Analysis

How climate-ready is your house?

  • 18 Sep 2014, 17:22
  • Robert McSweeney

Sandbags | Shutterstock

Are you pulling out all the stops to climate-proof your home? Have you installed ceiling fans, planted trees for shade and taken out flood insurance? It's unlikely you have, according to a new study of household actions in the UK.

While we make simple actions to deal with a cold snap or heatwave, the research finds, households are struggling to prepare for long-term changes in climate.

What action can you take?

As global leaders prepare to convene in New York to discuss how to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a new paper discusses another side to limiting climate change - adaptation.

Adaptation means taking steps to increase our resilience against climate change that our past emissions have already committed us to, impacts that are now unavoidable.

The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, looks at adaptation measures people can take in their own homes. And the good news, is some actions are easy.  You've probably done many without realising. Putting on an extra jumper in a cold spell or eschewing the Sunday roast in favour of a salad during a heatwave are both adaptive responses.

Some actions aren't as simple as changing your diet or dipping into your wardrobe, however.

The study looks reviews published research on climate adaptation in UK households and finds that while we're pretty good at doing the easy things, we're not so great at making plans for the long-term.

A checklist

The paper runs through some adaptation options available to UK households, which we've illustrated in a checklist below. The list on the left are examples of actions for managing current risks, while the list on the right shows how to climate-proof for the longer-term.

 

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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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Surface warming ‘hiatus’ could stick around for another decade, say scientists

  • 21 Aug 2014, 19:00
  • Roz Pidcock

A flip-flopping natural fluctuation in the Atlantic is behind a recent slowdown in surface warming - and it's not due to reverse for another ten years, according to new research.

The theory outlined in a paper  published today in the journal Science disagrees with other research, which pins the blame for the so-called "pause" on changes in the Pacific.

We talked to some other scientists working in the field - and they don't seem convinced.

Puzzle solving

Scientists know greenhouse gases are driving up  global temperature. But data on land and  the surface of the ocean shows  slower than expected warming in the last 15 years or so.

Periods of slower and faster warming  aren't unusual. Scientists say the main reason we're seeing one now is because more heat is finding its way to the  deeper ocean, rather than staying at the surface.

But which ocean? Knowing where the heat is ending up might help scientists predict how long the hiatus will last.

Where Is Global Warming Going _infographic

More than 93 per cent of the heat reaching earth's surface goes into the oceans. Just 2.3 per cent stays in the atmosphere. Source: Skeptical Science

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‘Hiatus’ in surface warming is upping the odds of UK cold winters, say scientists

  • 17 Aug 2014, 20:20
  • Roz Pidcock

If you follow climate science, you'll be familiar with the so-called surface warming "hiatus". It's the fact that temperatures at earth's surface haven't climbed as much as expected in the last 15 years.

Now a  new paper published in Nature Climate Change says the slowdown in surface warming could be behind a spell of colder than average winters in the UK recently.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 At 20.07.46

UK winters in 2009/10 were two degrees and 1.3 degrees Celsius below the 1971-2010 long term average, respectively. The 2012/13 winter was 0.4 degrees below the 1981-2010 average. Source: Met Office

Cause of the pause

Scientists know greenhouse gases are driving up  global temperature. But data on land and from the surface of the ocean shows  slower than expected warming in the last 15 years or so.

Scientists say periods of slower and faster warming  aren't unusual. Most of  why we're seeing one now is down to natural climate cycles causing the surface of the  Pacific Ocean to cool.

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Government data hints at future challenges for curbing natural gas emissions

  • 05 Aug 2014, 16:30
  • Mat Hope

CC 2.0

Gas plays an essential role in the UK's energy mix, providing heat for homes and electricity to sockets. While that's not likely to change in the short term, the fuel will need to be increasingly phased out as the government seeks to  decarbonise the energy sector.

A trawl through new government  data shows how far the UK's come in recent years, and hints at challenges to come.

Gas trends

The UK currently uses three trillion cubic feet of gas each year. That demand may need to fall by as much as  20 per cent over the next two decades if the UK is going to hit its  climate targets.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change's  Digest of UK Energy Statistics, released last week, shows how much would need to change for that to happen.

DECC's data shows gas demand has fallen 17 per cent in the last five years. But while demand has fallen significantly from 2011's high, its plateaued in recent years. Demand was only one per cent lower in 2013 compared to a year before.

Gas is mainly used for two things, as the blue and purple sections of the graph below show: generating electricity, and heating people's homes.

DUKES 2014 UK gas consumptionDECC's data shows gas is being used increasingly sparingly to generate electricity. The amount of gas used in electricity generation fell by 13 per cent last year. But that doesn't necessarily spell good news for the UK's emissions.  

