The technologies that could grow the global economy and save the planet, at no extra cost

  • 16 Sep 2014, 17:50
  • Ros Donald

City solar | Shutterstock

Investment choices in global infrastructure over the next 15 years will determine the future of the world's climate system.

That's the conclusion of the New Climate Economy report , which concludes that if investment goes into advanced technologies, there need not be a trade-off between improving living standards around the world and the health of the climate. Indeed, those investments could cost the same as ones we'd need to make anyway.

In 2013, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate was created to investigate whether the global economy can continue to grow while tackling the risks of climate change. It's not an obvious combination.

On one hand, fossil-fuelled growth - especially in fast-developing countries like China - has pushed greenhouse gas concentrations to  record levels. On the other, governments justifiably want to improve the living standards of their populations. Since the Industrial Revolution, that has equated with rapid emissions growth as energy networks expand and production ramps up.

But new technological advances mean the apparent conflict between the two goals is a "false dilemma", according to the chair of the commission and former president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon. Speaking at the launch, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the audience the two goals could be "mutually reinforcing".

Cities: public transport and new materials

Cities are growing at an unprecedented rate, and that's set to continue over coming years. Urban areas already generate around 70 per cent of global energy use and energy related emissions.

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Why we may never get a Montreal protocol for climate change

  • 12 Sep 2014, 15:10
  • Mat Hope

CC 2.0 UN Climate Change

Good news! Earlier this week, scientists announced that the hole in the ozone layer has  stopped growing.

The news comes almost three decades after every member of the United Nations signed the Montreal Protocol, a treaty to curb emissions known to damage the atmosphere.

Some  have argued that the protocol's success shows what can happen when governments put their minds to tackling major environmental problems. Why, they ask, can't politicians do the same thing for climate change?

The question has been posed  many times, most recently by the Guardian's George Monbiot. Yesterday, he called on politicians to  show the same "political courage" they did back in 1987. If they do, maybe the world will at last see some tangible progress towards cutting emissions and curbing global warming, he argues.

But is political will the only thing stopping politicians establishing a comprehensive climate treaty? We explore the obstacles to creating the equivalent of the Montreal protocol for climate change.

Complex science

The Montreal protocol and international climate agreements are similar in as much as they both try to address problems in the atmosphere identified by scientists.

But the relatively simple impact of emitting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on the ozone layer may have made the issue easier for policymakers to engage with than climate change.

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UN seeks billions to fill climate adaptation funding gap - but where's it going to come from?

  • 11 Sep 2014, 17:25
  • Mat Hope

UN and flags | Shutterstock

The world's climate adaptation efforts have a funding problem. But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hopes that situation is about to change.

He's invited world leaders to   a climate summit in New York in two week's time, where countries are expected to indicate how much they'll give to the UN's Green Climate Fund.

The fund was set up in 2009 to help poorer countries insulate themselves from the worst impacts of climate change. The initiative relies on the world's developed economies pledging cash. But after an initial flurry of donations, the fund is starting to run dry.


Countries created the Green Climate Fund at the Copenhagen summit five years ago. The agreement was hailed as one the  few successes of the otherwise disappointing summit.

The fund is politically important, as it offers developed countries a chance to back up their promise to help poorer countries cope with climate change with hard cash.

Countries promised that by 2020 they'd collectively be giving $100 billion to the fund each year. It's never been clear how much countries were expected to donate between now and 2020, however.

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Analysis: Polling finds widespread doubt amongst Conservative MPs about climate science

  • 11 Sep 2014, 09:00
  • Leo Barasi

UK Parliament

A new poll of UK Members of Parliament has found widespread doubts about climate science, particularly among Conservative MPs. 

The poll, conducted for PR Week by Populus and  reported in the Guardian yesterday, found that 51 per cent of MPs think that man-made climate change is "an established scientific fact". Two in five think it is a theory that "has not yet been conclusively proved", while nearly one in ten say man-made climate change is "environmentalist propaganda".

The findings suggest that MPs have similar views on climate science to those of the general public. A poll in August 2013 by Opinium for Carbon Brief, with similar questions,  found that 56 per cent believe that climate change is happening and is caused by humans.

Polling 1

Polling 2b

MP attitudes on climate change (Populus, 2014) and public attitudes ( Opinium, 2013).

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Six things to know about the climate change summit happening in New York this month

  • 10 Sep 2014, 13:33
  • Christian Hunt

"There is a sense that change is in the air." That's the pitch for the UN secretary general's summit on climate change, taking place two weeks from now at the UN headquarters in New York. With international climate politics approaching a critical point, the UN wants to bolster the world's resolve to do something about climate change.

