. That is the stark conclusion of a report by a team led by British economist Nicholas Stern. Planned cuts in global emissions will still leave the world emitting 10 billion tonnes of carbon a year too much, the report says.     The Observer 

Climate change must stay on political agenda, say protesters 
Thousands of climate change activists marched on the Houses of Parliament yesterday to urge politicians to start taking global warming seriously. The march, called "Time to Act", was designed to increase support for action ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris in November. Organisers said that 20,000 people turned out, but other estimates put the crowd at about 5,000, says the Independent. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood spoke to the crowd via video link, reports The Times, warning the government that "The clock is ticking". Green party MP Caroline Lucas, Head of Greenpeace UK John Sauven, and author Naomi Klein also gave speeches, says The Guardian.      The Independent

Arctic sea ice near its all-time minimum low and could break previous record 
Sea ice in the Arctic is near its all-time minimum for the end of winter and could break the previous record within the next two weeks if it fails to grow, according to the latest satellite data. The area of the Arctic covered by floating sea ice is already the lowest for this time of year, reports The Independent. Scientists at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre say it is still too early to say whether the record is likely to be broken this year.       The Independent 

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Atmosphere 'has finally woken up' as El Niño gets underway in the Pacific

  • 06 Mar 2015, 14:55
  • Roz Pidcock

The long-awaited El Niño has arrived. After keeping a close eye on evolving conditions in the Pacific, scientists yesterday announced the official onset of El Niño, a phenomenon affecting weather worldwide. But the nascent event is likely to have little global impact, scientists say.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Centre upgraded its assessment from 'El Niño Watch' to 'El Niño Advisory', meaning an event is now occurring.

Scientists have classified the current event as a "borderline, weak El Niño" with a 50 to 60 per cent chance of persisting through Spring. Its weak strength and late timing mean "widespread or significant global impacts" are unlikely, yesterday's report says.

An unsure start

Every five years or so, a change in the winds causes a shift to warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean - known as  El Niño. Together with its cooler counterpart, La Niña, this is known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and is responsible for most of the fluctuations in global weather we see from one year to the next.

The  official threshold for when the ocean passes into an El Niño state is when sea surface temperatures, averaged over three months, exceed 0.5 degrees Celsius in the central and eastern Pacific. The  latest data for February show average sea surface temperatures 0.6 degrees above average, as the map below shows. (Click  here for an animated version.)

Screenshot 2015-03-06 11.37.20

Average sea surface temperature in the tropical Pacific for the week of 25th Feb. Anomalies are relative to 1981-2010 weekly average. Source:  NOAA Climate Prediction Centre

Normally, warmer water at the sea surface triggers a sequence of interactions between the atmosphere and ocean that amplifies the initial warming, and an El Niño builds.

Sea surface temperatures have been hovering at or around the critical point for  several months, prompting predictions that El Niño was on its way as far back as  last April.

But until this week, the atmosphere had "largely failed to respond" as expected, with leading experts dubbing El Niño's failure to emerge as "puzzling" and  "an enigma".

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