Southern Europe stands to lose the most from climate change

  • 26 Jun 2014, 17:00
  • Simon Evans and Roz Pidcock

CC2.0 il_baro

The European economy would be €190 billion smaller at the end of the century, equivalent to 1.8 per cent of current annual GDP, if nothing more is done to tackle climate change. So says the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC).

But the damage caused by 3.5 degrees of warming above pre-industrial temperatures - the level of warming expected by the 2080s under business as usual - would be uneven. Some sectors and some parts of Europe would face less severe impacts than others. We've taken a look at the distribution of predicted damages.

Calculating damages

The JRC scientists have used the latest models and climate data to assess what the likely impacts of rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and sea level rise will be on different parts of the economy.

This new study used separate models to estimate impacts on agriculture, tourism, health, coastal damage, river flooding, forest fires, transport and energy use. Then it assigned a monetary value to those impacts in a single economic model to work out the overall cost of climate damages.

To get an idea of how big or small the number is, the costs are expressed as a percentage of GDP - the market value of all recognised goods and services produced in a year. But the price tag put on climate change doesn't include everything.

Some aspects aren't well enough understood yet, such as the consequences of abrupt climate change, or are difficult to assign a monetary value to - such as the loss of natural ecosystems and the services they provide like clean air, clean water or carbon storage.

Accounting for these extra factors is likely to mean higher rather than lower costs, according to a report earlier this year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

On the other hand, estimates of how much climate change could cost us also don't generally include how adaptation measures, such as changing farming practices or reducing water use, could make us more resilient against damages.

The JRC's study also ignores the effects of rising populations and growing economies. These effects would tend to increase the costs of warming too, it says, by increasing the number and value of assets exposed to climate change damage.

There's lots of work going on to try to account for these things, but for the time being it's important just to recognise they're largely missing from cost calculations.

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What price the Great Barrier Reef? Shadow environment minister says nature should make it onto balance sheets

  • 26 Jun 2014, 15:00
  • Ros Donald

How much is the Great Barrier Reef worth? It's breathtakingly beautiful, but it also does a lot of important jobs like purifying water and acting as a natural sea defence, all for free. A new article by the UK's shadow environment minister and a group of academics urges policymakers and businesses to include nature in GDP calculations and on balance sheets.

Natural capital

If the world's natural systems are in good shape, they provide countless free services worth trillions. In 2011, the World Bank  estimated that the world's natural capital was worth at least US$40 trillion - that's 1.6 times the combined assets of the world's biggest banks. 

Clean air keeps us healthy and productive, clean water supports agriculture, coral and oyster reefs provide natural sea defences, and forests provide natural carbon capture and storage. Yet these benefits don't figure in GDP calculations or on company balance sheets. By and large, we take nature's added value for granted - though we certainly notice when it's gone. 

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What EU policy responses to the Ukraine crisis reveal about energy security priorities

  • 26 Jun 2014, 13:00
  • Mat Hope

CC: F Kovalchek

With Russia threatening to  limit the flow of gas through Ukraine's pipelines, energy security has been pushed to the top of the European agenda. But between fracking East Sussex to insulating homes in Riga, policymakers can't seem to agree on the best course of action to secure Europe's energy supply.

We take a look at some proposals and assess if - and how - they contribute to Europe's energy security.

Defining energy security

But what is energy security? One reason there's a plethora of proposals is it doesn't mean just one thing.

Politicians have  three aims when designing energy policy: ensure consistent supply, keep prices stable, and address climate change. If they misjudge their policies, any of those three could go awry and make the system insecure.

Some policymakers are keen for a like-for-like swap - replacing Russia's gas with imports from elsewhere. Others see the potential for a coal revival, or argue that investing in low carbon energy sources is the best plan. Each option could help secure Europe's energy future in a different way, as this table shows:

Energy Security Table Coloured 3

Alternative fossil fuels

One option is to explore shale deposits dotted around Europe and ramp up domestic oil and gas production. Britain's prime minister David Cameron even suggested the UK had a "duty" to get its fledgling shale gas industry up and running in the wake the Ukraine crisis.

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Daily Briefing | Coal magnate saves some of Australia's climate policy

  • 26 Jun 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

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Clive Palmer and Al Gore's climate change policy, explained 
Australian coal magnate turned politician, Clive Palmer, stood alongside Al Gore yesterday (in a "visual feast of weirdness", as Grist puts it) to announce his environmental policy plans. Palmer, whose Palmer United Party will soon hold the balance of power in the Senate, confirmed he would vote to scrap the carbon tax. But in a surprise move, he announced his party would vote to spare three other key elements of Australia's environmental policy: the renewable energy target, climate change authority, and clean energy finance corporation. The Guardian says the move leaves the prime minister, Tony Abbott, "completely isolated" on climate policy. The Financial Times says it leaves Abbott's plans to unpick climate regulation "in disarray". The Telegraph focuses on Gore rather than Palmer, saying his appearance represents a "gobsmacking foray" into Australian politics. Guardian Australia has a Q&A explaining how Palmer's announcement changes the lay of the land. 

Climate and energy news

Merkel to push back against EU if green energy support questioned 
German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has pledged to fight any EU efforts to curb Germany's renewable energy support schemes. "You can't simply start to question support systems which have been in place for years without thinking about how we make the transition", she argues. 

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Supreme Court backs Obama’s plan to sidestep Congress and regulate carbon emissions

  • 25 Jun 2014, 12:35
  • Simon Evans

CC: Gouldy99

The use of executive powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions has been reaffirmed by the US Supreme Court in a ruling issued on Monday. We take a look at the history of US efforts to regulate emissions and what the latest ruling means for the future.

