Daily Briefing | Drax decision reversed

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

Source: Arnold Paul

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UK energy department reverses Drax biomass decision 
The Department of Energy and Climate Change has reversed its decision to exclude Drax Group from receiving an enhanced subsidy package to help fund the conversion of one of its coal-fired generating units to biomass. The volte-face by the government department follows a successful legal challenge by the operator of the UK's biggest power station to a decision by the DECC in April to exclude it from receiving a £1.3bn investment contract. 
Financial Times

Climate and energy news

Cuba looks to mangroves to fend off rising seas 
Worried by forecasts of rising seas from climate change, the effects of hurricanes and the salinization of farmlands, authorities say they are beginning a forced march to repair Cuba's first line of defense against the advancing waters - its mangrove thickets, which have been damaged by decades of neglect and uncontrolled logging. 

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Battle over EU energy efficiency targets ends in compromise 30 per cent goal

  • 23 Jul 2014, 14:00
  • Simon Evans

The EU should aim to cut its energy use 30 per cent by 2030, the European Commission said today, despite rumoured attempts to weaken the goal to 27 per cent.

Green NGOs are arguing that's still not very ambitious. They say a higher goal of 35 or 40 per cent would have been more beneficial in terms of reducing reliance on Russian gas, boosting growth, creating jobs and cutting consumer energy bills.

But if it's such a good idea why has the commission gone for a lower target? In our analysis of the announcement we've dissected the competing explanations of what's going on.

Energy saving goal for 2030

The commission is proposing that EU energy use in 2030 should be cut by 30 per cent compared with the level of energy use that was expected when the commission made projections back in 2007.


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Daily Briefing | Shale oil plans rejected

  • 23 Jul 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Credit: National Wildlife Federation

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Germany, UK and Poland top 'dirty 30' list of EU coal-fired power stations 
The UK and Germany lead a list of the EU's most polluting coal-fired power stations compiled by environmental campaigners, both with nine of the co called "dirty 30" power stations. We covered the new research here

Climate and energy news

Global warming ISN'T slowing down, research shows 
The Mail writes up research from the weekend which explained why the fact that most climate models didn't predict the timing of the current period of sluggish surface warming isn't reason to question their projections for how much warming we can expect in the long term. Though slightly confusingly explained in the Mail article, the paper showed that models which happened to be exactly in sync with natural variability - though they are not designed to do so - did a good job of simulating the current slowdown in surface warming. 
The Daily Mail 

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UK and Germany top ‘dirty 30’ league of coal plants

  • 22 Jul 2014, 16:45
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Gareth Davies

The UK and Germany are ranked joint first  - or last, depending on your perspective - in a new league table of Europe's 30 most polluting coal-fired power stations.

The ranking comes from several NGOs including WWF and the European Environmental Bureau. They're using it to argue for specific anti-coal policies, saying Europe won't meet its climate targets without them.

We take a look at what they want, and why.

Europe's biggest emitters

The NGOs have listed the EU's top 30 emitters of carbon dioxide in 2013, dubbing the contenders the "dirty 30". All of them are coal-fired power stations.

The UK and Germany both have nine coal plants on the list, putting them joint top of the league table. If you count up the emissions for each country, however, Germany comes out top because its coal plants are generally larger than the UK's and burn more coal.

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Have satellites overestimated Antarctic sea ice growth?

  • 22 Jul 2014, 15:30
  • Roz Pidcock

It's puzzling why Antarctic sea ice seems to be growing while earth's other icy expanses are shrinking as temperatures rise.

Now new research questions whether there has been much of a rise in Antarctic sea ice after all. The paper suggests the small but significant growth scientists thought had occurred since 1979 could be little more than a "spurious artifact" of how satellite data is interpreted.

But other polar scientists tell us the implications of the new findings" are very limited indeed" and they're confident Antarctic sea ice is still growing.

Bucking the trend

Scientists know ice is being lost from both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. They also know the amount of sea ice in the Arctic is rapidly decreasing.

But satellite data suggest the amount of sea ice around Antarctica has been growing since 1979. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year put the size of the increase at  1.5 per cent on average per decade.

For comparison, that's about a third of the rate of sea ice retreat in the Arctic. A  new paper just published in journal The Cryosphere explains the puzzle this poses for scientists:

"[T]here has been substantial interest in the trend in Antarctic sea ice extent … primarily because of the observed asymmetry between increasing ice extent in the Antarctic and rapidly diminishing ice extent in the Arctic, and the inability of current climate models to capture this."

The new paper raises an interesting point. It notes that the growth in Antarctic sea ice in the latest IPCC report is much bigger than suggested in the previous one in 2007. The authors say:

"[The 2007 report] reported the trend in Antarctic sea ice extent to be small and statistically indistinguishable from zero".

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Government decides not to amend UK’s fourth carbon budget

  • 22 Jul 2014, 10:35
  • Carbon Brief staff

CC: Policy Exchange

The government  today announced it will leave the UK's emission reduction targets as they are.

The UK has a legally binding obligation to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 on 1990 levels. To ensure progress is made at a steady pace, four interim targets were included in the law - known as carbon budgets.

