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IPCC review of farming and forests leaves key questions about effect on climate change "unresolved"

  • 17 Apr 2014, 12:15
  • Robin Webster

The rate at which we're chopping down the world's forests is declining - and in future, crops and newly planted forests could help prevent more climate change, according to the UN.

But uncertainties surrounding how we measure emissions, and what changing temperatures will mean for the world's forests, mean it's hard to be sure this is a good news story.

Emissions from farming, deforestation and other land use are going down, and are expected to continue doing so in the future. By the end of the century, humanity could use the land as a carbon sink, rather than a source of emissions, according to the Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s latest  report

It sounds like one piece of good news among  gloomy predictions from the IPCC. But human land use is only one part of a complex picture. 

Climate change could lead to forests  drying out, releasing more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And using trees, crops and plants as a source of energy instead of fossil fuels could also lead to more forest destruction.  

Declining emissions

Agriculture, forestry and other land use account for about a quarter (24 per cent) of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Most of these emissions come from deforestation, changes to the soil and livestock farming.

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Tackling global warming could slow global growth - by 0.06 per cent, IPCC predicts

  • 16 Apr 2014, 14:00
  • Mat Hope

Economists and policymakers have spent decades debating how much the world will have to pay to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and whether it's worth the cost. A key finding in the UN's latest big climate report should help move that debate along: tackling climate change could slow economic growth by just 0.06 per cent a year, it says.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the third instalment of its review of latest climate change research last Sunday. While the first two instalments aimed to better define the climate change problem, the third report focuses on potential solutions - from ramping up wind and solar power, to halting deforestation.

But governments don't just want to know what they must do to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, they also want to know how much it will cost. So the IPCC's latest report spells out the choice: governments either pay a bit to curb emissions now, or risk much larger costs in the future.

Or, as IPCC co-chair Ottmar Edenhofer put it during the report's launch, "Climate policy isn't a free lunch but could be lunch [that's] worthwhile to buy".

Taking action is relatively cheap

In 1992, countries agreed they would curb emissions to prevent temperatures rising by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels. 22 years on, after more than two decades of increasing emissions, that goal looks ever more ambitious.

So it may come as a surprise to find that the IPCC says the cost of keeping the pledge may be relatively low.

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Degrees of change: the IPCC’s projections for future temperature rise

  • 15 Apr 2014, 12:00
  • Robin Webster

Many governments are trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But unless policymakers raise their ambition significantly, temperatures are likely to rise beyond safe levels. We examine the pathways that could take us towards a two degrees temperature rise by the end of the century - or considerably higher. 

On Sunday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the last in a series of three reports, which together assess the physical evidence that climate change is happening, the  expected impacts over the course of this century and what would need to happen to curb the rise in greenhouse gases.

Embedded in the reports are the scientists' predictions for how high temperatures are likely to rise this century - and what that's likely to mean for ecosystems and societies around the world. 

Comparing scenarios 

The IPCC bases its projections for future temperature rise on two different techniques. 

First, the IPCC has created its own storylines, or scenarios, describing how high temperatures are likely to rise in the future and what that might mean. The scenarios vary according to different predictions for how societies develop and how much effort we make to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the course of this century.

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From RCP to WG3: A climate change acronym cheat sheet

  • 15 Apr 2014, 11:15
  • Mat Hope

Know your AFOLU from your LULUCF? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made great efforts to  cut the "weirdo words" and put its big climate reports into terms everyone can understand. But that hasn't stopped it from occasionally befuddling readers with a range of complex acronyms.

We decode some of the most common.

Organisations

IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The IPCC is an international group of scientists set up in 1988 under the auspices of the United Nations. It doesn't do any of its own research, but aims "to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge" about climate change through a series of reports released every six or seven years.

UNFCCC - United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
In 1992, hundreds of heads of state signed up to the UNFCCC. Under the convention, countries aim to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human-induced] interference with the climate system."

Reports

AR1/2/3/4/5 - Assessment Reports 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
The IPCC has so far produced five reports reviewing the latest climate change research. The most recent - AR5 - is due to be released in its entirety before the end of April 2014.

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Excitement over ‘clean’ underground coal gasification masks technical reality

  • 15 Apr 2014, 10:50
  • Mat Hope

Credit: US Department of Energy

Coal is cheap, abundant, and responsible for about 40 per cent of the world's electricity generation. That's a problem, because it also has some of the highest greenhouse gas emissions of any energy source. It's no wonder that a technology that could allow the world to continue burning coal - but cleanly - is being met with some excitement, then.

Writing in the  Telegraph at the end of last year, Algy Cluff, chief executive of energy company Cluff Natural Resources, said 'underground coal gasification' could "provide a vital energy solution and produce abundant and cheap gas for generations". The technology briefly put its head above the parapet again today, as the  BBC asked whether it be "the clean energy of the future".

