Does the UK already have enough green energy?

  • 08 May 2014, 10:00
  • Simon Evans

Renewable electricity developers are doing themselves out of a job. According to anti-wind group the Renewable Energy Foundation, they should finish what they're working on and pack up, because we don't need any more of their power. 

Its latest  report says there are already  enough windfarms, solar panels and wood-fired power plants built, under construction or given consent to meet our renewable energy targets. That means there are a thousand more planning applications causing  needless anxiety for homeowners when they could be scrapped. 

Conservative energy minister Michael Fallon has been leading his party's  charge against onshore wind turbines and is likely to welcome these conclusions. There are only two problems with the REF report. It makes impossibly optimistic assumptions about renewable build rates. And it assumes the UK can start breaking its own laws after 2020. 

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Failure to tackle emissions from power sector could undermine environmental case for HS2

  • 28 Apr 2014, 12:30
  • Robin Webster

The environmental argument for the HS2 high speed rail link could be weakened if we keep generating electricity from fossil fuels, according to official documents. Government claims about the carbon benefits of the scheme rest on the assumption that emissions from the power sector dramatically reduce over the next fifteen years - and that might not happen. 

MPs are due to vote today on the proposed high-speed rail link to the north of England - the culmination of a political  battle to persuade reluctant MPs to support the scheme. More than 30 Tories are likely to rebel, abstaining or voting against the scheme, the BBC reports

MPs are  doubtful about the economic benefits of the scheme, and wary about the  disruption it may cause. The project's environmental benefits are also worth scrutinising, however. 

The government claims HS2 will help the country reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But coalition  battles over energy policy, and George Osborne's plans to bump up the amount of power sourced from gas, mean emissions from HS2 may be higher than it suggests. 

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‘Misleading the reader’: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change responds to Mail on Sunday claims

  • 07 Apr 2014, 17:30
  • Mat Hope

In an article in this weekend's paper, the Mail on Sunday  accuses the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of 'sexing up' its findings in the short 'summary for policymakers' that accompanies its latest report. But the IPCC  responded this morning, saying the Mail on Sunday "misleads the reader by distorting the carefully balanced language of the document".

In an effort to help policymakers and the public engage with its mammoth scientific reports, the IPCC produces a summary - the  Summary for Policymakers (SPM). It tries to present the report's overall conclusions in a shorter and more accessible format.

The Mail on Sunday has done a comparison between the SPM, and quotes it claims come from the full IPCC report. The article says the SPM puts an "alarmist spin" on the findings, but the IPCC has today  rejected that charge in a statement.

We look at what the report has to say, and the Mail on Sunday's troubling presentation of the evidence.

Wrong chapter, misleading attribution

The Mail on Sunday says the IPCC's SPM over-emphasises the extent to which climate change is expected affect a range of other issues, starting with how it could force migration as extreme weather hits people's local environments.

But the IPCC defends the SPM's finding, saying the Mail on Sunday has cherrypicked quotes that don't reflect the report's overall conclusions.

Here is the Mail on Sunday's accusation:

MoS migration

The IPCC says the Mail on Sunday ignores important evidence on migration in the report that supports the SPM statement.

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IPCC says adapt and mitigate to tackle climate risks

  • 03 Apr 2014, 16:55
  • Roz Pidcock

The  front page article of today's Spectator claims the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has "updated" its position on climate change, to accept that "climate change is now a question of adaptation".

Author Matt Ridley suggests that this is such a departure from the UN climate panel's previous findings that its conclusions are now in line with those of climate skeptic lobbyist Lord Lawson.

Lawson stresses "the need to adapt to climate change, rather than throw public money at futile attempts to prevent it", according to Ridley, a fellow skeptic campaigner.

It's worth taking this with a pinch of salt. If the IPCC has said more about adaptation in the last week, it's because its most recent report is specifically about adaptation. That doesn't mean mitigation has been abandoned as Lord Lawson would like it to be - indeed, in a week's time the IPCC will publish another report dedicated to the mitigation he so scorns.

Heavy on adaptation

The crux of Ridley's argument is that adapting to climate change is given more prominence in the latest IPCC report than in past ones.

He says:

"[T]he document itself … emphasised, again and again, the need to adapt to climate change … Whereas the last report had two pages on adaptation, this one has four chapters."

In fact, there are six chapters which specifically mention adaptation in their titles in the new report, not four. The previous report in 2007 had two chapters, not two pages.

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Calculating damages: How much will climate change cost?

  • 01 Apr 2014, 16:30
  • Roz Pidcock & Mat Hope

Today's Financial Times features professor Richard Tol's take on what a new UN report says about how much climate change could cost the world. But examining the report's summary reveals a list of reasons why the IPCC believes the costs are likely to be a lot higher.

With the launch of the latest IPCC report, a fair amount of attention has focused on what it says about how much climate change could cost in terms of GDP as temperatures rise.

In part, that's because a lead author of the economics chapter became quite vocal in his opinion that the IPCC's Summary for Policymakers (SPM) is too "alarmist".

In interviews for BBC and Sky News yesterday, Richard Tol - an economics professor at Sussex University - argued the SPM takes too much of a "four horseman of the apocalypse" tone.

Today, Tol has an  opinion piece in the Financial Times, headlined "Bogus prophecies of doom will not fix the climate".

Tol's take is that while climate change requires a response, reducing emissions has been over-prioritised. To make his case, he refers to a figure from the IPCC report for the cost of two degrees warming:

"According to Monday's report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a further warming of two degrees could cause losses equivalent to 0.2 to two per cent of world gross domestic product."

