Global emissions trading scheme 'should be based on UN carbon budget'

  • 12 Mar 2015, 18:30
  • Sophie Yeo and Simon Evans

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) carbon budget could provide the scientific basis for a global cap on emissions, suggested Tim Yeo, the outgoing chair of the UK's energy and climate change committee.

In its most recent report, the UN-backed panel of climate scientists calculated that total carbon dioxide emissions must be limited to 3,670 gigatonnes for a likely chance of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius. Around 1,890 gigatonnes of this "budget" had already been emitted by 2011.

Yeo told a conference in London today that the remaining gigatonnes could guide governments in capping carbon globally through an emissions trading scheme.

He said:

"The IPCC fifth assessment report suggested there's now a cap for global emissions over all time which can safely be emitted. That seems to be a natural opportunity to say, well, let's make that the cap for a global system. Of course, there are lots of hurdles to try and implement that, but the concept seems one that is good."

This would mean translating the IPCC's uncertain scientific budget into a political target. While scientists have worked out the how many gigatonnes remain in the budget for a likely chance of two degrees, it remains for governments to decide whether to make  two degrees the target and whether they want to convert the carbon budget into policy.

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Five charts showing the EU's surprising progress on renewable energy

  • 11 Mar 2015, 13:06
  • Simon Evans

Renewables provided 15% of the EU's energy in 2013, according to new data published yesterday by Eurostat, the EU's official statistical body.

The figures show the EU is on track to meet its 20% renewables target in 2020. Transport and heat are lagging behind progress in electricity, where wind and solar remain relatively small contributors. The figures also show that the UK is further behind its 2020 renewable energy target than all other member states.

Carbon Brief breaks down the figures to show how the EU is progressing towards its 2020 target, which sectors are going green and where it's getting renewable energy from.

Member state performance

Under the headline 20% by 2020 EU renewables target, each member state has its own goal. These were set in early 2008 and reflected progress at the time and capacity to add further renewable energy by 2020. The sum of national targets adds up to the overall 20% goal.

Progress varies widely among the 28 member states. For instance, Sweden, which got 39% of its energy from renewables in 2004, has a 49% target for 2020. It has already exceeded this target by 3% (far left column, below).

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 At 11.46.21

Member states' gaps between their renewable energy shares in 2013 and their targets for 2020. Sweden (SE) has exceeded its target. The UK is furthest behind, closely followed by the Netherlands (NE). Source: Eurostat. Chart by Carbon Brief.

The UK is near the bottom of the pile, with a 5.1% renewable share in 2013 up from 1.2% a decade earlier. Only the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Malta get a lower share of their energy from renewables than the UK.

The UK is further behind its 2020 target than any other member state, remaining 10% short of  its 15% goal for 2020 (far right column, above). Renewable energy's share of the energy mix has grown more quickly in the UK than in most other member states, however.

In the decade to 2013, the UK renewable share quadrupled, a feat matched only by Belgium, Luxembourg and Malta. The German renewable share doubled over the same period.

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How ambitious is the EU's offer to the Paris climate change talks?

  • 10 Mar 2015, 12:15
  • Simon Evans

Paris | Shutterstock

The EU has set out its contribution to a new international climate change agreement, in advance of talks in Paris this December.

The EU pledge, known as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), was submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on Friday and is the second official submission, following first-placed Switzerland.

Carbon Brief runs through the key points from the EU's offer and summarises reactions to the announcement.

The EU's ambition for the world

The EU's INDC is set out in a relatively brief three-page table repeating climate and energy targets for 2030 agreed by EU leaders last October. The headline is to reduce domestic EU greenhouse gas emissions by "at least 40%" by 2030, against a 1990 baseline.

The EU says this is in line with an existing EU objective to cut emissions by 80-95% in 2050 against 1990 levels. It also says the target is consistent with "the need for at least halving global emissions by 2050 compared to 1990".

The EU's more detailed Paris Protocol, published on 25 February, says UN talks in Paris should set a long-term 2050 climate goal, as part of a legally binding climate agreement applicable to all countries. It proposes a 60% cut in global emissions by 2050 against a 2010 baseline.

This is consistent with the latest science, which says global emissions should be between 40 and 70% below 2010 levels in 2050, reaching net-zero between 2080 and 2100, if warming is to be limited to two degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.

The EU proposal is not consistent with a more ambitious global climate target of limiting warming to below 1.5 degrees, however. On Friday, African ministers published the Cairo Decleration which backs a 1.5 degrees goal for Paris. This would require a 70-95% reduction in emissions by 2050 and be net-zero by between 2060 and 2080.

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The Carbon Brief Interview: Ed Davey

  • 05 Mar 2015, 06:00
  • Leo Hickman

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston and Surbiton, has been the UK's longest-serving secretary of state for energy and climate change since taking office in February 2012. The Liberal Democrats have been in coalition with the Conservative party since the last general election in 2010.

