Analysis

Low carbon policies could cut household energy costs after 2030, Committee on Climate Change says

  • 10 Dec 2014, 00:01
  • Mat Hope

Windfarm in field | Shutterstock

Investing in low carbon energy generation could lower future household energy bills and insulate the economy from volatile fossil fuel prices, the government's official climate change advisor says. But only if the government commits to implementing long-term climate policies.

A new report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) assesses the impact of the UK's low carbon policies on consumer energy bills. It expects households to pay more to decarbonise the UK's energy sector in the coming decades, but says that doing so should ultimately save people money as well as helping the UK hit its legally binding climate goals.

The committee's conclusion mirrors that of  government analysis earlier this month that showed energy bills would rise significantly if the UK fails to implement climate policies.

Bill projections

The government is legally obligated to cut the UK's emissions, the committee points out. Some policies to cut emissions are paid for by households through a levy on their energy bills. While such levies are set to increase, decarbonisation should lower electricity prices in the long run and cut demand, meaning households save money overall, the committee says.

The Climate Change Act of 2008 requires the government to cut emissions  80 per cent by 2050. With about  35 per cent of the UK's emissions currently coming from the energy sector, that means some pretty significant changes to how the country generates electricity.

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Why the UN says climate adaptation could cost developing countries $1 trillion a year

  • 08 Dec 2014, 14:20
  • Mat Hope

Floods & sandbags | Shutterstock

Adapting to the worst impacts of climate change could cost three times as much as previous estimates, a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report suggests.

Developing countries may need to stump up anywhere between $250 billion and $1 trillion a year by 2050 to build flood defences, implement early warning systems, and develop more resilient farming techniques, it says.

We take a look at the figures, and explain why UNEP thinks climate adaptation costs are going to be hundreds of billions more than previous projections.

Underestimate

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a major review of climate research. It said developing countries could expect to pay about $70 to $100 billion a year by 2050 to adapt to the worst impacts of climate change.

UNEP's new report says that is likely to be a "significant underestimate." It says adaptation costs for developing countries could reach $150 billion by 2025, and $250 to $500 billion a year by 2050.

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Two degrees: The history of climate change’s ‘speed limit’

  • 08 Dec 2014, 10:45
  • Mat Hope & Rosamund Pearce

Hot sun on road | Shutterstock

Limiting warming to no more than two degrees has become the de facto target for global climate policy. But there are serious questions about whether policymakers can keep temperature rise below the limit, and what happens if they don't.

As climate negotiators meet in Lima to discuss a new global climate deal that could limit warming to two degrees or less, we look at each of the issues in turn.

Here, we take a look at where the two degree target came from, and how it has ended up guiding international climate policy. 

Woven into the fabric of climate policy

Perhaps surprisingly, the idea that temperature could be used to guide society's response to climate change was first proposed by an economist.

In the 1970s, Yale professor William Nordhaus alluded to the danger of passing a threshold of two degrees in  a pair of now famous papers, suggesting that warming of more than two degrees would push the climate beyond the limits humans were familiar with:

"According to most sources the range of variation between between distinct climatic regimes is on the order of ±5°C, and at present time the global climate is at the high end of this range. If there were global temperatures more than 2° of 3° above the current average temperature, this would take the climate outside of the range of observations which have been made over the last several hundred thousand years."

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Five things we've learned from the first five days of the Lima climate change conference

  • 05 Dec 2014, 13:05
  • Mat Hope

Lima, Peru | Shutterstock

Thousands of politicians, diplomats and campaigners are currently in Lima, Peru, for the latest round of international climate negotiations. News from the conference hall has so far been been fairly muted as negotiators ease themselves into the talks, due to conclude next Friday. But there have been some important developments.

Here's what we've learned from the Lima climate conference's early stages.

1) The need to get a deal is being talked up

World leaders have promised to agree a new global climate deal by the end of 2015, at a meeting in Paris. As that deadline looms ever larger, each climate meeting is instilled with an increasing sense of urgency.