In other words, Tol says,

"[H]alf a century of climate change is about as bad as losing one year of economic growth."

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Carbon briefing: changing views on biofuels reflected in forthcoming climate report

  • 26 Mar 2014, 11:15
  • Robin Webster

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s new report, due to be launched next week, is likely to give a new and updated perspective on biofuels - reflecting a flood of research on their impact on natural systems in past years. 

The UN-created body launched its last major report back in 2007. At that time, the idea of using plant based crops as a replacement for fossil fuels was largely viewed as an effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector. 

But soon afterstudies began emerging in the scientific literature that challenged this idea. They suggested biofuels could damage the environment, drive up  food prices, or even increase  greenhouse gas emissions

Biofuels in the the IPCC's Fourth Assessment

Back in 2007, the IPCC  identified transport biofuels as a "key mitigation strategy". They "might" play an important role in addressing greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector, it said. 

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Scientists respond to “misleading” Times article about climate change’s impact on crop yields

  • 21 Mar 2014, 12:35
  • Roz Pidcock

The authors of a new paper on how climate change could affect crop yields in the future have reacted to an article in the Times yesterday, calling the headline "very misleading".

The Times piece suggested the new research shows climate change will boost crop yields, a conclusion the newspaper said is "at odds" with the mainstream scientific view. But this interpretation is "fabricating controversy where none actually exists", the authors tell us.

Extreme heat

The  new study is the first to quantify the effect of future heatwaves on food production. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  concluded it is very likely heatwaves will get longer and more frequent this century.

Until now, studies have only looked at what effect the rise in the global average temperature might have on crops.

Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the authors looked at how the extra impact of heat waves will affect yields of three major crops - maize, spring wheat and soybean.

Crops, heatwaves and carbon dioxide

Heat waves have a negative impact on all three crops, with maize suffering the biggest losses, the researchers found. Their findings show heatwaves could double maize losses by the 2080s, compared to the 1980s.

As well as temperature, the researchers took into account how rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could influence crop growth.  Experiments have shown that raising carbon dioxide levels could make plants more efficient at using water, boosting growth.

The new paper's calculations included the possibility that this 'carbon dioxide fertilisation' effect could counteract some of the losses that come from higher temperatures and heatwaves.

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Telegraph uses Sky-high estimate for cost of energy infrastructure

  • 14 Mar 2014, 16:00
  • Robin Webster

Credit:  Richard Humphrey

The cost of building new power stations, windfarms and upgrading the grid will cause consumer energy bills to "  soar" another £640 by the end of the decade, announces Sky News. But the claim - repeated in the  Daily Telegraph - is probably a significant over-estimate.

The future cost of energy bills is a regular  feature in newspapers. But the numbers that make it into the papers are not always what they seem - based on unstated assumptions for example, or  inaccurately reported. 

In this case, Sky cites consumer group Which? as the source of the story. But a spokesperson for the watchdog tells us "this figure isn't ours. We don't recognise it". 

So what's going on? We tracked the number down. 

£118 billion for new energy infrastructure? 

A range of factors are blamed for pushing consumer energy bills up - including  rising gas prices, energy company profits and energy infrastructure investment. 

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Scientists challenge climate skeptic claims that UN panel overestimates warming

  • 06 Mar 2014, 14:30
  • Roz Pidcock

Lord Lawson's skeptic lobby group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), released a report today criticising scientists' estimate of how sensitive earth's climate is to carbon dioxide.

In what may be a sign of growing confidence in the scientific community about engaging online, climate scientists have been quick to respond, highlighting what they label the report's "cherry picking" approach.

They have also pointed out Lawson's lobby group appears to have unwittingly come out in support of the mainstream scientific view - that we can expect a serious level of warming if emissions aren't brought down swiftly.

The GWPF  report, entitled 'Oversensitive: How the IPCC hid good the news on global warming", argues the UN's official climate body glossed over the possibility of modest future warming in its  latest assessment, in favour of evidence that the risks could be much higher.

Authored by former financier Nic Lewis, who describes himself as an "independent climate scientist", and freelance science writer Marcel Crok, the report claims to provide a "technically sound" and "independent" assessment of the IPCC's conclusions.

But climate scientists strongly disagree, today pointing out issues with the analysis.

A matter of sensitivity

The new GWPF report centres on something called climate sensitivity - the warming we can expect when carbon dioxide concentration reaches double what it was in preindustrial times.

In its most recent report, the IPCC estimated we're likely to see between one and 2.5 degrees Celsius at the point of doubling. This is what's known as the Transient Climate Sensitivity ( TCR).

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Factcheck: how much is the government really spending on flood defences?

  • 27 Feb 2014, 10:00
  • Robin Webster

In 1953, more than 300 people lost their lives and 24,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in one night of flooding. In 2014, the wettest winter on record put 6,000 properties under water - but new flood defences protected hundreds of thousands more. Experts are worried the defences won't be as effective in the future, however.

Government spend on flood defences "provide neither the level of investment or long-term certainty" to guarantee the country's resilience against future flood events, argues the Institute of Civil Engineers. The organisation has added its voice to growing  calls for the government to beef up its plans - and budget - for protecting the country from rising sea levels and more intense rainfall. 

But despite the criticism, the government  claims it's spending "more than ever before" on flood defences. 

How flooding spending has changed

Between 1997 and 2010, government spend on flood defences increased by about three quarters in real terms, according to a recent analysis by the House of Commons Library.


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