Here, Davey discusses a wide range of issues: his vision for a zero-carbon Britain by 2050; why the Treasury's economic modelling assumptions are "rubbish"; why some Conservatives are "crazy" about fracking; why the proposed Hinkley C nuclear plant would be value for money; why the world needs to get off fossil fuels within "30-40 years"; why maximising North Sea oil doesn't contradict low-carbon objectives; what form of energy he'd invest his own money in; and why energy bills would have been higher if a Conservative had been in charge of his department since 2010 instead of a Liberal Democrat...

CB: This week, you've been setting out the "Green Magna Carta" and the Lib Dems have pledged for the UK to be zero-carbon by 2050. What does that mean exactly and how do you intend we get there? And how are we going to pay for that?

ED: The Green Magna Carta is going to be on the frontpage of the Lib Dem manifesto. It's basically five green bills and I had that idea because I wanted to make sure that we could build on the success that we've had here in energy and climate change, in our department, but also fill in the gaps in other departments, DCLG [Department for Communities and Local Government], DEFRA [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and others, to really take forward the environment and climate change agenda, very strongly in the first half of the next Parliament, with a big legislative agenda. So, we've got the green transport bill, the zero waste bill, the green homes bill, a nature bill and a zero-carbon Britain bill. The zero-carbon Britain is about raising our ambition.

View on YouTube

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Analysis: UK carbon emissions fell 9% in 2014

  • 04 Mar 2015, 00:01
  • Simon Evans

Update 26/3: Official figures have confirmed the analysis below. See our story here.

UK carbon dioxide emissions fell by more than nine per cent in 2014 year-on-year, according to Carbon Brief analysis of newly released government energy data.

A 20 per cent reduction in coal use and record warm temperatures both contributed to the decline in emissions. Continued falls in energy use were also a factor.

The estimated 9.2 per cent fall in UK carbon emissions is the largest year-on-year reduction since 1880, for a year with a growing economy. There were larger carbon reductions in 1893, 1921, 1926 and 2009, when GDP was falling.

The Carbon Brief emissions estimate is based on analysis of preliminary energy use data for 2014, published on 26 February by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Estimates for previous years using the same method are accurate to within half a percentage point, as the table below shows.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 At 17.14.01

Source: Carbon Brief analysis of DECC energy and emissions data.

A 9.2 per cent reduction would leave UK emissions 28 per cent below 1990 levels, at 429 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The UK is aiming to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and cut them by 80 per cent by 2050, both against 1990 levels.

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How the EU's evolving Energy Union reveals underlying politics

  • 25 Feb 2015, 16:15
  • Simon Evans

EU flags | Shutterstock

Europe's energy system needs to be fundamentally transformed, shifting away from reliance on fossil fuels, according to the European Commission's proposals for an energy union.

A framework strategy for the energy union, published today, explains how the commission plans to achieve this transformation. The strategy attempts to create a coherent vision by synthesising all existing EU policies on climate and energy with a number of new initiatives.

Reactions so far suggest this synthesis has only been partially successful. Legal NGO ClientEarth says the strategy lacks clear rules on how EU targets will be met. Thinktank E3G says the strategy is "good on vision, but deeply confused on delivery priorities". NGO Greenpeace says the plan is "contradictory" and lacks coherence, while WWF says it has "blind spots".

Carbon Brief explains where the idea of an energy union came from and shows how the strategy text has evolved through several drafts, revealing evidence of the differing political priorities that have challenged creation of a clear and coherent strategy.

It's important to note that the commission proposal will be discussed by member state governments at meetings in March, April and June. They could propose further changes.

Moving on from Tusk's energy security union

The idea of an energy union was first proposed by European Council president and former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk in an April 2014 article for the Financial Times. Tusk's proposal emphasised energy security above all.

It called for region-wide purchasing of gas, linking and strengthening the EU's electricity transmission systems, and making "full use" of EU fossil fuel reserves, including coal and shale gas.

Earlier this month, Carbon Brief produced a detailed energy union briefing based on a leaked draft strategy dated 30 January. The briefing explained how Tusk's proposal had been transformed into a more holistic strategy with five "dimensions": integrated energy markets, a new deal for energy consumers, energy efficiency, decarbonising the economy and research.

Since then, a second draft was widely leaked, including to Carbon Brief. This draft shifted emphasis in a number of key areas while the final version moves things on again. So, how has the energy union evolved in recent weeks?

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MEPs vote for early EU carbon market fix

  • 24 Feb 2015, 16:15
  • Simon Evans

Trading chart | Shutterstock

An early and ambitious fix to the European Union's emissions trading scheme (ETS) has been backed by the European Parliament's environment committee in a vote today.

The ETS is central to the EU's efforts to tackle climate change, but has been suffering from  chronically low prices that are insufficient to drive low-carbon investments.

To fix the market, the European Commission had proposed reforms starting in 2021, designed to reduce a surplus of two billion carbon credits on the market which have caused low prices.

