Scientists respond to “misleading” Times article about climate change’s impact on crop yields

  • 21 Mar 2014, 12:35
  • Roz Pidcock

The authors of a new paper on how climate change could affect crop yields in the future have reacted to an article in the Times yesterday, calling the headline "very misleading".

The Times piece suggested the new research shows climate change will boost crop yields, a conclusion the newspaper said is "at odds" with the mainstream scientific view. But this interpretation is "fabricating controversy where none actually exists", the authors tell us.

Extreme heat

The  new study is the first to quantify the effect of future heatwaves on food production. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  concluded it is very likely heatwaves will get longer and more frequent this century.

Until now, studies have only looked at what effect the rise in the global average temperature might have on crops.

Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the authors looked at how the extra impact of heat waves will affect yields of three major crops - maize, spring wheat and soybean.

Crops, heatwaves and carbon dioxide

Heat waves have a negative impact on all three crops, with maize suffering the biggest losses, the researchers found. Their findings show heatwaves could double maize losses by the 2080s, compared to the 1980s.

As well as temperature, the researchers took into account how rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could influence crop growth.  Experiments have shown that raising carbon dioxide levels could make plants more efficient at using water, boosting growth.

The new paper's calculations included the possibility that this 'carbon dioxide fertilisation' effect could counteract some of the losses that come from higher temperatures and heatwaves.

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Daily Briefing | Rising energy demand's toll on water supplies

  • 21 Mar 2014, 09:30
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Abrahim Lustgarten/Propublica

Rising energy demand a threat to strained water supplies - UN 
By 2030, the world will need 40 percent more water and 50 percent more energy than now, according to the UN's World Water Development Report. Water is under pressure from factors such as a rising population, pollution and droughts, floods and heatwaves linked to global warming. The UN is urging energy companies to do more to limit use of water. Alister Doyle, Reuters 

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Budget 2014: Five key climate and energy numbers

  • 20 Mar 2014, 13:50
  • Mat Hope

Chancellor George Osborne delivered his fifth budget yesterday. It seems the chancellor has been taking notes from his party leader, with a number of measures squarely aimed at  cutting the "green crap".

We've picked out the five most important energy and climate change numbers.

Budget 2014, CPF

Osborne announced the UK's top-up carbon tax - the  carbon price floor - will be frozen after 2016. The government only introduced the measure last year, and the price was intended to rise every 12 months - hitting £30 by 2020. That's now not going to happen, and the chancellor said the government would review the policy altogether in 2020.

Environmental campaigners and commentators said yesterday's decision gave a lifeline to the UK's coal plants as it makes it cheaper for them to pollute.

Budget 2014 climate and energy infographic

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Heatproofing London: Climate change raises city heat death risk, but adaptation can cut the impact

  • 20 Mar 2014, 12:30
  • Ros Donald

Heatwaves have an amplified impact in cities, causing disproportionate discomfort, health risks and mortality rates - an effect that's expected to worsen as temperatures rise, according to new research. But the scientists also find taking measures to adapt cities to higher temperatures can reduce heat-related deaths by between 32 and 69 per cent.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s projections of future climate change suggest it's likely heatwaves may become longer and/or more frequent by the end of the century. That's expected to make baking city summers even more unbearable.

Relatively little research has been done to find out how effective attempts to adapt to hotter temperatures will be.

In the new study, researchers from a group of UK universities set out to give a risk assessment of how higher temperatures will affect city-dwellers - examining projections of urban temperatures into the future, as well as predictions of how populations will change.

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Daily Briefing | Osborne delivers a not very green budget

  • 20 Mar 2014, 09:20
  • Carbon Brief staff

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Greenhouse gas rise 'will boost crop yield' 
new study suggests rising greenhouse gases may result in better harvests of wheat and soya beans for the next 70 years, reports the Times. Maize production is projected to fall, however, and while Britain and other countries in temperate regions might experience more of the benefits, yields may decline much more in the tropics, the piece adds. 
The Times 

Climate and energy news:

England's lights 'would go out without Scotland's renewable energy' 
England needs Scotland's large and rapidly growing renewable energy supply to maintain energy security, says Fergus Ewing, the Scottish energy minister. This comes as Ed Davey said independence for Scotland would force up energy bills for Scottish households. In yesterday's budget, the chancellor also revealed revenue from North Sea oil has been downgraded by £3 billion, reports the Daily Express
The Guardian 

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Budget 2014: Key climate and energy announcements

  • 19 Mar 2014, 13:37
  • Mat Hope


Chancellor George Osborne today delivered his fifth budget. Among a few pre-election treats for voters were some important changes to the government's energy and climate policies - few of them good news for the UK's low carbon credentials.

Here's a summary of the key announcements:

Carbon price floor frozen

The chancellor was widely expected to freeze the UK's top up carbon tax - the  carbon price floor - at 2014 levels, and he did just that.

The carbon price floor will be frozen at £18 per tonne of carbon dioxide until the end of the decade, instead of rising to around £30, Osborne said. He hopes that will cut the costs of energy for industry, and help the UK's manufacturing industry.

