Analysis

Daily Briefing | Flurry of record temperatures as world heats up

  • 26 May 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Thermometer on a beach shows high temperatures

Thermometer on a beach | Shutterstock

Climate change could bring new hay fever misery to the UK 
Hay fever affects 18 million people in the UK, but a new study suggests a warming climate means worse may be on the way. The culprit is the common ragweed, an invasive species that's expanding across Europe, which means up to 12 times as much of its potent pollen.     Carbon Brief

Analysis: Regional attitudes to climate change across the UK 
Do people across Britain think differently about climate change? Or does the UK speak as one voice? Data on regional attitudes to climate change is pretty thin on the ground, but Carbon Brief takes you through the information that exists from the UK and further afield to unpack this intriguing story.      Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Flurry of record temperatures as world heats up to new high 
Featured on the front page, The Times reports the past 12-month period has been the warmest on record, and temperatures this year have set a record for January to April, at 0.68C above normal. With other milestones being broken round the world, The Times asks Prof Adam Scaife at the Met Office whether this means the end of the slowdown in global surface temperature rise. "The pause may be over but we can't say that for sure after only two years of data," he says. "We need a few more years of global temperature data."      The Times 

Hay fever misery to increase with global warming 
Climate change could help a notorious invasive weed known to trigger severe allergy attacks to spread and bring misery to hay fever sufferers, experts have warned. Ragweed is native to North America but has been spreading rapidly across warmer parts of Europe. It is still rare in the UK, but researchers predict by 2050 it could be scattering pollen throughout much of Britain and northern Europe. Ragweed is already the biggest cause of hay fever in the US, reports The Daily Express, who put the story on their front page. The Guardian also cover the research, and you can read Carbon Brief's coverage here.     Mail Online 

Third Energy seeks permission to frack in Yorkshire 
UK shale explorer Third Energy has applied to frack for gas near the Yorkshire town of Malton, the second company to seek permission to drill in Britain. The group has applied to North Yorkshire county council to frack an existing well at Kirby Misperton, near to theme park Flamingo Land. Local planning officers will take up to 13 weeks to decide on their recommendation, followed by a decision from the council. The Guardian also covers the story.      The Financial Times 

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Climate change could bring new hay fever misery to the UK

  • 25 May 2015, 16:00
  • Robert McSweeney
Common ragweed

Common ragweed | Nature Bureau

With spring in full swing, there's much to enjoy about sunny days and warmer temperatures. But this time of year also brings the hay fever season, when itchy eyes and sneezing beset around  18 million people in the UK.

Now a new study suggests a warming climate means worse may be on the way. The culprit is the common ragweed, an invasive species that's expanding across Europe with unpleasant consequences for hay fever sufferers.

What is ragweed?

Common ragweed is a green, leafy plant that is native to North America but has taken root in Europe, Australia, East Asia and South America since the end of the 19th century.

Ragweed typically grows around farmland and construction sites, and along riverbanks and railway embankments. It flowers through the summer and into the autumn and produces large amounts of pollen, which can be carried by the wind from one country to another.

The UK is currently a bit too cold for the plant to flourish. And while ragweed pollen is blown over from Europe, it's rarely in high enough quantities to cause hay fever symptoms.

But that could be set to change. New research, published in Nature Climate Change, estimates the amount of ragweed pollen in the air across Europe will be four times higher by 2050. And it could even be as much as 12 times higher, the study shows.

This means a lot more ragweed pollen reaching the UK, the researchers say.

The study is part of a Europe-wide project on how changes in climate, land use and air pollution will affect the spread of pollen and its impact on human health.

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Analysis: Regional attitudes to climate change across the UK

  • 22 May 2015, 11:00
  • Rosamund Pearce
UK flooding

UK flooding | Shutterstock

Do people across Britain think differently about climate change? Or does the UK speak as one voice? Data on regional attitudes to climate change is pretty thin on the ground, but the information that exists from the UK and further afield seems to tell an intriguing story.

A study published earlier this year in  Nature Climate Change found differences in Americans' views on climate change, depending on where they lived.

Based on survey data gathered between 2008 and 2014, people living in the central US tended to be less worried about global warming than the national average, while residents of drought-stricken California showed noticeably more concern.

UK opinion on causes of climate change

Crossing the Atlantic to the UK, YouGov recently  arried out a poll for the Sunday Times, showing how public perception of climate change varies across five regions: London, the South, Wales and the Midlands, the North and Scotland.

