Analysis

The Carbon Brief Interview: Tony de Brum

  • 15 May 2015, 15:00
  • Sophie Yeo
Tony de Brum

Tony de Brum | Carbon Brief Staff

Carbon Brief's Sophie Yeo asks Tony de Brum, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, about fighting for action on climate change at the IMO meeting this week and the future of the Pacific islands.

Tony de Brum is the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, a small nation of coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean and one of the most vulnerable countries to sea level rise. He previously served as Minister-in-Assistance to the President, and has led calls at the UN for stronger action on climate change.

On reluctance to act on climate change: "Some of these nations are confused as to whether they're developing countries or developed countries, or some that want to be both, to take advantage of the benefits of being one or the other in one package."

On the small island states negotiating bloc: "It is a platform that allows for the smallest of the vulnerable states to have as loud a voice as anybody else."

On the small island states' negotiating strategy: "In terms of keeping the islands together and promoting their interests as a unit, it has worked. But have the outcomes of that effort been as encouraging? No. But neither has any other sector in the climate change debate and effort."

On Paris: "What we really need to do is focus on what we want to come out of Paris and make sure that it is not a suicide note."

On migration: "The polluting states must not see the availability of destinations for displaced people as an excuse to continue their behaviour as usual."

On the unstoppable collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet: "It is something that concerns the Marshall Islands now."

On US politics: "The Republicans might have different reasons for loving the Marshalls than the Democrats do, but the relationship is still very strong."

On loss and damage: "I think it's going to be one of the most difficult things to come away with come Paris."

On the Green Climate Fund: "I don't want to see bureaucratic layers of NGOs and other organisations establish themselves between the source of the fund and the need."

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Countries fail to set shipping climate target

  • 14 May 2015, 15:20
  • Sophie Yeo
NYK Cargo Ship NYK ATHENA entering the Port of Los Angeles with tugboat assistance

Sheila Fitzgerald | Shutterstock

Countries rejected the opportunity to place a global emissions reduction target on the shipping industry at a meeting of the International Maritime Organisation in London this week.

Proposed by the Marshall Islands, this would have been the first time that a cap was placed on the sector, which is projected to grow in the decades ahead as trade and the world economy expands.

But the lack of consensus over how to collect data on shipping emissions put a stranglehold on the discussions, with many nations unwilling to sign up to an emissions reduction goal without a sure way to measure progress.

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Analysis: How DECC spends its annual budget

  • 13 May 2015, 17:00
  • Simon Evans
Department for Energy and Climate Change

Carbon Brief

Update 4/6 - We have published further analysis of DECC's budget based on a breakdown released to Carbon Brief under Freedom of Information rules. You can read it here.

Update 16/5 - Chancellor George Osborne will announce his budget on 8 July. Departments are expected to submit spending proposals to the Treasury by early July, according to the Financial Times, giving time to negotiate details of any cuts before an autumn spending review.

Update 14/5 - A few clarifications are worth making. First, the £8 billion DECC budget in 2013/14 includes large accounting adjustments ("provisions") which do not reflect actual expenditure. This is better reflected by the £3.4 billion "departmental expenditure limits" budget shown further down.  We have amended text below to reflect this.

Second, nuclear clean-up spending relates to managing the legacy of the UK's historic civil and military nuclear programmes, including managing its plutonium stockpile. Finally the cost of supporting low-carbon power sources, including renewables, does not appear in DECC accounts as it is paid via energy bills.

The Conservatives have pledged to shave a further £13 billion from government spending over the next two years.

With the likes of health and overseas aid likely to be protected and welfare subject to a separate savings target, spending at other departments will be put under the microscope in search of potential cuts.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) "will be among the biggest casualties in terms of spending reductions", according to an  Independent article.

Carbon Brief runs through how DECC allocates its budget of around £8 billion a year, or just over one per cent of the total government budget.

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Investigation: Does the UK's biomass burning help solve climate change?

