Analysis

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."

Read more

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. 

Read more

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.

Read more

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. 

Read more

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).

Read more

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.

 

Read more

How accurate are the Met Office’s predictions? A closer look at this winter’s forecast

  • 24 Feb 2014, 17:15
  • Roz Pidcock

Last week, the Daily Mail accused the Met Office of issuing a "pitiful" forecast in the run up to the period of exceptional flooding that engulfed the country.

With the Met Office defending its predictions, we take a closer look at how the Met Office makes weather forecasts, how reliable they are and what it predicted ahead of the recent stormy period.

Front page forecast

Climate change is featuring more in the national conversation as the media, politicians and commentators try to make sense of the recent weather. But no sooner were flood waters starting to retreat than accusations started flying over who or what is to blame.

On Friday last week, the Daily Mail launched a front-page attack on the UK's official weather provider, the Met Office, for what it called "the worst weather prediction since Michael Fish reassured the nation in October 1987 that there was no hurricane on the way".

The paper criticised the Met Office's forecast ahead of the recent stormy period between December and February. Rather than foretelling the exceptional weather, the Mail says the Met Office forecast predicted a "drier than normal" winter. The Mail article's headline reads:

"Could Met Office have been more wrong? Just before floods, report told councils: Winter will be 'drier than normal' - especially in West Country!"

The Independent and the Telegraph repeated the story. But on Friday, the Met Office suggested the papers had misinterpreted the forecast.

Read more

Mail on Sunday falsely claims Met office scientists disagree on climate change link to recent UK weather

  • 18 Feb 2014, 11:40
  • Roz Pidcock

The Mail on Sunday has claimed two high profile Met Office scientists disagree with each other on what's behind the recent exceptional weather in the UK. But the scientists involved say the newspaper has got it wrong, and that "there is no disagreement."

This weekend, the Mail On Sunday ran an  article by climate skeptic journalist David Rose, entitled 'No, global warming did NOT cause the storms, says one of the Met Office's most senior experts'.

The piece quotes Professor Mat Collins, a climate scientist at the University of Exeter who is also affiliated with the Met Office. It suggests Collins disagrees with the Met Office's chief scientist, Dame Professor Julia Slingo, over the link between climate change and the recent wild weather. The piece says:

"One of the Met Office's most senior experts yesterday made a dramatic intervention in the climate change debate by insisting there is no link between the storms that have battered Britain and global warming … His statement appears to contradict Met Office chief scientist Dame Julia Slingo".

But yesterday, Collins and the Met Office issued a  joint statement dismissing the interpretation, saying "this is not the case and there is no disagreement."

A warmer, wetter world

Last week, Slingo spoke to journalists ahead of the launch of a Met Office  report, authored by her, into what's behind the recent exceptional weather in the UK. Her comments have been widely reported.

"In a nutshell, while there is no definitive answer for the current weather patterns that we have seen, all the evidence suggests that climate change has a role to play in it."

Read more

There's little evidence that climate migration will lead to global conflict

  • 17 Feb 2014, 14:35
  • Guest blog from Alex Randall

Last Friday's Guardian carried a front page article by Lord Stern, author of the influential  Stern report on the economics of climate change, warning that climate change could cause migration that will lead to "conflict and war".

The main thrust of Stern's article is that extreme weather driven by climate change poses a threat to global society - what Stern calls "a pattern of global change that it would be very unwise to ignore."

The most recent  assessment of the climate science from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC) shows that we are now surer than ever that the planet is warming, and that this largely caused by our emissions. The IPCC has also concluded that  extreme weather events will get more frequent, more intense, or both in a warming world.

But Stern misses the mark when he talks about climate change, mass migration and war. It is true that there are important connections between climate change, the movement of people and security. But there is little evidence to support the second part of the Guardian headline - "Climate change is here now; it could lead to global conflict".

Read more

Government ignores own evidence to promote shale gas push

  • 20 Jan 2014, 13:45
  • Mat Hope

The government claims that developing a UK shale gas industry could mean millions of pounds and thousands of jobs soon heading to a community near you. But a closer look at the evidence suggests the situation is not so clear cut.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, last week  told MPs he "really, really" wanted to get a UK shale gas industry up and running. He's certainly been busy promoting its prospects with some impressive numbers: The government claims communities could get a  £10 million financial reward for permitting fracking, with the industry supporting 74,000 jobs.

Critics have accused the government of  overstating shale gas's case, however. They point to the government's own research which suggests a considerably less bountiful future than the prime minister claims.

Community benefits

The government is keen to get the public on board with its fracking vision. To help things along, it is set to offer communities £100,000 for each shale gas well drilled in their area, along with 1 per cent of its subsequent revenue. The government says the deal could be worth  up to £10 million per site.

The  Daily Telegraph revealed the government's own research suggests the benefits could be considerably less than this, however. It says a government  report, researched by engineering consultancy AMEC, suggests the financial reward is likely to be between £2.4 to £4.8 million.

Read more