The UK's energy and climate secretary, Ed Davey, told the  Telegraph:

"These are the last major annual talks before we hit our deadline in Paris next year. We need a deal in Paris - there is no alternative that will protect our national security, our economy and the way of life we take for granted."

Many of the talks' participants are still scarred by what happened last time countries tried to agree a comprehensive global climate deal, in Copenhagen in 2009. That conference's failure is driving a desire to agree as much as possible before negotiators descend on Paris.

Before the conference, negotiators were quick to state  their optimism that the Lima meeting would prove productive.

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Dissecting Germany’s new climate action plan

  • 04 Dec 2014, 15:15
  • Mat Hope

Germany wind turbines | Shutterstock

Germany has implemented a series of ambitious polcies to decarbonise its economy. But despite significant investment in renewable energy, the country's emissions have been rising for the last three years. Yesterday, the government  announced new measures to get the country back on track.

We take a look at Germany's new climate action plan, and what it means for the country's long term decarbonisation prospects.

Closing the 'climate gap'

In 2010, Germany announced ambitious plans to decarbonise its energy sector and cut emissions. The plan has become known as the 'energy transition', or  Energiewende.

At the heart of the Energiewende is a goal to cut emissions 40 per cent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. The target is considerably more ambitious than the EU's goal to cut emissions 20 per cent by 2020. Germany also aims to cut emissions at least 80 per cent by 2050.

The problem is, Germany's emissions have been  increasing for the last three years. Germany's government acknowledged that if emissions continued to rise, the country would miss its 2020 target by five to eight per cent.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 10.52.14.png
Source:  Clean Energy Wire. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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A summary of climate and energy announcements in the Autumn statement 2014

  • 03 Dec 2014, 13:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Osborne statement | BBC

  • £2.3 billion for flood defences
  • £15 billion for road upgrades
  • Tidal lagoon energy project included in national infrastructure plan
  • £430 million in tax cuts for the North Sea oil and gas industry
  • Sovereign wealth fund for shale gas proceeds in the north of England

Chancellor George Osborne today announced new funding for flood defences, more roads, and support for a new tidal energy project.

The policies were part of the Autumn statement, effectively a mini-budget. This year's statement gave the government a chance to offer some financial sweeteners to marginal constituencies ahead of next year's election.

Unlike  last year's statement, which was chock-full of changes to climate and energy funding, today's announcement was a sparser affair. Here's a summary of the key climate and energy policy announcements.

Flood defences

The Treasury today unveiled its plan to allocate flood defence funding to vulnerable parts of the country, and assess funding needs for the next fifty years.

The planned £2.3 billion investment is expected to deliver better flood protection to 300,000 households across the Thames and Humber estuaries, Oxford, Lincolnshire and Somerset by 2021.

The government came under fire earlier this year for slashing flood defence grants to the Environment Agency by £138 million to help reduce the deficit. Many parts of the country experienced  severe flooding after prolonged heavy rain.

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Climate policy goes commercial: E.ON takes advantage of the new economics of a low carbon energy market

  • 02 Dec 2014, 17:15
  • Mat Hope

E.ON logos | Shutterstock

German energy company E.ON yesterday announced it was splitting the company in two,  "spinning off"  its fossil fuel assets. The reason for the move? The European energy market's trend towards low carbon energy sources and services, and the ever decreasing profitability of fossil fuels, it says.

The move is being hailed as a  "watershed moment" for Germany's  ambitious efforts to decarbonise its energy sector.

But why does E.ON think its new model is more profitable? And why aren't all energy companies doing the same?

Energy transformation

E.ON's decision to restructure has more to do with a need to do something about its bottom line than environmental concerns. E.ON's profits  fell by 20 per cent over the last 12 months, continuing a long term decline.

