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.

Read more

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".

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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!'.


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.

Read more

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

Read more

Funding boost nudges UK carbon capture and storage industry forwards

  • 09 Jul 2014, 11:25
  • Mat Hope

White Rose

The world uses a lot of fossil fuels - and there's plenty left to burn, if we want to - with all of the world's major economies still relying on coal, oil, and gas to provide most of their power. But the more countries burn, the more difficult it becomes to constrain global warming.

The trouble is, it's difficult to quickly swap a fossil fuel based energy system for one that's low-carbon. It takes considerable time and money to replace coal and gas with nuclear and renewables.

There is a technology that promises to allow continued fossil fuel use while providing emissions cuts, however - carbon capture and storage (CCS). In theory, CCS technology can capture emissions from fossil fuel power plants and lock them underground. That could allow power plants to burn fossil fuels with a fraction of the emissions.

For energy companies and governments wanting to tackle climate change, that's good news. But the bad news is that CCS has so far struggled to get off the ground, and is yet to be proven in a full scale power plant.

After nearly a decade of false starts, the UK's CCS industry is slowly getting moving. Earlier this year, the government allocated  £100 million to two new demonstration projects. Today, the European Union awarded one of those projects  €300 million for its next phase of development. After a long series of disappointments, the industry is hoping all the pieces are in place to make CCS a success.


It's increasingly likely that the world will need carbon capture and storage in a big way if it's going to reduce emissions quickly.

Research by thinktank Carbon Tracker suggests countries have already used about two-thirds of the fossil fuel allowance that will give a good chance of preventing more than two degrees of global temperature rise. That leaves a lot more coal, gas and oil in the ground than Carbon Tracker says can be burned.


Read more

What the fossil fuel industry thinks of the 'carbon bubble'

  • 09 Jul 2014, 10:40
  • Mat Hope

Carbon Tracker

What does the fossil fuel industry make of the argument that it won't be allowed to burn its main product?

In 2011, campaign group Carbon Tracker warned that large portions of fossil fuel companies' assets are "unburnable" if the world intends to limit global warming to no more than two degrees.

If energy companies can't burn their reserves, they're overvalued, the group argues, in an analysis aimed squarely at the world's financial markets.

In the intervening years, the argument has gained some traction, including in key financial industry publications like the  Financial Times and  The Economist. But what do the fossil fuel companies themselves think?

While we weren't particularly optimistic that they'd want to talk about it, we asked oil, gas and coal companies for their take on the carbon bubble research. Many didn't respond. But some of the bigger companies did, acknowledging that while strong climate action could affect their activities, none of them considered it a threat to their business this century.


We contacted  76 oil, gas and coal companies, drawn from the main trade groups. Seven companies provided substantial responses. 58 companies didn't respond. We got no response from the coal industry.

Of the substantial responses, six came from major oil companies on the Fortune 500 list of the world's largest businesses, and followed a similar formula.

BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Statoil, and MOL all acknowledged climate change was real, and that climate policy posed a risk to their businesses - to an extent. They agreed that regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions should become more stringent over time, and probably will.

But none of the companies we asked saw climate action as a threat to their business in the coming decades - or if they did, they weren't prepared to share that assessment with us.

Read more

Gatwick, Dawlish and the consequences of failing to adapt to climate change

  • 09 Jul 2014, 00:01
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Number 10

When things go wrong with our critical infrastructure, it makes national news. Cornwall was cut off from the rail network when the line collapsed into the sea at Dawlish during last winter's storms. And Gatwick airport closed on Christmas Eve when an electricity sub-station was flooded.

We all rely on things like drinking water treatment works, broadband connections, trunk roads, rail lines, power stations, airports and the electricity network to go about our daily lives.

So we should all be worried that efforts to make this infrastructure more resilient to flooding, drought or coastal erosion are patchy. That's according to a new report from the government's Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

It says the task is getting harder too, as climate change raises sea levels and changes rainfall patterns, although uncertainty about the UK's future climate makes it hard to know exactly how much.

The CCC says the number of the most important national infrastructure assets at high risk of flooding, for instance, will increase by at least 50 per cent by the 2050s because of climate change. Other climate risks are also expected to increase.

We've taken a look at the risks our infrastructure faces and efforts to boost resilience in different sectors.

Risks, multiplied

Climate change has already increased some risks compared to historical norms. Sea levels rose by 16 centimetres during the 20th century making tidal flooding and coastal erosion more likely. And the chance of very wet winters in southern England has increased by 25 per cent because of already-emitted carbon, according to preliminary results from the University of Oxford.

That means a substantial proportion of England's critical infrastructure is facing some level of flood risk today, as the chart below shows. The number of assets at risk is shown in blue. Those numbers are broken down into different levels of flood risk in shades of red and orange.

Risk Today

Source: CCC Adaptation Sub-Committee progress report 2014

Read more

Factcheck: Has the US shale gas revolution saved more carbon than the entire solar and wind industry?

  • 07 Jul 2014, 14:55
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Dennis Dimick

The American shale gas revolution shaved more off global carbon emissions than all the world's windfarms and solar panels put together in 2012 according to Chris Faulkner, boss of US fracking firm Breitling Energy.

We think he's wrong. Even with some pretty heroic assumptions, he's only almost right. Let's see why.

The UK connection

Faulkner made his claim at a fringe meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. He had been invited to speak by UK Conservative MP David Davis, a long-standing critic of climate change policies in general and wind energy in particular.

Faulker said:

"In 2012, the shift to gas has managed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 300 million tonnes. Compare this to the fact that all the wind turbines and solar panels in the world reduce carbon dioxide emissions, at a maximum, by 275 million tonnes. In other words, the US shale gas revolution has by itself reduced global emissions more than all the well-intentioned solar and wind in the world."

US coal emissions

To start with, let's look at US coal emissions. In 2012, US coal plants emitted 1,653 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. That's 529 million tonnes below peak coal emissions, which were 2,182 million tonnes in 2005.

Let's generously assume all of that reduction is due to cheap shale gas displacing coal use. It takes about half as much carbon to generate a unit of electricity from gas as it does from coal. So the maximum carbon saving is half the coal emissions avoided. That's 265 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, in the same ballpark as the 300 million tonnes Faulkner claimed.

Read more