It has been reported for some time that chancellor George Osborne wanted to  weaken these targets, opening the door for increased use of gas power. The government's advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has always maintained there were  no grounds for such a move.

The UK met its first carbon budget and is currently making progress towards the second. The chancellor was reportedly looking to change the  fourth carbon budget, covering the period from 2023 to 2027, which is roughly when new gas capacity might be expected to come online.

The budget requires emissions to be reduced by 50 per cent on 1990 levels in 2025. Having gone through a  review of the basis of the fourth carbon budget, the government today decided to keep that target.

No change of circumstance

The Climate Change Act says the government can legally change the carbon budget if there were  "significant changes" in circumstances since the target was set. Changes in the scientific evidence on climate change, economic circumstances, and the rate at which other countries are decarbonising can all be considered.

Energy and climate change secretary  Ed Davey says  the fourth carbon budget review made it "clear that the evidence does not support amending the budget", with the government's decision being "consistent with the advice of the Committee on Climate Change".

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Daily Briefing | Seals, cows, and really hot weather

  • 22 Jul 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

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Climate models that accidentally got El Niño right also show warming slowdown 
Depending on which story you read, a new paper published in Nature Climate Change is either about models "accidentally" predicting surface warming slowdown or "climate models are indeed reliable". Ars Technica has the former view, the Guardian's Climate Consensus blog the latter. The paper finds that, simply by chance, a few of the models do produce an accurate El Nino/Southern Oscillation pattern thought to be a "major player" in temperature changes from one decade to the next, Ars Technica reports. We explain the paper's findings, here. 
Ars Technica 

Climate and energy news

Dirty coal plants undermine EU climate leadership - report 
While EU policy looks set to curb the use of coal plants in the long term, the highly-polluting fuel is currently enjoying something of a revival. Countries' failure to tackle this short-term spike is undermining efforts to tackle climate change, a report from a coalition of environmental groups says. The EU needs to ensure there are strict controls in place to ensure coal plants are phased out over the next decade, the report says. BusinessGreen also has the story. 

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Slow surface warming since 1998 is “not exceptional”, say scientists

  • 21 Jul 2014, 19:30
  • Roz Pidcock

Scientists know greenhouse gases are causing the world to warm. But an interesting question is why warming at earth's surface speeds up and slows down.

new paper shows surface temperature "slowdowns" like we're experiencing now aren't unusual - and capturing the timing of natural ups and down in the climate is key to predicting them.

But as a  second paper explains, the planet as a whole has warmed up in the last decade even as surface temperature rise has been sluggish.

Model mismatch

Temperatures are rising due to long term greenhouse gas warming. But natural variability causes temperatures to go up and down from one year to the next.

Natural variability can at least partly explain slower surface warming in the last 15 years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  concluded in its latest report. Recent evidence  points to changes in the  Pacific causing the deep oceans to absorb more heat.

But most climate models didn't predict the slowdown. And as a  new paper in Nature Climate Change explains, some parts of the media have argued that since models don't replicate recent temperatures, we shouldn't trust their predictions for future warming.

But the paper, lead by Australian climate scientist Dr James Risbey, finds that 15 years of temperatures rising slower than models predict "does not constitute evidence against the fidelity" of models in general. Let's take a closer look at why not.

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UK’s energy efficiency ranking falls due to government policy rollbacks

  • 21 Jul 2014, 13:58
  • Mat Hope

Creative Commons 2.0

Government cuts to key policies have hit the UK's efforts to become more energy efficient, a new report says.

A series of policy rollbacks have seen the UK fall from first to sixth in a ranking of 16 of the world's leading economies by US thinktank the American Council for an Energy Efficient-Economy's (ACEEE). Germany now tops the list, with Italy, China, and France all coming in ahead of the UK.

Source: ACEEE,  2014 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard

ACEEE awarded each country points based on 31 criteria. Countries could receive a maximum of 100 points overall depending on the strength of their national energy efficiency policies, and efforts to curb energy use in the transport, buildings and industrial sectors. See this table for a full list of the criteria.

About half ACEEE's criteria were actually quantifiable - taking into account a change in a country's energy intensity or the number of miles each country's citizens travel by car. The rest were more dependent on ACEEE's researchers' judgements about how well country's energy efficiency programmes were progressing. So the scores and rankings should probably be taken with a pinch of salt.

Nonetheless, ACEEE's analysis does give some insight into a range of comparable countries' efforts to curb energy consumption.

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A detailed look at why the future of UK energy is so hard to predict

  • 21 Jul 2014, 11:25
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Christian Schnettelker

Is it possible to predict the future of UK energy?

A couple of weeks ago, the Guardian reported National Grid forecasting energy prices will double by the end of the decade. Other media reported the grid operator found that UK shale gas could supply much of our future needs, the UK's gas supply could be held to ransom by Russia, solar power will fail to take off, and the UK can afford to meet green energy goals.

It all sounds quite colourful. So does National Grid really expect to see such wildly different events unfolding in the near future?

Well, no. The media reports were based on a series of scenarios prepared by the grid operator. To understand the difference between scenarios and forecasts - it goes beyond mere semantics - we take a look at why it's so difficult to predict the energy future, and why such a range of possibilities are thrown up when we try.

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