The prospect has certainly piqued the government's interest, with energy minister Michael Fallon  establishing a working group to explore its feasibility.

But is it too good to be true? We explore underground coal gasification's prospects and try to separate the theory from the reality.

What is underground coal gasification?

Underground coal gasification (UCG) involves drilling down into coal - normally deep underground - then igniting it. The resulting gas then runs up another borehole and is collected on the surface, as the diagram below shows:

 

underground coal gasification diagram

Once the gas is collected, companies can use it to run power stations, or convert it into transport fuel. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology can be added, reducing the process' emissions, and making it relatively 'clean'.

As such, the government now sees the "exciting potential" of UCG as means to generate abundant, domestically-sourced, ostensibly fairly low carbon power in the UK, the Telegraph  reported.

So, what are UCG's prospects in the UK?

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Media reaction: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's big climate mitigation report

  • 14 Apr 2014, 12:50
  • Mat Hope

While many were still engulfed in their duvets recovering from the night before, the UN spent Sunday morning launching a big report on strategies to tackle climate change. The report was the third instalment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) major review of the most up-to-date climate change research.

If you've been too busy to catch up on the swathes of media coverage since then, have no fear - we've speed-read it all for you:

International cooperation

A significant proportion of the media focused on the report's message that there is still time for countries to act to avoid the worst impacts of climate change - but only if they work together.

  • The  Financial Times said the IPCC was sure there is "still time to save the world". It quotes one of the report's co-chairs, Ottmar Edenhofer, saying the report carried "a message of hope"  that tackling climate change "can be done".
  • Doing so would mean cutting emissions "by up to 70% by 2050 if it is to prevent global temperatures rising by more than two degrees", the  Sunday Times reports. The IPCC's research shows "stabilising climate is humanity's biggest challenge", it adds.
  • Newswire  Agence France Presse described the report's findings as a "wake up call" for governments. It said the IPCC identifies a 15-year window in which countries' will be able to act to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
  • That means "governments must do more" to address rising emissions, the Washington Post argues. Countries must work together to lower emissions by 40 to 70 percent, according to the IPCC's findings, it said.
  • Taking a slightly different angle, the  Independent on Sunday was the only major UK newspaper to focus on the consequences of inaction. Unless the world acts soon, the IPCC says emissions could reach a level "that could reap devastating effects on the planet", the newspaper reports.

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A big report on how to tackle climate change will be published this weekend: How is it being reported?

  • 11 Apr 2014, 14:40
  • Mat Hope

Hundreds of scientists and policymakers are meeting in Berlin this week to discuss a major new UN climate change report. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release the third and final instalment of its review of the current state of climate change research on Sunday.

While the first two reports aimed to better define the climate change problem, Sunday's report focuses on potential solutions. The first part of the report, released last September, covered the physical science of climate - from extreme rainfall to Arctic ice melt. The second part of the report - released at the end of March - looked at how rising emissions could affect extreme weather, food production, and human security.

Sunday's report will focus on what governments need to do to avoid the worst of those impacts. It is expected to emphasise the need for international cooperation to curb emissions, suggesting a variety of ways countries can decarbonise their economies.

With the notoriously leaky IPCC process in full swing, newspapers have been previewing some of the key findings. So what can we expect from next week's report?

Two degrees

In 1992, countries agreed to curb greenhouse gas emissions, to prevent global temperatures rising by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels. Since then, emissions have continued to rise. The IPCC's report is expected to say that the longer this goes on, the harder it will be for countries to keep to the pledge.

 

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IPCC report: Climate change and the things people care about

  • 07 Apr 2014, 12:00
  • Professor Neil Adger

No place is immune to the impacts of climate change. This is the principal message from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The impacts of climate change will be felt in individual places such as in back gardens, homes, fields and cities and will likely make us feel less safe and secure. 

For the first time the IPCC examines in detail the impacts of climate change on well-being across the report, with a cluster of chapters on the topics of  health, human  security, and  poverty

Human security encapsulates the notion of the vital core of human lives and the ability of people to have freedom and the capacity to live with dignity. Human security has direct material elements, such as life and livelihood, but also elements of cultural expression and identity.

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The IPCC's report on the impacts of climate change: a summary for everyone

  • 31 Mar 2014, 13:30
  • Ros Donald

Peter Blanchard/Flickr

Today an international group of hundreds of  climate scientists released a report on how climate change will affect the world, and what might be done to adapt to it.

The story so far

The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the second of three reports. It updates the panel's last bumper report, released in 2007.

Scientists know that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, meaning it traps heat in the atmosphere and oceans.

Over time, scientists have come to understand more about how gases like carbon dioxide, emitted when people burn fossil fuels like oil and gas, affect the climate.  

The first instalment of the IPCC's report, released last September, says scientists are more sure than ever - 95 per cent certain - that humans are causing extra warming. And as a result, oceans, land and atmosphere are getting warmer, snow and ice is melting and sea levels are rising.

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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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