Campaigners and industry alike criticised the policy when it was introduced in 2013. But as Osborne's announcement drew closer, many environmental groups and industry representatives seemed to change their tune.

The economic impact of the change remains to be seen, with green groups claiming it could give a  lifeline to old coal plants that would otherwise be forced to close. Perhaps more significantly, scrapping the plan just a year after it was introduced sent a message to voters and the rest of the world that the government was  no longer fully committed to combatting climate change, they argue.

More compensation for polluting industries

In the run up to the budget, business and energy minister Michael Fallon called for  further compensation for energy intensive industries he claims are being hit by the government's green levies. The chancellor duly obliged.

Osborne announced a compensation package worth £3 billion to some of the UK"s most polluting companies. Energy intensive industries will not have to pay the costs of two policies desinged to support renewable energy generation, the renewables obligation or feed-in tariffs, he said.

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Daily Briefing | US scientists weigh in on need for climate action

  • 19 Mar 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Credit: Buggalo

Scientists Sound Alarm on Climate 
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, a large scientific society in the US, has released a report identifying areas of scientific certainty in relation to climate, and warning of the dangers of climate change. The NYT calls it " sharper, clearer and more accessible than perhaps anything the scientific community has put out to date." 
The New York Times

Climate and energy news:

Global warming will cut crop harvests by 2% each decade, researchers say 
New research suggests that global crop yields could fall by 2 per cent a decade in the second half of this century, if global temperature rise reaches two degrees by 2050. The research, reported in the Guardian, also suggests that higher temperature rises could lead to very substantial crop yield losses from some plants. 
The Guardian 

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Budget 2014: Why freezing the carbon price floor is a symbolic blow to UK's climate commitment

  • 18 Mar 2014, 15:25
  • Mat Hope

Sometimes, the Chancellor must feel like he just can't win. When he introduced the UK's top-up carbon tax - the carbon price floor - environmentalists called it costly and ineffective. Now that he's announced it's going to be frozen, the same groups are accusing him of abandoning the UK's climate change agenda.

Derided policy

The carbon price floor is a top-up tax: it exists to bolster the existing EU price of carbon.

Energy companies already pay to pollute under the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS), buying permits to emit greenhouse gases when they generate electricity. But the price of the permits crashed to a  record low last year, meaning there's much less of a financial incentive for companies to cut their emissions.

The carbon price floor is meant to solve this by putting a minimum price on how much power generators in the UK pay to pollute. If the ETS price drops below this level, companies pay the difference to the UK Treasury. The carbon price floor was set to increase each year, from around £16 per tonne of carbon dioxide in 2013, to around £70 by 2030.

Carbon price Mar14The EU carbon price, March 2014

This may sound like a neat way to get polluters to pay for their emissions, but the policy was generally derided when it was introduced.

Left-leaning thinktank, IPPR, said the scheme was socially  regressive, and risked hitting the poor the hardest. Meanwhile Greenpeace's deputy political director, Joss Garman, described the policy as "precisely the sort of measure that  destroys public confidence in environmental policies".

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Daily Briefing | Previewing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's next report

  • 18 Mar 2014, 09:30
  • Carbon Brief staff

Credit: Abhi Sharma

Official prophecy of doom: Global warming will cause widespread conflict, displace millions of people and devastate the global economy 
The Independent takes a look at the second instalment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's major climate change report, focusing on impacts. It lays out what climate change means for coastal systems, food security, the economy, landscapes, and human health and security. The report outlines how "climate change will displace hundreds of millions of people by the end of this century, increasing the risk of violent conflict and wiping trillions of dollars off the global economy", the Independent concludes. 

Climate and energy news:

Geneva Motor Show: Electric cars no longer the exception? 
The BBC asks why car makers are increasingly developing hybrid or electric models. Porsche's research directors offers a clue: "we know our duty and we have big concerns about the environment", he says. Porsche's new hybrid sports car sits alongside a wide range of its competitors' electric offerings at the Geneva car show, with cars from Renault, Nissan, and BMW also catching the BBC reporter's eye. 
BBC News 

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The carbon price floor: disliked, divisive and about to be frozen

  • 17 Mar 2014, 12:45
  • Robin Webster

Source: Arnold Paul

A controversial government measure aimed at increasing the price of fossil fuels looks likely to be frozen in this week's budget, in a move the Telegraph says will " reignite the row over green taxes". But unusually for low carbon legislation, the carbon price floor (CPF) is unpopular with green campaigners, while attracting support from some in the energy industry. What is it, and why is it earmarked to be chopped? 

Designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, the CPF first appeared in George Osborne's budget speech in March 2011. The chancellor announced the government's intention to increase certainty for investors in low-carbon generation by putting a minimum price on the greenhouse gases emitted by the power sector. 

It sounds like it should have been good news for supporters of low-carbon energy. But the CPF wasn't popular. Last year, left-leaning  thinktank IPPR and  manufacturing industry group EEF both called for it to be scrapped. Even  Greenpeace says it is costly and ineffective. 

But as the possibility of the CPF being reformed has come closer, the renewables industry has expressed  support for the measure - and worries about what happens if it's curbed. 

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