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Climate scientists dub this year’s El Niño “a real enigma”

  • 04 Aug 2014, 14:40
  • Roz Pidcock

Last month, forecasters were predicting with  90 per cent certainty we'd see an El Niño by the end of the year, driving severe weather patterns worldwide. But with little sign so far of the ocean and atmospheric changes scientists expected, those odds have dropped off quite a bit.

We'll probably still see an El Niño before the year's out but it's unlikely to be a strong one, scientists are saying.  

What is an El Niño?

Every five years or so, a change in the winds causes a shift to warmer than normal ocean temperatures in the  equatorial Pacific Ocean - a phenomena known as El Niño.

Together, El Niño and its cooler counterpart La Niña are known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Between them, they're responsible for most of the fluctuations in global weather we see from one year to the next.

ENSO

Sea surface temperature during El Niño (left) and La Niña (right). Red and blue show warmer and cooler temperatures than the long term average. [Credit: Steve Albers, NOAA]

 

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Three White House charts showing why the world needs to take immediate action on climate change

  • 30 Jul 2014, 13:40
  • Mat Hope

CC2.0 Intel Photos

President Obama has taken significant, if limited, steps to try and curb the US's emissions and tackle climate change. A new White House report explains why he appears to be acting with a sense of urgency: "delay is costly".

Yesterday, the White House's Council of Economic Advisers released a  report suggesting a 10 year delay could increase the cost of taking climate action by 40 per cent, as the world would have to take larger steps to curb emissions down the line. Furthermore, each degree of warming could lead to billions of dollars worth of additional damage, it says.

Here's three charts from the report showing why the council says policymakers need to act now.

Additional damage

The more the world warms, the more damaging the  impacts of climate change are likely to be - from more intense weather events, to diminishing crop yields and species migration and extinction. All these things have an economic cost, even if it's sometimes  hard to define.

And the council's study says the costs will rise as the world warms - as the blue bars on this graph show:

Additional Costs Chart

The White House report uses a model by Yale economist Bill Nordhaus to put a number on the potential impact of additional warming.

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Air pollution and climate change could mean 50 per cent more people going hungry by 2050, new study finds

  • 30 Jul 2014, 12:20
  • Roz Pidcock

The combination of rising temperatures and air pollution could substantially damage crop growth in the next 40 years, according to a new paper. And if emissions stay as high as they are now, the number of people who don't get enough food could grow by half by the middle of the century.

Burning question

Feeding the world's rapidly growing population is a serious concern.

Research shows  rising temperatures are likely to lead to lower crop yields. Other work suggests air pollution might reduce the amount of food produced worldwide. But nobody has considered both effects together, say the paper's authors.

The two effects are closely related as warmer temperatures increase the production of ozone in the atmosphere, the paper explains. 

The  new study looks at global yields of the four principle food crops - wheat, rice, corn and soybean - and how they're expected to change by 2050 under different levels of future emissions.

Together, these provide nearly  60 per cent of all the calories consumed by humans worldwide.

Global losses

The maps below show some of the results.

The top panel shows an optimistic scenario in which greenhouse gases stabilise at 630 parts per million (ppm) by 2100. For reference, we're at about 400 ppm now.

The team compared this with what might happen if greenhouse gases continue to rise as rapidly as they are now. That's the bottom panel.

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Why measuring fugitive methane emissions from shale gas production matters

  • 24 Jul 2014, 14:40
  • Mat Hope

CC 2.0 Tim Evanson

As an ever-increasing number of countries consider exploiting their shale gas resources, and researchers scramble to understand what a production boom could mean for the climate, two new pieces of research appear to come to opposite conclusions.

What is the climate impact of shale gas?

Since gas has about half the emissions of coal when it's burned for electricity, it has been touted as  a 'bridging fuel' for countries seeking to decarbonise their economies to use as a stop gap on the way to a low carbon electricity system.

But as we've  explored before, scientists are struggling to establish the full impact of increased shale gas production on the climate, due to methane that escapes during the extraction process - known as fugitive methane emissions.

Two papers released this month examine what the actual climate impact of natural gas is. At first glance they seem to show opposite things. The graph on the left, taken from a paper by Robert Howarth appears to show natural gas electricity generation emissions - the towering left bar - can be much higher than coal's. The second graph, from  Heath et al, appears to show the opposite - that coal's generation emissions (on the left) are much higher than those from both conventional and shale gas.

Howarth Vs Heath Coal And Gas Emissions

Both papers examine the 'lifecycle emissions' of the fuels: the amount of gas emitted from extraction to combustion. So why is there such a large discrepancy between two papers?

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