Why scientists need public backing to engineer the climate

  • 19 Aug 2014, 12:35
  • Mat Hope


As global greenhouse emissions rise, scientists want to research the possibility of engineering the climate to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

But the public has so far been wary of such schemes. So the so-called geoengineers are planning to make a declaration they hope will be the first step to getting a "social license" to operate.

The world's most prominent geoengineering researchers are meeting in Berlin this week to discuss the the field's progress. Attendees have been asked to provide feedback on a draft document styled as  the Berlin Declaration, released by  VICE this morning.  

It seeks to clarify geoengineering's governing principles, and quell public concerns. But does it go far enough?

Building blocks

A lot of climate engineering sounds a bit sci-fi - from drawing carbon dioxide out of the oceans by dumping iron filings in the sea, to putting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight away from earth. We've gone into much more detail, here.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) takes geoengineering seriously, even if it gets a relatively small amount of attention in its reports. The panel is also eager to  emphasise the technique's risks.

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Fracking in the UK - the Carbon Brief summary

  • 15 Aug 2014, 14:30
  • Simon Evans and Mat Hope

No Dash for Gas

Shale gas is normal gas extracted from shale rock using a technique known as fracking - or hydraulic fracturing.

Protests have sprung up in recent years in opposition to what is sometimes perceived as an unsafe practice. Major studies have been conducted to try and answer such fears. But new research is often met with a mixture of scepticism and spin so has done little to dampen the debate.

Negotiating arguments about fracking from the UK can be tricky. Most of the industry's experience is in the US, where regulatory regimes are very different, and evidence of fracking's environmental impact is often contested.

We try to summarise the key questions about shale gas' impacts and, where possible, draw some conclusions.

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Transition énergétique: What France’s energy law learns from Germany and the UK

  • 13 Aug 2014, 11:05
  • Mat Hope

CC 2.0: Hans

France has announced it will undertake  an ambitious energy sector transformation that will see the country cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 per cent by 2030. France joins neighbours Germany and the UK, who both have their own legislation to cut energy sector emissions. If the plans come off, they will leave the EU's three biggest economies with radically different power systems to those they're operating today.

Such transformations aren't technoligically straightforward, and getting the public to back such ambitious schemes hasn't always been easy.

Here's a look at the three countries' respective plans, and the challenges they're likely to face.

Energy transformations

France, Germany and the UK all have ambitious policy programmes to cut energy sector emissions.

The UK has had legally binding emissions reduction goals since 2008, and  passed a law late last year outlining a range of new schemes designed to achieve them. Germany began implementing sweeping reforms to decarbonise its energy sector in 2010, known as the Energiewende France has just followed suit, passing a law last week that was described by France's environment minister, Ségolène Royal, as "the  most advanced legislation in the European Union".

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Fracking’s impact on house prices is unclear, but people still don’t want it (or anything else) in their back yards

  • 11 Aug 2014, 13:45
  • Mat Hope

CC 2.0

The government has  released a report on the potential local impacts of shale gas in response to a freedom of information request. Several parts are heavily redacted, leading to accusations that the government is  trying to hide fracking's possible downsides.

But the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) says it's concerned there is a risk that "disclosure of early thinking, could close down discussion".

Such sensitivities are very real - although many people support the idea of fracking for shale gas, polling suggests opposition rises as the idea of the technology gets closer to home.

House prices

The Defra study sets out to try and find out - among other things - what effect shale gas production has on house prices.

The report cites four North American studies that find shale gas developments can have an impact on local house prices. Three studies looking at  TexasPittsburgh, and  Alberta, Canada found nearby shale gas wells could decrease house prices by between 3 and 14 per cent. A fourth study focused on Pennsylvania found fracking could increase property prices in some cases, but deflate them in others.


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In pictures: The hidden face of UK renewable electricity

  • 07 Aug 2014, 16:00
  • Simon Evans


Where does renewable electricity come from? You're probably thinking about wind turbines and solar panels. But in the UK, that's only half the story.

To find out why, join us for our third dive into the government's annual energy data, DUKES, published last week. Parts one and two covered the challenge of decarbonising the UK and changes in UK gas supply and demand.

In part three we show - among other things - that rotting rubbish tips generated more electricity in 2013 than hydropower or solar panels. In a series of pictures we'll show you the hidden faces behind the past, present and future of UK renewable electricity.