First, here's a brief timeline of US efforts to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.

2003, 2005, 2008 and 2010

Between 2003 and 2010 the US Congress repeatedly tried and  failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation that would have limited emissions across the US economy.

The number of climate laws reaching Congress peaked in 2009-10, as the chart below shows. The current Congress still has until mid-term elections in November to catch up.

EPA Supreme Court Bar Chart

Source: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

The 112th US Congress during 2011-2012 was the first to make no attempt to pass cap-and-trade rules since the first effort, way back in 2003. Obama has effectively given up on getting Congress to act and is using the executive powers of the US Environmental Protection Agency instead.


The EPA's executive powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions stem from a 2007 Supreme Court ruling. This said the Nixon-era Clean Air Act should be used to regulate "any pollutant" that "endangers public health or welfare". This case is often referred to as Massachusetts vs EPA.


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Daily Briefing | Raising £1 billion to invest in windfarms

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

Green Bank plans £1bn fund to power wind farms 
The taxpayer-funded Green Investment Bank plans to raise a £1 billion fund to encourage sovereign wealth funds and pension funds to invest in offshore windfarms. The bank, set up by the UK government to fund green infrastructure projects, said it was seeking a suitable group of "long-term co-investors" for the fund, which will buy equity stakes in operational wind projects across the country. The Telegraph also has the story, saying the bank also reported a loss. 

Climate and energy news

Climate change: Global temperatures in May hit an all-time record high 
The Independent picks up the story that last month was the hottest on record around the world, according to scientists. The combined average temperatures for the land and ocean around the world was 0.74C higher than the 20th Century average of 14.8C for May, said the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

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Academics urge scientists to do more to engage the public on climate change

  • 24 Jun 2014, 14:30
  • Roz Pidcock

David Adamec, ABC News

There's something amiss with the public's understanding of climate change - and it's got a lot to do with scientists' inability, ill-preparedness or unwillingness to take on the role of communicators. Those are the conclusions of a new report out today that may just ruffle a few feathers in the science community.

A call to arms

The  new report from the UCL Policy Commission on the Communication of Climate Science examines the role of climate scientists in public engagement, society and policy making.

Entitled 'Time for change? Climate science reconsidered', the report makes several recommendations for how scientists can up their game on all these fronts.

Top priorities, according to the report, are increasing the transparency of the scientific process and matching up what scientists do to what society needs to better appreciate the scale and urgency of climate change.

The challenge

Climate science finds itself "mismatched to societal needs", the report claims. The information society needs to get a handle on the climate challenge is not getting through, say the authors:

"There is widespread public acceptance of the reality of climate change, but not of the urgency and scale of the challenges that the science indicates it represents".

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Risking it all: Report highlights how climate change threatens US business

  • 24 Jun 2014, 13:25
  • Mat Hope & Ros Donald

CC: P Sableman

From coastal properties slipping into the sea to diminishing corn yields, new analysis suggests climate change could cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars if policymakers fail to take action.

The report, by the Risky Business Project, backed by dozens of prominent industry leaders, warns that the US faces "profound risks" from climate change.

With its cross-party backers and focus on economic risks, the report aims to help transform climate change from a politically divisive issue into a business case for action.

New normal

The research says two impacts of climate change put US's economy at most risk: extreme heat and sea-level rise.

The world should expect  more intense heatwaves, rainfall, and droughts as emissions increase and global temperatures rise, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Models show  sea level is likely to rise by between 29 and 82 centimeters by the end of the century, and that hurricanes will become more common in some regions.

Under these conditions, the Risky Business report says the US should expect extreme weather events to become more frequent. The chart below illustrates how climate change has shifted the range of what people can come to expect from the weather:

Risky business extreme weather

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Daily Briefing | Energy efficiency overlooked

  • 24 Jun 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

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Green businesses urge government to set aside £4bn per year for energy saving 
A coalition of industry and green groups says that energy efficiency risks are being overlooked in the government's National Infrastructure Plan, reports Business Green. They would like substantial funds earmarked to improve the nation's drafty housing stock. 

Climate and energy news

Alarm over climate turns people off 
"Alarmist" claims about the impact of global warming are contributing to a loss of trust in climate scientists, reports the Times. It says an inquiry led by senior scientists and commissioned by University College London found apocalyptic language harmful to public engagement efforts. 
The Times 

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Factchecking claims the IPCC says there will be no dangerous global warming this century

  • 23 Jun 2014, 17:30
  • Mat Hope & Roz Pidcock

K-L Poggemann

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned the effect of unchecked global warming could be "severe, pervasive and irreversible".

To get an idea of how global temperatures could evolve in the next 85 years, the IPCC looks at a range of scenarios, or pathways. In all but the IPCC's most stringent mitigation pathway, the world looks on course for dangerous levels of warming.

So how did climate skeptic campaigner, Matt Ridley, come to the opposite conclusion in an  article last week? He argues that even the IPCC's most severe scenario doesn't suggest dangerous levels of warming. We take a look at the IPCC's pathways to understand how it projects future warming - and where Ridley went wrong.

Warming scenarios

The IPCC looks at a wide range of potential futures based on how big or small countries' collective greenhouse gas emissions are. To examine these, it developed a range of emissions pathways - each known as Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP).

Ridley describes the IPCC's  four pathways in his recent article, and claims none of them imply dangerous levels of warming. He begins:

"Three of the models show moderate, slow and mild warming, the hottest of which leaves the planet just two degrees Centigrade warmer than today in 2081-2100. The coolest comes out just 0.8 degrees warmer."

Ridley's talking about the IPCC's three lowest scenarios - leaving out the one where emissions continue unchecked for now. But he seems to have got the numbers wrong.

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