That was partly as a consequence of Germany's ambitious climate and energy policies, known as the  Energiewende. Germany aims to get 80 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. Currently, it gets about 30 per cent, up from about 15 per cent when the Energiewende was announced in 2010.

Renewables' rapid expansion has made the wholesale cost of electricity plummet, and put many of Germany's big utility companies with large stakes in fossil fuels under  severe financial pressure.

The German government is also pressing ahead with a plan to phase out nuclear power by 2022. That's bad news for E.ON, which has a stake in 11 of the country's nuclear plants.

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Road to Paris: a timeline of negotiations for a global climate deal

  • 02 Dec 2014, 11:00
  • Rosamund Pearce

This week, delegates from 196 governments are convening in Lima for what they hope will be a productive UN climate summit.  After an upbeat start, the hope is that Lima could provide a stepping-stone to the UNFCCC Paris summit next year.

The aim for Paris? To produce a global climate treaty that can bind all nations, including the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

Despite 25 years of negotiating, such an agreement would be the first of its kind. The last attempt to achieve a global climate agreement in Copenhagen was widely regarded as  " disastrous", resulting only in a political accord.

The meeting in Lima follows the publication of the IPCC's 5th assessment report. A spokesperson from the Association of Small Island States described this latest report as "a roadmap for how to be successful in Paris. What is needed now is for leaders to take the wheel".

So where are we on the road to Paris? What progress has been made since Copenhagen, and what's left to do before the summit? Here's our summary of the road travelled by policymakers so far, as well as the route ahead.

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Europe’s energy and climate policies get mixed review

  • 01 Dec 2014, 11:00
  • Simon Evans

Windfarm | Shutterstock

The European Union is a global leader on climate change, but there's still plenty of room for improvement. That's the conclusion of a new energy policy review from influential thinktank the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The report summarises the big issues countries face when trying to decarbonise their energy sectors while keeping the lights on and preventing energy bill hikes.

It argues against schemes to pay power companies to ensure they're always ready to supply energy when required, such as the  capacity market currently being introduced in the UK. It also calls for a higher EU energy efficiency target, expanding  energy efficient policies, rapid  reform of EU carbon markets and caution when assessing  shale gas's potential contribution to the energy mix.  

IEA publications tend to be fairly weighty and this is no exception. We've picked out some of the most interesting findings and recommendations from its 312 pages.

Shale gas pessimism

Back in 2012 the IEA published a widely-referenced report setting out how hydraulic fracturing of shale rocks could deliver a new "golden age" of natural gas. It said Europe could expect to produce 77 billion cubic metres of shale gas per year by 2035, about the same as the UK's annual demand.

That outlook was pared back in 2013, when the IEA  said countries were failing to replicate the North American shale gas revolution. Its new review is even less optimistic. It says the EU has yet to evaluate the potential of shale gas and has only "limited" exploration experience.

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The five massive changes to how we use energy that could limit climate change

  • 27 Nov 2014, 12:40
  • Simon Evans and Rosamund Pearce

Earth from space | Shutterstock

What would the world's energy system need to look like in 2040 in order to limit climate change to two degrees? What would it take to get there?

One possible set of answers to those questions has been provided by the International Energy Agency, which published its latest World Energy Outlook (WEO) earlier this month.

The WEO is a set of projections looking at the future of the world's energy system out to 2040. It explores three different ways today's energy system might evolve, depending on the policy choices we make now.

It looks at a world where no new policies are enacted, leaving us on a path towards nearly six degrees of warming. It considers a world where we stick to climate pledges made by governments but not yet fulfilled. These would reduce warming below four degrees.

Finally it considers the policy and energy system changes that would be needed to limit climate change this century to two degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels.

We've used the WEO's findings to produce a series of maps and charts illustrating the energy system we would need in 2040 to meet this goal. It's going to take some big changes, but it boils down to five massively ambitious steps.

2degreesscenario6nologo.png

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