Analysis

All the significant announcements from the UN climate summit, and whether they’re new

  • 24 Sep 2014, 13:50
  • Mat Hope, Simon Evans & Christian Hunt

Obama & Ban Ki-moon | Shutterstock

World leaders gathered in New York yesterday for the UN secretary general's climate summit. Over 125 countries sent delegates in an attempt to reinvigorate international efforts to tackle climate change.

Jonathan Grant, director, sustainability & climate change at consultancy PwC has  wisely said "It will take time to sort the new announcements from the old, and to understand whether the new announcements are a step change from business as usual".

Here's our effort at beginning to pick through the hours and hours of speeches to separate the new announcements from the old.

We have a full summary of country statements here.

International commitments

The United States was one of the only nations to come armed with completely  new policy announcements.

President Obama signed an executive order directing federal agencies to consider climate resilience when designing programmes and allocating funds. He also ordered government agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to  give their data to other countries to assist with managing climate change, and to extend programmes to train developing country scientists.

Oxfam America described the plans as  "not revolutionary".

China's Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli reiterated his country's goal to cut carbon intensity by 40 to 45 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020.

He also said China's carbon emissions would peak "as early as possible".  A senior Chinese climate negotiator made a similar statement earlier this year, but it had not been considered official government policy until now. The flexible language makes it hard to tell exactly what the commitment means.

 

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How to divide up carbon budgets fairly

  • 22 Sep 2014, 17:15
  • Simon Evans

Power station | Shutterstock

World leaders meeting for climate talks in New York tomorrow will be expected to give an idea of their countries' suggested contributions to cutting emissions. All eyes will be on the level of ambition on offer: will it be enough to avoid dangerous warming?

Our remaining 'carbon budget' means we can emit about 1,400 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still have a 50/50 chance of staying below two degrees, scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say.

But as well as asking whether the world's emissions cuts will be enough, we might also ask whether they will be fair. Two newstudies examine how to divide the remaining carbon budget fairly, and show the answer depends on how you define fairness.

Ambitious cuts

Staying within our carbon budget means cutting emissions 5.5 per cent per year, a paper in Nature Climate Change finds, if action starts without delay. That's dauntingly and perhaps even impossibly rapid.

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UK and Germany balk at coal exit plea

  • 19 Sep 2014, 16:25
  • Simon Evans

Lignite mine | Shutterstock

Earlier this week a major global report explained how the world could tackle climate change while growing the economy, at no extra cost.

One of its top recommendations was for rich countries to get out of coal as quickly as possible. It said these countries should immediately promise to stop building new coal plants and to accelerate the closure of old power stations.

That sounds like a pretty simple ask. So are the EU's major coal users like the UK and Germany up for an accelerated coal phase-out? Not exactly, it turns out.

Cut coal for growth and climate

The coal exit plea comes from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate's New Climate Economy report. The UK government and others set up the commission to investigate whether the global economy could continue to grow while tackling the risks of climate change.

The report finds that most of the emissions cuts required to avoid dangerous warming could be made at no additional cost to the economy, if there is "strong and broad implementation" of its ten point plan. The findings were backed by UK climate secretary Ed Davey.

The report puts special emphasis on reducing coal emissions. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels and is responsible for three-quarters of all power sector emissions despite only providing two-fifths of power. So getting out of coal is an "essential feature" of climate action, the report says, and it is "critical" to limit further coal expansion.

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US hints at vision for a new global climate deal

  • 18 Sep 2014, 18:15
  • Mat Hope

Obama chicago | Shutterstock

UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon has summoned world leaders to a climate summit next week. Cue the international negotiations machine creaking into gear.

At the meeting, countries will be invited to clarify their visions for a new global climate deal, due to be agreed in 2015. To get the ball rolling, some big hitters are already announcing what they see as being the key elements of a new deal.

Last week, the UK released a document outlining its approach. Today, it's the US's turn.

In a  submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which oversees the formal negotiations but isn't involved in the meeting next week, the US clarifies how it thinks a new agreement should work. Here's the key bits.

Uniform contributions

Countries are due to outline what they're willing to do to cut emissions by the end of March next year, known as intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs). The US thinks every country's INDC should at least look the same, even if their level of ambition differs.

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Scotland decides: What independence could mean for the country’s climate and energy policies

  • 17 Sep 2014, 14:10
  • Simon Evans & Mat Hope

Scotland flag | Shutterstock

Scotland's voters are set to decide whether the country will separate from the rest of the UK.

Here's our guide to what independence might mean for the country's climate and energy policies.

Scotland would get the lion's share of North Sea oil and gas tax revenues, but might have to forego some of it to keep the sector going

One of the  largest economic prizes at stake in the referendum is North Sea oil and gas.

The Scottish government says Scotland would have a right to 90 per cent of future North sea oil and gas tax revenues. The UK government says it's more like  73-88 per cent.

The split largely depends on where the maritime border  would be drawn. The final boundary would have to be negotiated between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 At 11.52.55Source: HM Government " Scotland analysis: Borders and citizenship"

It also depends on how much oil is worth in future and how much it costs to extract. In 2012/13 an 84 per cent share of North sea tax revenues was worth £5.6 billion. But future revenues are  highly uncertain.

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Why ExxonMobil is betting on a higher carbon price than Google

  • 17 Sep 2014, 11:00
  • Mat Hope

Times Square | Shutterstock

As carbon markets  spring up across the world, companies are increasingly being made to pay to emit greenhouse gases. To keep one step ahead, many already factor a carbon price into their investment decisions.

And most expect to pay much more than current prices, a new  report shows.

Not-for-profit organisation CDP asked companies whether they consider carbon pricing in their investment decisions. 150 companies, including global giants like ExxonMobil and Mars, say they do. Of the 27 companies that divulged their internal carbon price, all but two set it at a higher level than current carbon markets.

We explore which companies have their own carbon price, and why they differ.

Higher carbon price

Companies from across six sectors  revealed their internal carbon prices to CDP.

The graph below shows the wide range of carbon prices companies use to work out which projects to invest in. The further to the right a bubble is, the higher the carbon price.

As you can see, utility companies that invest in things like electrical grids and water systems, the energy sector, and companies that trade in materials like metals and chemicals generally have the highest internal carbon prices:

Company Carbon Prices By Sector

Source: Data from CDP's Global corporate use of carbon pricing report. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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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.

Pledges

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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