  • 11 May 2015, 12:00
  • Simon Evans

In the name of tackling climate change, the UK has become the largest importer of wood pellets in the world in just five years.

The UK's demand for wood pellets is set to break five million tonnes this year and perhaps 10 million within a few years, fuelling a growing global trade and vociferous debate between energy firms and NGOs.

Accounting methods mandated by government show burning wood in place of coal is shaving millions of tonnes off UK emissions, yet NGOs say separate government research shows the opposite.

So, does the UK's growing use of biomass for power generation help solve climate change or not? Carbon Brief guides you through the dense thicket of debate in search of answers.

Biomass Britain Infographic

The UK is the world's largest wood pellet importer and its increasing demand is fuelling a growing global trade in pellets. Drax power station, the largest UK user of these pellets, says most of its biomass comes from thinnings and residues. Source: Drax biomass supply report 2014, Ofgem figures and Carbon Brief analysis of UN Food and Agriculture Organization figures. Credit: Rosamund Pearce, Carbon Brief.

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19 reasons why the world is missing the 2C climate change limit

  • 07 May 2015, 09:45
  • Simon Evans

Pylons and roads | Shutterstock

The world is falling further behind the goal to avoid more than 2C of global warming despite rapid progress in renewables and other areas, according to a new assessment from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

For the first time since it started tracking progress, none of 19 key areas for tackling climate change are on track to meet their contribution towards a sub-2C world, says the IEA's Energy Technology Perspectives 2015, published on 4 May. It says five technologies or sectors are off track, and the outlook for the remaining 14 is failing to improve fast enough.

Carbon Brief has summarised the mammoth 412-page assessment in a single graphic, which shows where progress is falling furthest behind the path to 2C, and where there are rays of hope.

IEA-summary2

Progress in key technologies and sectors against climate milestones for a below-2C future. Source: IEA Energy Technology Perspectives 2015. Summary chart by Carbon Brief.

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EU strikes deal to boost emissions trading scheme

  • 06 May 2015, 15:45
  • Sophie Yeo

Vladimirs Koskins | Shutterstock

Diplomats in Brussels have struck a deal to reform the EU's emissions trading system, giving a boost to efforts to reduce emissions across the 28-nation bloc.

The move will remove carbon permits from the market, making it more expensive to pollute within the EU, in the hope it will drive investment towards low-carbon alternatives.

The EU's emissions trading system (ETS) is the cornerstone of the region's climate policy.

The system is designed to reduce emissions across the region as cost efficiently as possible, by allowing industries covered by the scheme to buy and sell the right to pollute. Each allowance gives the owner the right to emit one tonne of CO2.

The idea is that gradually tightening the cap on the number of allowances available to industries will cut emissions while driving investment and innovation towards low-carbon alternatives.

But the reality to date has been that the number of allowances available has outstripped demand, making allowances cheaper and, therefore, decreasing the financial imperative for polluters to switch to clean energy.

EU statistics  released on Monday showed there was still a surplus of more than two billion permits in 2014.

 

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Flawed assumptions blight Telegraph analysis of UK decarbonisation costs

  • 05 May 2015, 16:45
  • Simon Evans

There is a £200 billion "carbon bombshell" lurking at the heart of Labour's election manifesto according to today's Daily Telegraph. Its promise to decarbonise the power sector by 2030 could "wreak havoc with the UK's finances", according to a second article in the same paper.

The stories centre on Labour's manifesto promise to set a decarbonisation target for UK electricity, in line with the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). Labour would mandate a reduction from the 450 grammes of carbon dioxide emitted per megawatt hour of electricity generated today, to between 50 and 100 grammes in 2030.

The Telegraph analysis rests on a series of shaky assumptions. More significantly, however, it is flawed because it ignores the cost of the alternatives. Carbon Brief takes you through the details.

Flawed assumptions

The Telegraph says its £200 billion figure for the cost of a decarbonisation target is based on "educated guesses at best". Here are some of the trivially incorrect assumptions it makes.