Participants were asked which of the following statements they agreed with: the climate is changing as a result of human activity, it's changing but not because of human activity, it's not changing, or they're unsure.

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Daily Briefing | Kingdom built on oil foresees fossil fuel phase-out this century

  • 22 May 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
A candle tower burning off excess gas at an oil refinery in the desert.

Desert oil refinery | Shutterstock

Satellites reveal rapid acceleration of Antarctic glacier ice loss 
Thinning of glaciers in one of the most vulnerable parts of Antarctica has accelerated at a "remarkable rate" since 2009, a new study finds. Stable through the 2000s, the glaciers began losing large quantities of ice within just a year or two, the lead author tells Carbon Brief. This shows the surprising speed with which Antarctica's glaciers can react to rising ocean temperatures, and without warning, he says.     Carbon Brief 

Limiting global warming to 1.5C is still possible say scientists 
It's still technically possible to limit global warming to below 1.5C this century, according to new research, using negative emissions technologies such as biomass with carbon capture and storage and afforestation. But as the scale of these technologies implied by the scenarios is very large, what does 'possible' actually mean? Carbon Brief puts the new study's findings in context.     Carbon Brief

Mismatched graph creates confusion in Canada's UN climate pledge 
Updated: we've tried to make sense of further verdicts coming in on Canada's confusing UN contribution. Conflicting views of Canada's 2030 target show the complex nature of INDCs in general: issues such as different baselines, target years and accounting rules for land use and forestry mean that it will be difficult to assess the aggregate impacts of national contributions to the UN's climate deal.     Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Kingdom built on oil foresees fossil fuel phase-out this century 
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest crude exporter, could phase out the use of fossil fuels by the middle of this century, the kingdom's oil minister said yesterday. He told a conference in Paris: "In Saudi Arabia, we recognise that eventually, one of these days, we are not going to need fossil fuels. I don't know when, in 2040, 2050 or thereafter." Instead, Saudi Arabia plans to become a "global power in solar and wind energy". The statement represents a "stunning admission" by a nation whose wealth and influence in the world are predicated on its vast reserves of crude oil, the Financial Times writes. Bloomberg Newsalso reported the story.     Pillita Clark, Financial Times 

Business leaders prepare for limited UN climate deal in Paris 
More than 1,000 business leaders attended a business summit on tackling climate change in Paris this week. They called on policymakers to agree on carbon pricing mechanisms, closer collaboration between business and government on climate policies and a joint public and private sector fund for investing in low-carbon technology. The private sector could help close the expected shortfall in emissions reductions necessary to stop 2C of global warming warming, suggested Unilever's CEO Paul Polman. Meanwhile, the chairman of Glencore Tony Hayward called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, but also rejected suggestions that solar could replace coal. The heads of fossil fuel giants Statoil, Glencore and Total, dismissed the idea that their assets are dangerous RTCC reports. "We are going to produce oil and gas for a long time and I see no scenarios where that is not the case," said Statoil's Eldar Saetre.     Guardian Sustainable Business Blog 

Antarctic Peninsula in 'dramatic' ice loss 
Satellites have seen a sudden dramatic change in the behaviour of glaciers on the Antarctica Peninsula, according to a study led by the University of Bristol. The ice streams were broadly stable up until 2009, since when they have been losing around 56 billion tonnes of ice a year to the ocean. Warm waters from the deep sea may be driving the changes, the UK-based team says. Scientific Americanthe Guardianand the Daily Mail also have the story. Read Carbon Brief's coverage of the study here.     BBC News 

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Satellites reveal rapid acceleration of Antarctic glacier ice loss

  • 21 May 2015, 19:00
  • Robert McSweeney
Antarctic research vessel

Antarctic research vessel | J.L. Bamber

Thinning of glaciers in one of the most vulnerable parts of Antarctica has accelerated at a "remarkable rate" since 2009, a new study finds.

Stable through the 2000s, the glaciers began losing large quantities of ice within just a year or two, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.

The study shows the surprising speed with which Antarctica's glaciers can react to rising ocean temperatures, and without warning, he says.

Remarkable acceleration

Glaciers are huge rivers of ice that ooze their way over land, powered by gravity and their own sheer weight. They accumulate ice from snowfall and lose it through melting.

In the new study, published today in  Science, researchers analysed changes to glaciers on the Southern Antarctic Peninsula in the last decade and a half.