So what's planned, who is going, and what's the significance? We consider six things you might want to know about the summit.

This is a one-off summit, called by the UN secretary general

The summit seeks to "advance climate change action and ambition", and on the 23rd September it will bring together more world leaders to discuss climate change than at any moment since the ill-fated climate meeting in Copenhagen, five years ago.

Shutterstock _145257448

UN secretary general  Ban Ki-moon | Shutterstock

There's already a UN process to address climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This summit is something different. Secretary general Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders to "bring bold announcements and actions to the summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will" to address climate change.

In practice, that means it's going to be a talking shop, albeit a pretty high-level one. Responding to Climate Change reports that  half the summit will be taken up by speeches from heads of state, designed to help create the right mood music for the climate politics to come in 2015.


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Going green is good for the economy (depending on your economic worldview)

  • 10 Sep 2014, 00:01
  • Simon Evans

Business concept | Shutterstock

The UK economy will be larger, its households better off, unemployment lower and its businesses richer if it chooses to cut emissions. Say what?

Most studies show tackling climate change will be a drag on the economy, but a new report from Cambridge Econometrics is different. It says the UK economy would be 1.1 per cent bigger in 2030 if it met its carbon targets, despite the costs associated with decarbonisation.

To understand how it came to such a counterintuitive finding, read on.

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The UK’s plan for a new global climate deal

  • 09 Sep 2014, 17:20
  • Mat Hope

UK Government

The government today released a  report outlining what it wants from a new international climate deal. World leaders are due to meet in New York later this month to add impetus to the negotiations, with a deal set to be agreed in Paris at the end of 2015.Here's what the UK is hoping for.

'Fair' commitments from all countries

The 70 page document makes it clear that the UK expects all countries to commit to making emissions cuts. It doesn't expect all the commitments to be the same, however.

"Countries will need to make the low-carbon transition in a way that reflects their national situation, the opportunities available to them, and both their relative past and future contributions to climate change", the report says.

It suggests a three-tiered system where countries make commitments based on their different levels of economic development. That wouldn't be a radical departure from the current system. The United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has already enshrined the idea of common but differentiated responsibilities in a similar way.

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If energy efficiency is so great, why aren’t we doing more of it?

  • 09 Sep 2014, 16:30
  • Simon Evans

Facade insulation | Shutterstock

Forever the Cinderella of climate and energy policy, two reports published this week say we should remember to invite energy efficiency to the ball.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says investing in efficiency can boost growth, jobs, health, government budgets, industrial productivity - and those are just the benefits backed by robust analysis. Meanwhile left-leaning thinktank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says efficiency could reduce EU reliance on Russian gas.

It's an impressive list of benefits. So what's going wrong?

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Scottish Independence: How would we divide up our oil, wind and gas?

  • 08 Sep 2014, 16:30
  • Simon Evans

Hadrian's wall | Shutterstock

The build up to the 18 September Scottish independence referendum has now officially reached fever pitch. With polling suggesting a vote for independence is a real possibility, the question of how the union might be divided has taken on a new significance.

Scotland and the rest of the UK are closely interdependent for energy infrastructure and fossil fuel resource. So how would the UK divide up its oil, wind and gas resources with an independent Scotland, and what would it mean for each of the new nations' efforts to decarbonise?

North Sea oil and gas

The largest energy prize in economic terms is North Sea oil and gas. Some 40 billion barrels have been extracted so far and anything from 2 to 24 billion barrels remain, depending who you ask.

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Global carbon intensity is falling - but not quickly enough to avoid worst impacts of climate change

  • 08 Sep 2014, 14:55
  • Mat Hope

Chimneys | Shutterstock

World leaders are set to meet in New York in two weeks time to discuss how best to address global climate change. High on the agenda will be working out how to wean countries off cheap fossil fuels while keeping their economies afloat.

A new  report by consultancy PwC shows that for all the  politicians' promises , the global economy is still far from being "green". Current efforts to incentivise cleaner economic growth are falling short of those needed to avoid dangerous global warming, it says.

Emissions 'cuts'

Global carbon intensity - annual emissions divided by GDP - has  fallen by 1.2 per cent, the report shows. But that somewhat masks what's actually happening to global emissions.

Carbon intensity is a measure of how efficiently countries use their polluting energy resources, such as coal, oil and gas.

So long as a country's energy sector emissions grow at a slower rate than its GDP, the carbon intensity of its economy falls. But although some countries are ramping up renewables, many still rely on burning large amounts of fossil fuels to drive economic growth.

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