The Telegraph says wholesale electricity prices will rise from around £40 per megawatt hour today to £55 in 2030. The paper does not explain how it arrived at this figure. DECC's central projection is £73, which would make top-up subsidies for low-carbon energy sources relatively cheaper. National Grid scenarios cover a range of £50 to £100 per megawatt hour in 2030. Future prices are highly uncertain.

Next, the Telegraph assumes that Labour aim for zero-carbon electricity in 2030 because its manifesto talks of "removing carbon" from electricity supplies. However, on a BBC Daily Politics debate on 20 April Caroline Flint, Labour's energy and climate change shadow, said the target would be in line with CCC advice. This would aim for 50-100gCO2 per megawatt hour.

The Telegraph then assumes, without offering any justification, that half of the UK's zero-carbon power in 2030 would be nuclear, up from 19% last year. It estimates the cost as the same as for building a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point C in Somerset. The government says new nuclear plants will become cheaper through the 2020s, though nuclear has a poor record on cost.

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UK must reform climate policies to become global leader, say economists

  • 30 Apr 2015, 17:20
  • Sophie Yeo

Alexander Chaikin | Shutterstock

A steep reduction in UK emissions over the last two decades disguises a number of ineffective government policies, argues a new report from the London School of Economics.

In a briefing on the key environmental policy issues ahead of the 7 May general election, three academics from LSE's Centre for Economic Performance look at the policies that aim to reduce the UK's emissions and examines their successes and failures.

The headline figures suggest an impressive record on tackling climate change in the UK, say authors Ralf MartinJonathan Colmer and  Antoine Dechezleprêtre.

By 2012, the UK's emissions had fallen by 25% on 1990 levels, meaning that it met its international target under the Kyoto Protocol, as well as its legally binding domestic target.

This makes the UK a leader in cutting greenhouse gas emissions among major economies, with countries such as the US and Japan still emitting more than they were in 1990.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 At 11.50.09

Greenhouse gas emissions trends for selected countries. Source: UNFCCC and Global Carbon Budget 2014/LSE CEP report

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Vatican spells out vision for zero-carbon world

  • 29 Apr 2015, 17:30
  • Sophie Yeo

TTstudio | Shutterstock

The Vatican has gathered religious leaders, scientists, politicians and businessmen under one roof to agree that acting on climate change is a "moral and religious imperative for humanity".

This was the essence of a  declaration signed by the attendees of a one-day meeting hosted yesterday by the Holy See. It outlines a vision for the future of the planet, including the adoption of low-carbon energy systems, a shift of investment away from the military and towards sustainable development, and the transfer of money from the rich to the poor.

The meeting was organised by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences - academic bodies under the auspices of the Pope that seek to combine scientific and spiritual values.

Today, these institutions released their  own report, designed to accompany the declaration and to support a forthcoming encyclical on climate change authored by Pope Francis.

The report is entitled "Climate change and the common good: a statement of the problem and the demand for transformative solutions". It was prepared by a selection of high-profile scientists and economists, including Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute.

After outlining the history of climate change and its expected impacts, the document gives a set of proposals for how to deal with the problem. Unlike the declaration, it did not need to be sanctioned by the politicians and businesspeople in attendance, meaning the authors could afford to be more specific and, arguably, less consensual in their recommendations.

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How successfully can the Arctic Council tackle climate change?

  • 28 Apr 2015, 14:45
  • Sophie Yeo

warnsweet | Shutterstock

The US has promised to make climate action a priority of its two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

The Arctic Council is the main forum for intergovernmental cooperation in the Arctic. Its permanent members include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. The US counts as an Arctic nation by dint of Alaska, which was purchased from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million.

The US government set out its domestic  strategy for the region in 2013, with a plan of  implementation released in January 2014. In July 2014, the State Department appointed its first-ever special representative for Arctic issues, Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr. This is the second time that the US has held chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

Despite this, the US is widely regarded as a minor player in Arctic issues, with Washington-based think tank Center for a New American Security accusing the administration of failing to dedicate  sufficient financial resources to cement their interest in the region.

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