HSBC outlines four ways to divest from fossil fuels

  • 24 Apr 2015, 16:12
  • Sophie Yeo

Palurtchaivong | Shutterstock

The divestment movement is gathering steam, with universities, cities, charities and pension funds under increasing pressure to move their money out of the fossil fuel industry.

Those behind the push have sold it as both an ethical and financial imperative. In the first case, investors should not be propping up an industry that divestment advocates say is responsible for the bulk of human-caused emissions.

In the latter, they argue that climate change regulations could lead to investments in the fossil fuel industry losing their value, since the  majority of reserves cannot be burnt if the world is to avoid exceeding 2C of warming.

HSBC released a  report on divestment last week, confirming that it sees the risk of stranded assets as a genuine threat for investors in the fossil fuel industry.

But the threat is not spread equally, it said, and nor is there one blanket solution to deal with it.

Carbon Brief looks at which investors are most at risk from the possible devaluation of the fossil fuel industry, and the different strategies that they can take to protect themselves.

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Scientists set out eight essential elements for UN climate deal

  • 22 Apr 2015, 07:25
  • Sophie Yeo

andrewvec | Shutterstock

Seventeen high-profile scientists have set out eight demands for the UN negotiations on climate change in Paris at the end of this year.

These "essential elements" must be part of the UN's new agreement to ensure a climatically safe future where global temperatures are limited to below 2C and irreversible planetary changes are avoided, says the statement, compiled by the Earth League of scientists.

Released to coincide with Earth Day, the intervention is backed by scientists from across the globe, including Ottmar Edenhofer and Youba Sokona, who co-chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report into the options for avoiding dangerous climate change.

Several of the elements are more ambitious than the pathways outlined by the IPCC, however, and go beyond the level of ambition currently on the table for Paris.

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Election 2015: What the manifestos say on climate and energy

  • 21 Apr 2015, 12:35
  • Simon Evans

PlusONE |   Shutterstock

Update 21/4 - We added the DUP manifesto.

Update 20/4 - We added the SNP manifesto and Labour's Green Plan.

Update 17/4 - We added the Plaid Cymru manifesto.

Update 15/4 - We added the Liberal Democrat and UKIP manifestos.

Update 14/4 - We added the Conservative and Green Party manifestos.

The UK's closest election in a generation is now three weeks away. Carbon Brief is tracking the climate and energy content of the parties' manifestos as they are launched.

Labour went first on Monday 13 April, followed a day later by the Conservatives and Greens. The Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party launched on Wednesday 15 April. Other parties followed over the following week.

In contrast to 2010, climate change has barely featured on the campaign trail so far. That's despite - or perhaps because of - the joint climate pledge from the leaders of the three largest parties. This promised to work towards a legally-binding global climate deal, to agree new UK emissions-cutting goals and to phase out unabated coal-fired power.

Carbon Brief's climate and energy tracker will be updated through the week as the manifestos come in, allowing party policies to be compared side by side. The image below is a preview of the information available if you click through to the interactive online version.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 At 12.35.57

Carbon Brief's climate and energy election grid includes key extracts from the 2015 election manifestos along with commentary and links to further information. Click the image or this link for the full interactive version.

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Is BP's shareholder resolution really an "activist victory"?

  • 20 Apr 2015, 16:00
  • Sophie Yeo

M DOGAN / Shutterstock

Climate campaigners celebrated on Thursday as 98% of shareholders backed a  resolution forcing BP to come clean about the impact that climate change will have on its operations.

BP is a company which emits about the same volume of greenhouse gases as Norway. It has advocated for a global economy-wide price on carbon, yet also  scaled back its investments in renewable energy. Thanks to the resolution, it will have to be more transparent in the future about how it plans to move towards a greener business model.

The  Financial Times described the vote as a "major victory" for activists, while transparency pressure group  CDP called it "a game changing day".

