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Three White House charts showing why the world needs to take immediate action on climate change

  • 30 Jul 2014, 13:40
  • Mat Hope

CC2.0 Intel Photos

President Obama has taken significant, if limited, steps to try and curb the US's emissions and tackle climate change. A new White House report explains why he appears to be acting with a sense of urgency: "delay is costly".

Yesterday, the White House's Council of Economic Advisers released a  report suggesting a 10 year delay could increase the cost of taking climate action by 40 per cent, as the world would have to take larger steps to curb emissions down the line. Furthermore, each degree of warming could lead to billions of dollars worth of additional damage, it says.

Here's three charts from the report showing why the council says policymakers need to act now.

Additional damage

The more the world warms, the more damaging the  impacts of climate change are likely to be - from more intense weather events, to diminishing crop yields and species migration and extinction. All these things have an economic cost, even if it's sometimes  hard to define.

And the council's study says the costs will rise as the world warms - as the blue bars on this graph show:

Additional Costs Chart

The White House report uses a model by Yale economist Bill Nordhaus to put a number on the potential impact of additional warming.

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Q & A - everything you need to know about UK fracking

  • 28 Jul 2014, 12:45
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Push Europe

About half the country is being opened up to fracking for shale gas and oil today, various newspapers reported this morning. Here's everything you need to know about UK fracking.

What's shale gas?

Shale gas is normal gas, extracted from shale rock using a technique known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing of the rock. Our full briefing on the fuel is here .

What has been announced today?

The government has opened the 14th onshore oil and gas licensing round. A licensing round is when firms get the chance to apply for exclusive rights to search for and extract oil and gas from beneath blocks of land measuring 10 by 10 kilometres.

The round announced today closes on 28 October this year. The last round was held six years ago when few had heard of fracking.

It is only four years since the first exploratory well to look for shale gas in the UK was sunk. Seismic tremors caused by early shale exploration operations in 2011 delayed the launch of the 14th licensing round, preparations for which had also begun in 2010.

Today's announcement and any licenses handed out as a result do not grant permission to actually start fracking. Other regulatory permissions are required first - see below.

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Europe’s coal plants could stay open despite air pollution rules

  • 25 Jul 2014, 17:25
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Rich

There is a widely held view that tough EU air pollution rules will force most coal-fired power stations to close by the early 2020s. But that simply isn't true, according to campaign group Sandbag.

It explains why in a new report called " Europe's failure to quit coal". Its plant-by-plant analysis finds that 110 gigawatts of EU coal capacity - nearly three-quarters of the total - will be able to stay open despite air pollution rules.

The remaining 40 gigawatts could stay open too, Sandbag says, with 14 gigawatts of that in the UK. It adds that recent policy changes make it more attractive for UK plant to continue to operate.

We've taken a look at why Sandbag says everyone's been getting it wrong on coal.

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Why measuring fugitive methane emissions from shale gas production matters

  • 24 Jul 2014, 14:40
  • Mat Hope

CC 2.0 Tim Evanson

As an ever-increasing number of countries consider exploiting their shale gas resources, and researchers scramble to understand what a production boom could mean for the climate, two new pieces of research appear to come to opposite conclusions.

What is the climate impact of shale gas?

Since gas has about half the emissions of coal when it's burned for electricity, it has been touted as  a 'bridging fuel' for countries seeking to decarbonise their economies to use as a stop gap on the way to a low carbon electricity system.

But as we've  explored before, scientists are struggling to establish the full impact of increased shale gas production on the climate, due to methane that escapes during the extraction process - known as fugitive methane emissions.

Two papers released this month examine what the actual climate impact of natural gas is. At first glance they seem to show opposite things. The graph on the left, taken from a paper by Robert Howarth appears to show natural gas electricity generation emissions - the towering left bar - can be much higher than coal's. The second graph, from  Heath et al, appears to show the opposite - that coal's generation emissions (on the left) are much higher than those from both conventional and shale gas.

