Labour's vision for a low carbon UK

  • 23 Sep 2014, 15:30
  • Mat Hope

The Labour party is preparing for government. At least, it hopes it is.

The talk in the corridors of the party's annual conference is bullish, with shadow cabinet ministers plotting ways to put themselves into office next May. One thing is clear: they think presenting Labour as climate champions could be a way to differentiate themselves from their Conservative rivals.

We went to Manchester to find out what a Labour government would do to the UK's energy and climate policy.

Energy efficiency

Unsurprisingly, Labour says it's unhappy with the government's current policies.

Labour's most prominent energy announcement this year is a plan to overhaul household energy efficiency policy. Party leader Ed Miliband nodded to the policy in his speech this afternoon, saying it was part of the party's plan to become a "world leader in the green economy".

Shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint today claimed a range of policies including free home energy use assessments and a "decency standard" for rented properties should help five million homes become energy efficient in the next 10 years.

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Why isn’t the Arctic sea ice free already?

  • 23 Sep 2014, 13:30
  • Roz Pidcock

Diminishing Arctic sea ice is perhaps the most iconic impact of climate change. There's a good chance that before too long we'll lose it altogether in summer unless we cut emissions, scientists say.

But according to polar scientist Dr Dirk Notz, the question isn't why is Arctic sea ice melting so fast, it's how come we have any left at all?

Notz told a Royal Society conference in London this morning that with the additional heat earth is absorbing Arctic sea ice "should be long gone by now".

So why isn't it?

Arctic decline

Arctic sea ice cover is declining by about  four per cent per decade. The seasonal low at the height of summer is shrinking particularly quickly, at more like 11.5 per cent per decade.

                      Arctic Sea Ice Low _Sep 17

The National Snow and Ice Data Centre announced this year's Arctic sea ice minimum on the 17th September. At 5.02 million square kilometers, it was the 6th lowest on record. Orange line is 1981 to 2010 average extent for that day. Source:  NSIDC


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How TV news covered the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s three big reports

  • 23 Sep 2014, 00:01
  • Mat Hope

TV studio | Shutterstock

TV audiences around the world aren't hearing much about climate science.

That's the main conclusion of a new study looking at how TV news covered the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) three big reports earlier this year.

While the IPCC's reports made a  small splash in the print media, the same wasn't true of television news. Media in many countries barely covered the reports. And when they did, they used an old-fashioned "doom" narrative to explain them, research by Oxford University's Reuters Institute finds.

That's concerning, because many people still get their news from the TV, and place particular trust in TV news to deliver a balanced account of climate science.

Here's which channels covered the reports, how, and why it matters.

Country divergence

The IPCC's first report on the science behind climate change was launched in October 2013. A second report on the impacts of climate change was released the final day of March 2014, with a  third report looking at policies to cut emissions following a couple of weeks later.

The Reuters Institute looked at how a selection of news bulletins in the UK, China, India, Brazil, Australia and Germany covered all three reports on their launch day, and the day before.

13 out of the 36 main news bulletins the Reuters Institute studied covered the IPCC reports. That adds-up to about 34 minutes of airtime.

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This year's Arctic sea ice minimum is sixth lowest on record

  • 22 Sep 2014, 17:39
  • Robert McSweeney

The eight lowest measurements of Arctic summer sea-ice extent occurred in the last eight years, scientists confirmed today.

The findings were presented by Professor Julienne Stroeve from the National Snow & Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) at a Royal Society conference on Arctic sea ice reduction.

On the 17th September satellites recorded the Arctic summer minimum extent at 5.01 million square kilometers (sq km). Stroeve confirmed that this year's summer sea-ice extent is the sixth lowest on record, in a series of satellite measurments stretching back over thirty years.

Arctic sea ice - conditions in context.

Sea-ice minimum

Mid to late September marks the end of the Arctic summer, and the point when Arctic ice is at it's smallest extent, before it freezes up again as temperatures fall in the autumn.

Measurements of sea ice taken over the past decades suggest the rate of sea-ice loss is accelerating.

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How to divide up carbon budgets fairly

  • 22 Sep 2014, 17:15
  • Simon Evans

Power station | Shutterstock

World leaders meeting for climate talks in New York tomorrow will be expected to give an idea of their countries' suggested contributions to cutting emissions. All eyes will be on the level of ambition on offer: will it be enough to avoid dangerous warming?

Our remaining 'carbon budget' means we can emit about 1,400 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still have a 50/50 chance of staying below two degrees, scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say.

But as well as asking whether the world's emissions cuts will be enough, we might also ask whether they will be fair. Two newstudies examine how to divide the remaining carbon budget fairly, and show the answer depends on how you define fairness.

Ambitious cuts

Staying within our carbon budget means cutting emissions 5.5 per cent per year, a paper in Nature Climate Change finds, if action starts without delay. That's dauntingly and perhaps even impossibly rapid.

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Climate snails study shows peer review continues to function as expected

  • 22 Sep 2014, 15:10
  • Roz Pidcock

Something is amiss in the world of scientific publishing, claimed The Times this weekend. And not for the first time. This is the latest in a  series  of articles suggesting research downplaying the seriousness of climate change impacts is being suppressed by top scientific journals.

Last time, scientists dismissed the Times' story as a case of peer review in action. It's difficult to see what the difference is this time.

"False alarm"

Seven years ago, a conservation scientist in the Seychelles published a paper in one of the Royal Society's journals, Biological Letters. It concluded the only known population of a type of snail was now thought to be extinct, after declining rapidly in the late 20th century.