Yet the resolution, though unusual, was not controversial. BP itself backed the motion, and it received the overwhelming support of shareholders across the board. A similar motion, backed by Shell, will be put to vote at their AGM on 19 May.

Carbon Brief looks at whether the resolution could change BP's approach to climate change for the better.

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Expert views: What the general election means for UK climate and energy policy

  • 17 Apr 2015, 15:15
  • Simon Evans

Update 21/4 - We added the views of Tim Rotheray.

Update 20/4 - We added the views of Professor Paul Ekins.

In three weeks, the UK will go to the polls in one of the closest-fought and least predictable elections in a generation. Carbon Brief has already pored over the political parties' manifesto views on climate and energy.

But the likelihood of a multi-party coalition makes extrapolating pre-election commitments into future government action a real challenge. Carbon Brief asked a range of experts for their views on the May 7 poll's implications, in particular:

  • What are the key climate and energy dividing lines for the election?

  • How do you see potential election outcomes affecting climate and energy policy, post-election and in the run-up to Paris?

Here's what they had to say:

Jim Watson, research director of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) and professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex Science and Technology Policy Research Centre (SPRU):

"The large uncertainty about the outcome of the election, particularly the different coalitions that may emerge, makes it hard to predict what the next government's policy will look like. An important lesson of the 2010 election is that strong manifesto commitments by some parties could be traded off in post-election negotiations if the result is close.

"However, given the recent joint statement by Miliband, Cameron and Clegg, a strong commitment to continued emissions reductions is likely. There is much more uncertainty about specifics. If the Conservatives lead the next government, there would be more pressure to reduce funding for some low carbon technologies - including cost effective options like onshore wind. If a Labour-led government sees its plans through, this would mean significant regulatory upheaval - and a reinforcement of the more interventionist policies we have seen in the past few years."

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Explainer: What we know about the Pope's encyclical

  • 16 Apr 2015, 16:47
  • Sophie Yeo

giulio napolitano /

In just under two weeks' time, Vatican City will welcome an august selection of guests for a one-day conference on climate change.

The meeting, entitled  "Protect the earth, dignify humanity: the moral dimensions of climate change and sustainable development", will take place on the 28 April.

An agenda released by the Vatican on Tuesday lists appearances from UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and US economist Jeffrey Sachs.

According to the website, the summit has three goals:

  • to raise awareness and build a consensus that the values of sustainable development cohere with the values of the leading religious traditions, with a special focus on the most vulnerable;

  • to elevate the debate on the moral dimensions of protecting the environment in advance of the papal encyclical [explained below];

  • and to help build a global movement across all religions for sustainable development and climate change throughout 2015 and beyond.

The summit marks another intervention from Pope Francis, whose position as a key influencer in the world of climate change will likely be cemented in a couple of months' time by an encyclical concerning man's relationship with nature.

The development of this encyclical has been a secretive process, but clues have slowly been filtering out on what it might contain. Carbon Brief looks at what we know so far.

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Climate showdown: Has the US, UK or Germany done more to cut emissions?

  • 10 Apr 2015, 16:10
  • Simon Evans

The UK and Germany like to think of themselves as climate leaders. But how does their progress in cutting carbon stack up against the US, which has famously failed to pass climate laws?

Over the past two weeks the results came in, with each country publishing carbon dioxide emissions figures for 2014. Carbon Brief slices up the data to find out who's winning the climate showdown.

Climate rule

In the UK, government ministers like to boast about the nation's progress. Carbon emissions were down 9.7% in 2014, a record fall for a growing UK economy. The UK must be doing something right because other countries are modelling their efforts on the UK's legally binding Climate Change Act, which the UK's three main political leaders recently promised to uphold.

The US, by contrast, has tried and failed many times to pass climate legislation. That's why the Obama administration is trying to use and extend existing laws to force through emissions-cutting regulation. Despite this modest record on climate rules, it's common to hear it claimed that the US is leading the way on cutting emissions because of shale gas.