UK renewable electricity is growing fast

Renewables generated 54 terawatt hours of electricity in 2013, 15 per cent of the UK total. That's enough to supply 11 million average homes with all their electricity for a year, almost half of all UK homes.


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Daily Briefing | European power companies hope for capacity markets

  • 04 Aug 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief staff

CC: Mitch Rue

Rise of renewables adds to need for gas power 
Growth in renewables at a European level means there's less demand for gas power to produce electricity, says the FT's Pilita Clark. European utilities are worried, but have been complaining less about subsidies to renewables, which "may reflect their successful lobbying for cuts to [them]". Now EU countries are drawing up plans for capacity markets - ways of subsidising conventional generation like gas plant so it can be used to balance the power system's needs. The Financial Times 

Climate and energy news

Ed Davey accused of 'green tax avoidance' after switching to small energy supplier 
Energy secretary Ed Davey has shifted his own energy supplier to a smaller company - one that doesn't have to get its customers to pay to support the government's green levies. Peter Lilley MP accuses Mr Davey of "a form of tax avoidance" in this Telegraph article. The Telegraph

Tuna follow global warming to Arctic 
The habitat range of Bluefin Tuna appears to be shifting north as oceans warm - a "clear sign of rising ocean temperatures", reports the Sunday Times. The Tuna have been found within a hundred miles of the Arctic circle - their normal habitats are in the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico. The Sunday Times

Energy competition probe 'will fail unless it looks at gas markets', warns Yeo 
The Competition and Markets Authority is planning an investigation into the energy sector. Chair of the Energy and Climate select committee Tim Yeo has warned regulators that unless the investigation examines the effect of wholesale gas markets on pushing energy bills up, it will fail in its aim to restore consumer trust. Gas company Centrica, which owns British Gas, has a dominant position in the UK gas market, and the Telegraph reports on questions about the business practices of such dominant companies. The Telegraph 

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Daily Briefing | Green electricity up, but decarbonisation requires more

  • 01 Aug 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Six charts that show how challenging decarbonising the UK really is 
Despite a surge in renewables and plummeting energy use the UK remains a long way from its long-term climate goals. We've plotted six charts to help explain why, using annual UK energy statistics from the department for energy and climate change (DECC). Simon Evans, Carbon Brief

Climate and energy news

Who does Russian energy giant Gazprom sell gas to in the UK? 
Russian gas firm Gazprom has claimed a 15 per cent share of the UK's gas market selling to clients including the NHS and Oxford University, according to analysis from Greenpeace EnergyDesk. The firm is Russian but the gas isn't necessarily. Yesterday BBC Radio 4's Today programme heard that less than 5 per cent of UK gas comes from Russia, according to Sam Laidlaw, boss of British Gas owner Centrica. Europe is already receiving a trickle of oil from the Arctic, Greenpeace campaigner Ben Ayliffe said in a Q&A with Road to Paris. Damian Kahya and Christine Ottery, EnergyDesk 

India and US pledge "active cooperation" on climate change 
Two of the most important participants in any future global climate deal have promised to work together actively on that goal, reports RTCC. A high-level US delegation is currently visiting India where new prime minister Narendra Modi is said to be "much committed" to the climate change debate. Sophie Yeo, RTCC 

Energy firms to 'double' profit margins, predicts Ofgem 
The row over home energy bills is in the news again following a report from energy regulator Ofgem that predicts firms' profit margins will double over the next year. But Ofgem's figures are inaccurate saysBritish Gas owner Centrica, which has just reported a slump in profits because a warmer winter meant it did not sell as much gas. BBC Business, BBC 

Turning a slate quarry green: 40 years of Centre for Alternative Technology 
Welsh hippies ushered in an era of sustainable living well before the world had woken up to climate change says Roger Harrabin, in a retrospective on the Centre for Alternative Technology in mid Wales. The centre's latest report, Zero Carbon Britain, argues that a zero-emissions UK is possible using current technology. Roger Harrabin, The Guardian 

IMF: Hike fossil fuel taxes and reap benefits now 
Fossil fuels are "widely and substantially underpriced" according to a new study from the International Monetary Fund, reports RTCC. The IMF says national governments should not wait for a global climate deal before they start to address this because the case for action does not rest on climate concern alone. Traffic and air pollution would be cut too, the IMF points out. Megan Darby, RTCC 

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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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