For most of the 2000s, satellite data shows the glaciers lost about as much ice as they gained, meaning they stayed roughly stable. But around 2009 there was "a remarkable rate of acceleration" in ice loss, the study says.

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Limiting global warming to 1.5C is still possible, say scientists

  • 21 May 2015, 14:30
  • Simon Evans
Aerial of Forestry Plantations

Forestry plantation | Shutterstock

It's still technically possible to limit global warming to below 1.5C this century, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change.

Only a small window of opportunity remains open, the study says - and it is closing rapidly. Global carbon pricing or its equivalent should have been implemented already and must certainly be in place by 2020. The world would then need to become carbon neutral by mid-century.

The new study pitches into a live and vociferous debate over whether the world should be aiming to limit warming to 1.5C or 2C, and whether either target remains achievable. Carbon Brief puts the new study's findings in context.

Limiting warming to 1.5C

So far, the globally agreed target for avoiding dangerous climate change is to limit warming to  no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels. But more than half of the world's nations represented under the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are in favour of a tougher 1.5C target. These include the least developed and most vulnerable countries, such as the small island states that are already losing farmland to rising sea levels.

UNFCCC review process is underway to try to decide if a 1.5C goal would be more appropriate. Its initial findings include that the impacts of even 1.5C of warming would be "significant" and that a 1.5C limit would be "preferable" to 2C. However, it warns that the science on the impacts of 1.5C compared to 2C is "less robust" and that until new results become available, any decision on strengthening the current 2C goal may need to wait.

Today's new research aims directly into this relative scientific void. It says: "So far, only a few studies have reported scenarios consistent with a 1.5C limit… Here we fill this gap".

To find out if 1.5C remains possible it uses two " integrated assessment models" that represent the world's energy system and economy under different assumptions about the future of global policy, development and growth.

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Daily Briefing | François Hollande calls for 'miracle' climate agreement at Paris talks

  • 21 May 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
François Hollande

François Hollande | Shutterstock

Scientists warn against premature predictions of a "substantial" El Niño 
It's too early to tell if the El Niño brewing in the Pacific will be a big event or how serious its impacts might be, scientists have warned. Speaking at a press conference in London, they said they can't rule out an El Niño as large as the one in 1997/8 - which raised global temperature by more than half a degree - but it's looking unlikely. Roz Pidcock, Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

François Hollande calls for 'miracle' climate agreement at Paris talks 
The French president used a speech at the Business and Climate summit in Paris to call for a "miracle" to happen later this year at the crunch climate change conference in the same city, saying this would be needed for a compromise to be reached on the future of limiting greenhouse gases that would involve both developed and developing countries. "We must have a consensus. If within our own country, that's difficult, imagine what it's like with 196 countries. A miracle!" But he added he was confident it could be achieved, adding that the role of businesses would be "key". Reuters said that Hollande was "concerned about slow progress" in the talks. Meanwhile, Ségolène Royal, France's minister of ecology, said that Africa could have 50 million climate refugees by 2060. BusinessGreen reported that Hollande had told delegates that carbon pricing was "the most tangible signal" that governments could send to investors on the need for investing in cleaner and low carbon infrastructure.     The Guardian 

British coal-fired power plant bows to the inevitable 
The FT said that confirmation that the Ferrybridge C facility in West Yorkshire - one of Britain's biggest remaining coal-fired power stations - will close by next March "did not come as a great surprise". It is "just the latest in a series of stations to fall victim to the drive to reduce the importance of coal in the UK's energy mix". The BBC said the power station would close by March 2016, adding that the owner - SSE - is considering reopening the gas-fired power station at Keadby, near Scunthorpe, by the end of October. The Telegraph said Britain was now "at greater risk of blackouts", but Alistair Phillips-Davies, SSE chief executive, played down such fears: "Everything I hear from National Grid and the Secretary of State tells me things are fine."     Financial Times 

El Niño will play havoc with food prices 
The likely return of El Niño could drive up the prices of coffee, chocolate and other goods grown in its path, reports the Times following a briefing by scientists in London yesterday. According to Met Office scientists, there is a 70% chance that the "capricious phenomenon will churn up the weather patterns around the South Pacific over the coming months after a six-year absence". The BBC also focus of the news that El Niño could "disrupt food markets". Meanwhile, MailOnline uses a different headline: "Met Office confirms fears El Nino could cause a harsh winter in Europe." The FT also carries the story. Carbon Brief explains why it is still too early to tell how significant this event might turn out to be.     The Times 

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Scientists warn against premature predictions of a "substantial" El Niño

  • 20 May 2015, 17:00
  • Roz Pidcock

It's too early to tell if the El Niño brewing in the Pacific will be a big event or how serious its impacts might be, scientists warned today.

