Analysis

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

Why undersea fracking is unlikely to give Scotland a £600 billion windfall

  • 05 Sep 2014, 13:30
  • Mat Hope

Scotland flag waving | Shutterstock

As Scotland prepares to decide whether to vote 'yes' for independence, the North Sea oil and gas industry's economic prospects have become something of a political football.

Today, a new report backed by the 'Yes' campaign claims the industry's taxes could be worth over £600 billion. But other experts have been quick to cast doubt on the findings.

Geologists think there's still plenty of oil and gas under the North Sea. The problem is that companies have extracted most of the easy-to-reach resources. Uncertainty around the fate of the remaining oil and gas has created space for speculation over how much the industry is worth.

That's where today's  report from consultancy N-56, founded by  a Yes campaign board member, fits in. It claims there could be around 45 billion barrels of oil and gas remaining - almost double previous estimates - worth £665 billion in tax receipts.

Conventional oil and gas

The North Sea's oil and gas reserves are becoming depleted, with companies extracting fewer and fewer barrels each year. Experts believe the industry could persist for  a few more decades, but only if companies are willing to explore hard to reach spots.

Whether they will - or even can - access such resources is very open to debate, however.

Read more

Analysis: China's big carbon market experiment

  • 02 Sep 2014, 17:05
  • Mat Hope

Macau: Shutterstock

China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Historically, it has been reluctant to cut emissions, fearing that doing so could impede its economic growth. But there are signs that position is shifting.

Late last year, the government  banned the building of new coal power plants in particular areas due to air pollution concerns. Now it has announced it will seek to implement  a national carbon market by 2016.

The announcement wasn't much of a surprise. Since 2011, China has been developing seven pilot carbon markets with the aim of one day creating a national scheme. The National Development and Reform Commission - the department responsible for the schemes - has long said it wants to include plans for a national market in  China's next five year plan.

But could a carbon market form the backbone of China's response to climate change?

Rationale

China has  pledged to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy - the level of greenhouse gas emitted for each Yuan of GDP generated - by 40 to 45 per cent. That means its economy is destined to become more efficient, but doesn't guarantee an overall emissions cut.

The government is putting  a range of policies in place to help hit that goal. Its now clear a carbon market is also part of the plan.

Read more

Assessing the climate and environment impact of London's airport plans

  • 02 Sep 2014, 16:48
  • Robert McSweeney

Airplane taking off | Shutterstock

The Airport Commission has  dismissed Mayor of London Boris Johnson's proposal for a new hub airport in the Thames estuary. With remaining options for expansion at either Heathrow or Gatwick what are the potential climate and environmental impacts of each?

The Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, recommended adding a second runway to south east England by 2030, with the possibility of another by 2050.

In December 2013, the Commission shortlisted three options for the first additional runway in its  Interim Report - a second runway at Gatwick, a third runway at Heathrow or an extension to the second runway at Heathrow (so it operates like two).

Any expansion of airport capacity will lead to more flights and more passengers, and increase carbon emissions from aviation.

Read more

Who is Donald Tusk and what does he think about climate?

  • 02 Sep 2014, 15:50
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 M. Śmiarowski/KPRM

Polish prime minister Donald Tusk will be the next president of the European Council where heads of state meet four times a year to set the direction of EU affairs.

Poland has resisted stronger EU climate policy in the past and has built its economy around coal, the most polluting source of electricity. So just who is Donald Tusk, what does he think about climate change - and does it matter?

Tusk became prime minister of Poland in 2007, 16 years after first being elected to parliament.

Under his leadership Poland has long resisted climate action, including controversial use of its veto to attempt to block long-term EU policies and targets. He is also an advocate for shale gas.

UK climate secretary Ed Davey has called Poland the main barrier to agreement of targets for 2030. Indeed in March, Tusk said Poland could not agree to any new EU climate targets. But at last year's UN climate talks in Warsaw Tusk said that climate change was a fact that could not be ignored and that it posed a real threat.

Read more

How the IPCC is sharpening its language on climate change

  • 01 Sep 2014, 17:40
  • Simon Evans

Barometer | Shutterstock

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is sharpening the language of its latest draft synthesis report, seen by Carbon Brief.

Not only is the wording around how the climate is changing more decisive, the evidence the report references is stronger too, when compared to the previous version published in 2007.

The synthesis report, due to be published on 2 November, will wrap up the IPCC's fifth assessment (AR5) of climate change. It will summarise and draw together the information in IPCC reports on the science of climate change, its impacts and the ways it can be addressed.

We've compared a draft of the synthesis report with that published in 2007 to find out how they compare. Here are the key areas of change.

Read more

Why we’re going to be breaking renewable records for the foreseeable future, and what that means

  • 28 Aug 2014, 13:00
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 William Kunz

UK wind power shattered records last week, spinning out 22 per cent of electricity demand for a day. One in five of our morning cups of tea was renewably-powered, if you like.

Sound familiar? It should, because renewables keep  breaking  records. In 2013 records were smashed. The same was true in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. We've been building a lot of windfarms, solar panels and biomass conversions recently.

The rest of the world has too but it's been building huge numbers of fossil-fired power plants at the same time. But even though renewable electricity output around the world will continue to break records through to 2020, we'll still only get a quarter of our power from renewables.

 

Read more

Could an independent Scotland deliver a low carbon future?

  • 26 Aug 2014, 14:55
  • Mat Hope

Shutterstock: Scottish Borders

In a little over three weeks, Scottish voters will head to the polls to decide whether their country should remain part of the UK, and politicians have been ramping up the rhetoric as the referendum draws closer.

Energy policy has been a topic the opposing camps have repeatedly clashed over. Those wanting independence - the 'Yes' camp - claim the country's renewable electricity potential and North Sea oil and gas reserves can provide cheap, clean energy for decades to come.

In contrast, the 'No' camp claim independence could plunge Scotland into an energy crisis, with bills rocketing as the country struggles to fund its own energy sector.

So what difference will the vote make to the energy future of these isles?

Renewables: Plentiful potential, sparse funding?

Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond has enthusiastically promoted the country as the "Saudi Arabia of renewables".

The Scottish government has pledged to get the equivalent of  100 per cent of electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020. Scotland also shares the UK's EU obligation to get  15 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Read more

Is cheap coal bad news for the climate?

  • 21 Aug 2014, 10:40
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Kimon Berlin

Coal prices have halved since 2011 because of China's "anything but coal" power plans and competition from cleaner sources of energy, the Financial Times reports. Prices will probably rebound, but analysts tell the paper the recovery may be slow.

Back home, the UK has a coal problem. Use is up a fifth in four years due in part to low prices and the government has been looking at extending the life of coal plants. German use is up 13 per cent too.

Some are saying the shift to coal, the most polluting of all fossil fuels, has been at the expense of cleaner gas and nuclear. If it persists it would be a threat to EU plans to cut emissions by 40 per cent in 2030.

So is cheap coal bad news for the climate?

Supply and demand

First, let's take a look at today's coal price and why it has become so cheap.

Coal prices haven't been this low since 2009, as the chart below shows, and have almost halved since a peak in 2011. Over the same period crude oil has remained above the historically unprecedented $100 per barrel level (purple line). So low coal prices aren't being caused by generally weak demand for energy.

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 At 16.04.19

A version of this blog was originally published on 23 June.

 

Read more