Meanwhile, Germany's Energiewende, its generational push away from nuclear towards an energy-efficient and largely renewable economy, is frequently either lauded or derided in UK media as an example of how (or how not) to decarbonise.

Emissions records

The UK, US and Germany all published official carbon dioxide emissions estimates for 2014 at the end of March.

Carbon Brief already took a detailed look at the UK data, which showed a 9.7% drop in carbon emissions compared to 2013. The US data shows 2014 carbon emissions increased by 1% compared to a year earlier, while Germany's fell by 4.8%.

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Forest degradation as bad for climate as deforestation, says report

  • 08 Apr 2015, 17:40
  • Sophie Yeo

Deforestation | Shutterstock

Degradation of tropical forests could be as severe a problem as full-scale deforestation when it comes to their carbon emissions.

While not as widely recognised within policymaking circles, the steady deterioration of forests across places such as the Amazon and Borneo could be responsible for 6-14% of all human-caused emissions.

This is the finding of a new review into the state of the world's tropical forests, conducted by the International Sustainability Unit, a charity backed by Prince Charles.

The problem demands a re-evaluation of forest policy, which leans towards stemming deforestation as the key to curbing tropical forest emissions, says the report.

Carbon Brief looks at the role of forests in curbing climate change.

High emissions

Tropical deforestation is a major driver of climate change. In areas such as the Amazon, forest ecosystems absorb and store carbon, and cutting them down emits between 2.9 and 3.3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide* every year, or around 8% of the global total, the report says.

But deforestation is only part of the story. In addition to this, the degradation of tropical forests releases between 2.2 to 5.39 gigatonnes into the atmosphere, or around 6-14% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

This means that total combined emissions from tropical forests comes to between 5.1 and 8.36 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, or between 14 to 21% of all human-caused emissions (green area, below).

In comparison, 31.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide is emitted every year by fossil fuels and cement production (grey area, below).

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 At 17.16.38

Percentage of annual carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and forests. Data from ISU report.



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Ambiguous Russian climate pledge mystifies many

  • 01 Apr 2015, 18:00
  • Sophie Yeo & Simon Evans

Russia submitted a pledge to limit its emissions to the UN yesterday, simultaneously surprising and confusing many in the world of climate change.

Few had expected Vladimir Putin's government to meet the UN's loose 31 March deadline for "intended nationally determined contributions" - the series of national pledges that will, in part, form the basis of an international climate change agreement in Paris later this year.

Delivering its pledge just hours after the US, the Russian Federation left many baffled with its vaguely worded targets.

"Limiting anthropogenic greenhouse gases in Russia to 70-75% of 1990 levels by the year 2030 might be a long term indicator," the unofficial translation of the submission says - in other words, a 25-30% reduction on 1990 levels.

But there are caveats. Unlike other countries that have pledged, Russia says its final decision is contingent upon the outcome of the UN climate negotiations, along with the INDCs of other major emitters.

It also says that its target include accounting as generously as possible for carbon dioxide absorbed by its vast boreal forests.

Furthermore, it points to Russia's legally binding 2020 target, committing the country to limiting its emissions to 25-30% below 1990 levels - exactly the same limitation pledged in its new 2030 target.

Carbon Brief unravels some of the knots of Russian climate change policy.

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Paris 2015: Tracking country climate pledges

  • 31 Mar 2015, 18:10
  • Carbon Brief staff

Updated 23 April with Liechtenstein's INDC.

31 March marked the loose deadline for countries to submit their pledges to the UN on how far they intend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

These promises, known as "intended nationally determined contributions", or INDCs, will determine the success of the deal that the UN hopes to sign off in Paris in December this year.

While only five countries plus the EU made the deadline, more than a hundred others are expected to filter in throughout the coming eight months.

Carbon Brief is tracking the pledges made by each country. We'll update this post as each INDC comes in.

To find out exactly what an INDC is and why it matters, read our explainer here.

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