Today's parliamentary vote backs earlier implementation of the reforms, starting in 2018, and contains additional measures to tackle surplus allowances.

Analysts say the reforms could see EU carbon prices more than double by 2020, to between €17 and €35 per tonne. Member states must still back any reforms to the ETS, however.

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Labour leader Ed Miliband's plan for the Paris climate deal

  • 23 Feb 2015, 15:20
  • Simon Evans

Prospective UK prime minister Ed Miliband has set out his vision for a global climate deal, in an article for the Observer newspaper.

The Labour leader's article says tackling climate change would be one of his highest priorities as prime minister, calling it an "economic necessity" and the "single most important thing we can do for our children and our grandchildren". He says last year's winter floods showed climate change is a security threat to the UK, as well as globally.

Carbon Brief summarises reactions to the piece and looks more closely at Miliband's vision for the Paris climate deal, due to be agreed at the end of this year.

Political reactions

The piece has attracted wide press coverage in the UK because of Miliband's decision to appoint former deputy prime minister John Prescott as a senior climate adviser.

Lord Prescott has a long track record in the international climate arena, as does Miliband, who was energy and climate change secretary when the UK Climate Change Act was passed in 2008. Prescott was the lead EU climate negotiator when the Kyoto Protocol was agreed in 1997.

Miliband says of Prescott: "There is no one better than John at bashing heads together to get a deal." In a column in the Sunday Mirror, Prescott says any head-bashing will be of the intellectual variety and says his brief is to "raise ambition on this crucial issue".

The Guardian says the appointment will give Prescott a "frontline general election role", with the BBC taking the same line. The Daily Mail says the move "will be seen as an attempt to turn the clock back to when Labour used to win elections".

In an article for the Express, Leo McKinstry calls Prescott a "charmless old bruiser" and says Prescott's "two Jags" nickname means he has "zero credibility in peddling the green agenda". The Telegraph calls Prescott "the bulldog who saved Labour", but says the appointment may irk Labour's shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint.

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How significant is the UK party leaders' joint climate pledge?

  • 16 Feb 2015, 15:10
  • Simon Evans

Over the weekend, the UK's three main political leaders pledged to tackle climate change after the next election, whatever the outcome on 5 May.

The Conservative's David Cameron, Labour's Ed Miliband and the Liberal Democrat's Nick Clegg agreed to work towards a legally-binding global climate deal, to agree new UK emissions-cutting goals and to phase out unabated coal-fired power stations.

Carbon Brief assesses the significance of the unusual joint pre-election pledge.

Cross-party pledge

There are three parts to the party leaders' pledge, published on Saturday after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations brokered by NGOs, including Green Alliance, Christian Aid and the Women's Institute.

The leaders agree:

  • To seek a fair, strong, legally binding, global climate deal which limits temperature rises to below two degrees.

  • To work together, across party lines, to agree carbon budgets, in accordance with the Climate Change Act.

  • To accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy efficient low-carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for power generation.

The first part of the pledge, on a legally-binding climate deal consistent with limiting warming to two degrees, is in line with official EU policy. So the UK government already supported this aim.

The wording does not specifically refer to the UN climate talks where leaders are supposed to agree a deal in Paris this December. This omission may be to allow for the chance that the Paris talks agree a deal which is not legally binding, or which falls short on the goal of limiting warming to no more than two degrees.

The second part, on UK carbon budgets, is also a restatement of current policy. The Climate Change Act is legally binding and says that carbon budgets must be agreed according to a fixed timetable and the advice of the Committee on Climate Change.

The coal phase out pledge is a new policy for Labour and the Conservatives. However, it reflects current government expectations that unabated coal use for energy would have in any case ceased by around 2030. Unabated coal would be off the electricity grid by 2027 under central projections from the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

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Briefing: The 15 options for net-zero emissions in the Paris climate text

  • 13 Feb 2015, 15:55
  • Simon Evans

Credit: Leila Mead/IISD

Many of the world's nations want this year's Paris climate talks to aim for net-zero emissions, so that the world becomes climate neutral later this century.

Achieving near-zero emissions in the second half of this century is central to the Paris deal, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said today at the close of UN climate talks in Geneva.

A long-term net-zero goal would provide a new focus for international action, which has so far aimed to limit warming to no more than two degrees above pre-industrial temperatures. Emissions can be measured and controlled directly, whereas the link between temperatures and dangerous warming is complex.

Yet the concept of a net-zero emissions goal is by no means a done deal. It has been expressed in many ways, including 15 different versions in the latest draft of the Paris climate text, published late last night.

Carbon Brief explains what net-zero means, how it could work and what a target might look like.

Next steps

The next step will be for negotiators to  attempt to "streamline" the current 84-page text, including its 15 net-zero options, when they meet again in June. The 194 parties to the UNFCCC could amend, add to or completely discard the concept of net zero at this stage.

So while net zero could provide a much-needed clear and easy-to-measure framework for international climate action, it's far too early to be sure it will be part of any Paris climate deal.

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