In Saturday's Times article, journalist Ben Webster said:

"[The research] was presented as shocking evidence of the damage being done by climate change: a species driven to extinction because of a decline in rainfall in its only habitat."

In its recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned the fast pace of climate change could have consequences for many species. It concluded:

"A large fraction of both terrestrial and freshwater species faces increased extinction risk under projected climate change during and beyond the 21st century."

Well, the snail has apparently been rediscovered on a remote island. The Times suggests this "prompts questions" over the Royal Society "raising false alarm" about climate change.

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Daily Briefing | Emissions warning as climate marchers take to the streets

  • 22 Sep 2014, 09:15
  • Mat Hope

Climate march | Shutterstock

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Three Decades Until Carbon Budget Is Eaten Through 
A new report shows global greenhouse gas emissions hit record levels in 2013, and are set to do so again this year. The Global Carbon Project's annual report suggests that if the world continues to emit at current rates, it will soon pass the point at which global warming can be curbed to two degrees. "If the planet's carbon budget, which is the amount of fuel we can burn, concrete we can pour and forest we can fell without blowing global warming goals, was a giant cake, then we'd all be running out of dessert - fast", Climate Central explains. The research shows "the world remains far off track in its efforts to control global warming", the Times headline declares, meaning "children born today will see the world committed to dangerous and irreversible levels of climate change by their young adulthood", theGuardian says. The Financial TimesBBC and Reuters all focus on China's increasing contribution to global emissions. China's emissions per person overtook the EU's for the first time in 2013. We look at the implications, as does The Conversation
Climate Central 

Climate and energy news

'King Coal's reign crumbling as demand falters, Carbon Tracker warns 
£112 billion of coal assets are at risk unless demand for the resource picks up, new research suggests. The findings from the Carbon Tracker Initiative's latest report echo its earlier studies, which show many resources with the highest climatic impact are also financially risky. Improvements in energy efficiency, increased renewable energy capacity, and environmental legislation all reduce coal demand, the report says. 

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Scientists: Why clinging to a two degree limit may harm meaningful climate action

  • 21 Sep 2014, 18:20
  • Roz Pidcock

World Flags vis Shutterstock

Hopes of keeping global warming below the long-established target of two degrees above pre-industrial levels are rapidly eroding, according to a collection of papers in two Nature journals today.

That might sound like a gloomy backdrop to this week's climate summit, convened by UN director-general Ban Ki Moon to refocus world leaders' attention on climate action.

But chalking up the two degrees target as a political failure is a "naive" way to look at climate ambition and could even obstruct future negotiations, the authors argue.

Origin of two degrees

In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) said the objective of global climate policy should be to stabilise humans' influence on the climate below the level at which it can be considered "dangerous".

Scientifically-speaking, there's no definitive threshold beyond which climate change tips the balance into being "dangerous". But as temperatures rise, so do the risks.

Curbing temperature rise to  two degrees above pre-industrial levels has become the most widely accepted point beyond which climate change risks are considered unacceptably high. 

As the recent report on climate change impacts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) puts it:

"Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts. Some risks of climate change are considerable at 1 or 2°C above preindustrial levels … The precise levels of climate change sufficient to trigger tipping points… remain uncertain, but the risk ... increases with rising temperature".

A two degree limit has been a symbolic focus of climate ambition for the past two decades - it is the limit recommended by the UK's  Committee on Climate Change, for example.

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World on course to overshoot two degrees target, study shows

  • 21 Sep 2014, 18:00
  • Mat Hope

Near space - Shutterstock

As world leaders prepare to  meet in New York to reinvigorate global efforts to tackle climate change, a new study shows carbon dioxide emissions are set to hit record levels. Again.

The Global Carbon Project's (GCP) annual report warns that if emissions continue to climb, the world will soon pass the point at which it's likely global warming can be limited to two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

The report's author Professor Corinne Le Quéré says in a press release that the research shows politicians "need to think very carefully" about how to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

Record emissions

GCP estimates that the world will have emitted 40.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2014, a 2.2 per cent rise on last year's record breaking level.

That's worrying, as there's a finite amount of carbon dioxide the world can emit if it's to curb warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels - the internationally agreed goal.

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UK and Germany balk at coal exit plea

  • 19 Sep 2014, 16:25
  • Simon Evans

Lignite mine | Shutterstock

Earlier this week a major global report explained how the world could tackle climate change while growing the economy, at no extra cost.

One of its top recommendations was for rich countries to get out of coal as quickly as possible. It said these countries should immediately promise to stop building new coal plants and to accelerate the closure of old power stations.

That sounds like a pretty simple ask. So are the EU's major coal users like the UK and Germany up for an accelerated coal phase-out? Not exactly, it turns out.

Cut coal for growth and climate

The coal exit plea comes from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate's New Climate Economy report. The UK government and others set up the commission to investigate whether the global economy could continue to grow while tackling the risks of climate change.

The report finds that most of the emissions cuts required to avoid dangerous warming could be made at no additional cost to the economy, if there is "strong and broad implementation" of its ten point plan. The findings were backed by UK climate secretary Ed Davey.

The report puts special emphasis on reducing coal emissions. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels and is responsible for three-quarters of all power sector emissions despite only providing two-fifths of power. So getting out of coal is an "essential feature" of climate action, the report says, and it is "critical" to limit further coal expansion.

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