Howarth Vs Heath Coal And Gas Emissions

Both papers examine the 'lifecycle emissions' of the fuels: the amount of gas emitted from extraction to combustion. So why is there such a large discrepancy between two papers?

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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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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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Factcheck: Do climate worriers use more electricity?

  • 18 Jul 2014, 11:00
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Jon Mould

The Telegraph and the Mail say people concerned about climate change use more electricity than those who think the issue is too distant to worry about, according to new research.

The Telegraph quotes Conservative MP Peter Lilley:

"The survey exposes the hypocrisy of many who claim to be 'green': the greater the concern people express about global warming the less they do to reduce their energy usage."

But Lilley's strong conclusions are not supported by the study in question, which comes with some significant caveats. The researchers themselves say there's no significant effect of people's beliefs:

"None of the stated attitudes about environmental or climate change had any significant  impact on overall energy use when household age was taken into account."

Let's take a look at what the study says, and what it doesn't.

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Mind the gap: the holes in UK climate policy

  • 15 Jul 2014, 11:00
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 raghavvidya

The UK will miss its legally-binding carbon budgets in future without new policies, according to the government's Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

The UK's first ever carbon budget running from 2008 to 2012 was met, the CCC says in its latest Progress Report, and there has been good progress on car fuel efficiency, installing more efficient boilers and building wind turbines. But that's about where the good news for government ends.

The first budget was met largely because of the 2008 economic crisis slashing industrial output and ripping a hole in consumers' pockets, the CCC says. Lower output and lower demand reduced the need to burn fossil fuels in power stations, cars and boilers.

Without the impact of the crash and a particularly cold winter in 2010, emissions would have fallen by around 1 per cent per year between 2007 and 2012. To meet the fourth carbon budget in 2027 that rate will need to triple.

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Australian carbon tax repeal fails after surprise vote

  • 11 Jul 2014, 14:06
  • Ros Donald

Australia's government has failed to repeal the country's carbon tax. An unlikely alliance of Labor, the Greens, the Palmer United Party and... one member of the Motoring Enthusiast's Party voted down the proposal today. So what happened, and what's next?

Done deal?

It seemed like a sure thing. Key Senate member Clive Palmer had agreed to support the Australian government's plan to repeal Australia's carbon tax, in return for keeping key renewable energy legislation in place.

So convinced was the Spectator Australia that the government would get its way, its cover for tomorrow's edition declares 'Our victory!'.

1405064403327.jpg-300x0.jpg

When a  piece starts: "it looks as if the Senate will repeal the carbon tax; so allow us a little gloating," you'd better be pretty sure it's going to work out the way you call it. But this is perhaps a sign of exactly how unexpected the result was. So what went wrong for opponents of the scheme?

Australia's previous government brought in its carbon tax in 2012. But there were widespread protests against the measure, which the Liberal party - then in opposition - said would cost jobs and raise the cost of living. When the Liberals came into power, they said they'd  repeal  the tax by 1 July this year.

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Future flood risk: the CCC says under-investment is storing up trouble

  • 09 Jul 2014, 12:30
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 irBri

Increased flooding in future is the biggest climate change risk facing the UK. Floods and storms this winter highlighted the extent of disruption that can be caused.

But the government is still not spending enough to stop flood risks from increasing according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). It has published a progress report on climate adaptation that looks again at flood spending.

"There's still under-investment in the longer term," the CCC's head of adaptation Lord Krebs told journalists before the report was launched. "You're storing up trouble for the future… is the government prepared to allow risks to increase?"

Long term argument

Ever since the coalition came to power and brought in big cuts to government spending there has been debate over investment in flood defences. The CCC weighed in on the debate back in January.

Then in March the government promised an extra £270 million to shore up defences damaged by this winter's storms. The CCC has crunched the numbers and says this money, shown as purple bars below, is a temporary boost that fails to address long term increases in flood risk that are expected due to climate change.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 At 17.43.06

Source: CCC Adaptation Sub-Committee progress report 2014

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