Analysis

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

Climate change a ‘major challenge’ to South Asia’s economic development - report

  • 20 Aug 2014, 15:50
  • Mat Hope

CC 2.0

India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and Nepal will face "major challenges" as the impacts of climate change start to bite, according to a new report.

The Asian Development Bank's (ADB)  163-page analysis outlines how warmer temperatures and rising seas could hit South Asia's varied economies, home to nearly 1.5 billion people. It concludes that the "impacts of climate change are likely to result in huge economic, social and environmental damage to South Asian countries".

Climate impacts

ADB uses the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) emissions scenarios to model potential climatic changes in South Asia between now and 2100. It then uses an economic model to estimate how the climate impacts may affect the region's development.

The analysis was conducted prior to the release of the three instalments of the IPCC's fifth assessment report - published between November 2013 and April this year - so uses data from the fourth report, released in 2007.

Read more

Questions and Answers on New Zealand's "climate change refugees"

  • 19 Aug 2014, 15:46
  • Alex Randall

Ocean waves / Shutterstock

Has the era of the 'climate change refugee' begun? That's the question  some have been asking following news that a Tuvaluan family has been granted residency in New Zealand after citing climate change impacts as a reason to migrate.

But the details of the case are complex, and the implications more limited than some media reports have suggested. Here are answers to some of the questions the case raises.

Did the court grant the family refugee status because of climate change?

No. The family was granted residency in New Zealand after a complicated court judgement. Although the impacts of climate change in Tuvalu were part of the family's case, they made several legal arguments for why they should be allowed to stay in New Zealand. The case contained refugee, human rights and humanitarian elements. The claim for refugee status because of climate impacts was rejected, as were several human rights claims.

The family made two arguments for residency on humanitarian grounds. The first was that climate change had created a humanitarian situation in Tuvalu that the family could not return to.

The second was that the family had strong family connections in New Zealand. The court decided that the family connections in New Zealand were enough to give the family residency.

Read more

Why scientists need public backing to engineer the climate

  • 19 Aug 2014, 12:35
  • Mat Hope

PiccoloNamek

As global greenhouse emissions rise, scientists want to research the possibility of engineering the climate to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

But the public has so far been wary of such schemes. So the so-called geoengineers are planning to make a declaration they hope will be the first step to getting a "social license" to operate.

The world's most prominent geoengineering researchers are meeting in Berlin this week to discuss the the field's progress. Attendees have been asked to provide feedback on a draft document styled as  the Berlin Declaration, released by  VICE this morning.  

It seeks to clarify geoengineering's governing principles, and quell public concerns. But does it go far enough?

Building blocks

A lot of climate engineering sounds a bit sci-fi - from drawing carbon dioxide out of the oceans by dumping iron filings in the sea, to putting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight away from earth. We've gone into much more detail, here.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) takes geoengineering seriously, even if it gets a relatively small amount of attention in its reports. The panel is also eager to  emphasise the technique's risks.

Read more

Fracking in the UK - the Carbon Brief summary

  • 15 Aug 2014, 14:30
  • Simon Evans and Mat Hope

No Dash for Gas

Shale gas is normal gas extracted from shale rock using a technique known as fracking - or hydraulic fracturing.

Protests have sprung up in recent years in opposition to what is sometimes perceived as an unsafe practice. Major studies have been conducted to try and answer such fears. But new research is often met with a mixture of scepticism and spin so has done little to dampen the debate.

Negotiating arguments about fracking from the UK can be tricky. Most of the industry's experience is in the US, where regulatory regimes are very different, and evidence of fracking's environmental impact is often contested.

We try to summarise the key questions about shale gas' impacts and, where possible, draw some conclusions.

Read more

Transition énergétique: What France’s energy law learns from Germany and the UK

  • 13 Aug 2014, 11:05
  • Mat Hope

CC 2.0: Hans

France has announced it will undertake  an ambitious energy sector transformation that will see the country cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 per cent by 2030. France joins neighbours Germany and the UK, who both have their own legislation to cut energy sector emissions. If the plans come off, they will leave the EU's three biggest economies with radically different power systems to those they're operating today.

Such transformations aren't technoligically straightforward, and getting the public to back such ambitious schemes hasn't always been easy.

Here's a look at the three countries' respective plans, and the challenges they're likely to face.

Energy transformations

France, Germany and the UK all have ambitious policy programmes to cut energy sector emissions.

The UK has had legally binding emissions reduction goals since 2008, and  passed a law late last year outlining a range of new schemes designed to achieve them. Germany began implementing sweeping reforms to decarbonise its energy sector in 2010, known as the Energiewende France has just followed suit, passing a law last week that was described by France's environment minister, Ségolène Royal, as "the  most advanced legislation in the European Union".

Read more