Speaking at a press conference in London, scientists said they can't rule out an  El Niño as large as the one in 1997/8 - which raised global temperature by more than half a degree - but it's looking unlikely.

There's even a slight chance this year's event could be a false alarm, say the scientists. But their best current guess is that we should expect a "moderate" event in the coming months.

Forecast

Tropical Pacific surface waters are warmer than average for this time of year, and have been for several months - a sure sign that El Niño is  underway.

The  latest forecast from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gave a strong chance of a "weak to moderate" event lasting through the Northern Hemisphere summer.

During Spring, there's still a lot of uncertainty about how El Niño could develop, and scientists are not ruling out the possibility of an event to rival the one the world experienced in the winter of 1997.

But based on current evidence, scientists are reasonably confident of a moderate strength event, Prof Adam Scaife, an expert on monthly and decadal prediction at the Met Office, told journalists today.

This would probably place this year's event somewhere between the 1997/8 and more recent 2009/10 event in terms of strength, said Scaife.

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Daily Briefing | Merkel and Hollande pledge an end to fossil fuel pollution

  • 20 May 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Angela Merkel et François Hollande

Merkel and Hollande | Garitan

Mismatched graph creates confusion in Canada's UN climate pledge 
Canada's contribution to the UN climate deal appears to present its emissions cutting target as a reduction on 1990 levels, when in reality they could grow to 6% above this baseline. Carbon Brief investigates.     Carbon Brief

Mountain shape a key factor in species surviving climate change 
A new study of 182 high-altitude regions across the world shows how mountain shape is critical in determining whether a species will find refuge from rising temperatures further uphill. This means the odds of survival are better for some species than others, say the authors.     Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Merkel and Hollande pledge an end to fossil fuel pollution 
The world needs to shift to a "carbon-free economy" says German chancellor Angela Merkel. In a joint statement with French president Francois Hollande, Merkel says the global economy should be fully decarbonised this century. Reuters says the pair call for more, and more urgent action on climate change RTCC and AP also have the story.     Financial Times 

Shell vows to explore Arctic despite Seattle protests 
Ango-Dutch oil major Shell will press on with plans to explore the Arctic despite recent protests, Reuters reports. RTCC says the firm's annual general meeting (AGM) adopted a shareholder resolution that will see it become more transparent about its approach to climate risks. Carbon Brief looked at an identical motion passed at BP's AGM last month. Other reports from Shell's AGM include the Guardian, which says climate dominated the agenda, the Independent and the Financial Times and Telegraph which both focus on Shell boss Ben van Buerden's comments that divestment campaigners "ignore reality".     Reuters 

Twelve sub-national governments pledge long-term emission goals 
Governments from California and three other US states have pledged to cut emissions by 80-95% by 2050, along with leaders from two Canadian provinces, states in Brazil and Mexico, Baden-Wurtemburg in Germany and Wales. The sub-national areas have economic output equivalent to Japan. Reuters also has the story.     Carbon Pulse 

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Mountain shape a key factor in species surviving climate change

  • 20 May 2015, 08:30
  • Robert McSweeney

Himalayas | Shutterstock

One way animals and plants can cope with climate change is to relocate. Research shows some species are already shifting to higher ground or towards the poles in search of cooler climes.

But for creatures already living in mountains, the solution is not so simple. A new study of 182 high-altitude regions across the world shows how mountain shape is critical in determining whether a species will find refuge from rising temperatures further uphill.

This means the odds of survival are better for some species than others, say the authors.

Habitat range

The typical image of a mountain is a pyramid shape - a broad base that tapers to a peak. In theory, as species move upwards the habitat available to them shrinks, the paper explains.

But the study, published in Nature Climate Change, finds that over two-thirds of mountains don't follow this rule. In fact, mountains fall into one of four shapes: diamond, pyramid, inverse pyramid and hourglass, as the diagram below shows.   

Elsen & Tingley (2015) Fig1

 

Examples of four common mountain types. Colours indicate elevation, from low (blue and green) to mountaintops (yellow and orange) Source: Elsen & Tingley (2015)

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