Analysis

How we can make good decisions about geoengineering

  • 30 Sep 2014, 15:15
  • Dr Rob Bellamy

NERC

Next month's synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due to give the organisation's verdict on geoengineering, a radical set of proposals to use large-scale technologies to tackle climate change.

There are two types of geoengineering. Carbon geoengineering seeks to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, for example by capturing it from the air and storing it underground, or by adding iron to the oceans to trigger carbon-absorbing algal blooms.

Solar geoengineering is different. It seeks to reflect some sunlight away from the Earth before it can be trapped by greenhouse gases.This can be done, for example, by spraying clouds with sea salt to make them more reflective, or by stratospheric aerosol injection, where reflective particles are pumped into the atmosphere.

Geoengineering

My colleagues and I have been  examining the importance of 'opening up' discussion about geoengineering to alternative options, different perspectives and real world complexity.

'Closing down' assessment

Our earlier research has shown that the ways in which researchers frame assessments of geoengineering have important effects on the conclusions people come to.

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How TV news covered the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s three big reports

  • 23 Sep 2014, 00:01
  • Mat Hope

TV studio | Shutterstock

TV audiences around the world aren't hearing much about climate science.

That's the main conclusion of a new study looking at how TV news covered the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) three big reports earlier this year.

While the IPCC's reports made a  small splash in the print media, the same wasn't true of television news. Media in many countries barely covered the reports. And when they did, they used an old-fashioned "doom" narrative to explain them, research by Oxford University's Reuters Institute finds.

That's concerning, because many people still get their news from the TV, and place particular trust in TV news to deliver a balanced account of climate science.

Here's which channels covered the reports, how, and why it matters.

Country divergence

The IPCC's first report on the science behind climate change was launched in October 2013. A second report on the impacts of climate change was released the final day of March 2014, with a  third report looking at policies to cut emissions following a couple of weeks later.

The Reuters Institute looked at how a selection of news bulletins in the UK, China, India, Brazil, Australia and Germany covered all three reports on their launch day, and the day before.

13 out of the 36 main news bulletins the Reuters Institute studied covered the IPCC reports. That adds-up to about 34 minutes of airtime.

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25 inspirational texts about climate change

  • 15 Sep 2014, 16:15
  • Simon Evans

Around this time each September, thousands of students will go off to study climate change at university. But sometimes climate and environmental issues can be pretty dry.

So we asked 25 thinkers, writers and journalists a simple question: What books or readings inspired you to get involved in climate change-related work?

We were expecting to get back a list of books - and we did. But we also got some interesting insights into why people work on this issue, why they started, and why they carry on.

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Pacific watch: Is El Niño finding its second wind?

  • 22 Aug 2014, 14:55
  • Roz Pidcock

Scientists around the world have been watching closely to see if an El Niño develops this year - a weather phenomenon in the Pacific that drives extreme weather worldwide.

After initially predicting with  90 per cent certainty we'd see an El Niño by the end of the year, forecasters began scaling back their predictions earlier this month.

But interest in the Pacific weather phenomenon shows no sign of waning. And after much talk of El Niño cooling off, there are hints it could be rebounding, say scientists.

El Niño watch

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 temperature and rainfall we see from one year to the next.

Earlier this year, the ocean looked to be primed for an El Niño, with above average temperatures in the eastern Pacific lasting throughout March and May.

But last month, forecasters across the world began  dialling down their forecasts. The atmosphere had "largely failed to respond" to sea surface temperatures, scientists announced.

"Waiting for Godot"

This week, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  dropped the odds of an El Niño developing in autumn or winter to 65 per cent, down from 80 per cent  earlier this month. As NOAA scientist, Michelle L'Heureux,  described recently:

"Waiting for El Niño is starting to feel like Waiting for Godot"

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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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Does British belief in climate change really go up and down? A look at 14 polls

  • 29 Jul 2014, 15:30
  • Ros Donald

Newspapers love to cover surveys that show  belief in climate change has  risen or fallen. But how much can polls really tell us about what the UK public believes when it comes to climate change? We surveyed 14 polls to try and understand what's happening. 

We looked at polls by the  Guardian, the Sunday Times, the  Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC),  Carbon Brief ( twice), the  UK Energy Research Council (UKERC) and Ipsos Mori.  

The polls were released between 2009 and 2014, but UKERC's poll includes earlier results from surveys in 2005 2010 and  2012

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Typhoon Haiyan, record-breaking CO2 levels, rising seas and more: five measures of the state of the climate in 2013

  • 18 Jul 2014, 17:00
  • Ros Donald

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels broke modern records last year - and 2013 was one of the warmest years on record according to four major datasets. Sea levels continue to rise, and the oceans are getting warmer. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's State of the Climate, 2013 is a reminder of the many changes the world is experiencing. 

The State of the Climate report, published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is a different beast to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report. Both reports assemble multiple datasets to give a picture of the changes the planet is experiencing, but NOAA's annual climate checkup doesn't try to answer why certain events have occurred. Instead, it focuses on building a detailed picture year on year, chronicling the shifting state of the physical climate system. 

NOAA has also created a  summary that pulls out the report's most striking results. We've picked five measures that help form this picture along with NOAA's explanation of why they matter. 

 

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New mega-map details all the ways climate change will affect our everyday lives

  • 18 Jul 2014, 00:00
  • Roz Pidcock

From flood barriers to fish stocks, a new super-graphic from the Met Office and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office shows how climate change is likely to alter human activity.

Looking at where our food comes from and how countries interact through travel and trade, it makes for a stark visualisation of what different regions can expect as climate change kicks in.

Mega-map

The  Human Dynamics of Climate Change project is a huge venture, designed to illustrate the range and complexity of the potential impacts of unmitigated climate change.

It contains a massive amount of information but a good place to start is the map below, which shows how humans interact in today's world.

The colours, arrows, symbols and shading show shipping routes, population density, crop importers and exporters, areas under water stress, busy ports and airports, fishing regions, tropical cyclone regions and melting glaciers.

HDCC_map _present

Present day human dynamics (1981-2010). Source: Human Dynamics of Climate Change  ( HDCC), a joint project from the Met Office and UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

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BBC upholds complaint over Today Programme Nigel Lawson interview

  • 07 Jul 2014, 12:30
  • Roz Pidcock

Earlier this year BBC Radio 4's flagship news programme came under fire after a discussion it hosted about the possible links between severe flooding in the UK and climate change. Now the BBC has agreed the programme gave "an inaccurate and misleading impression of the evidence."

The Today Programme featured climate scientist Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, head of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College, in a head-to-head with Lord Nigel Lawson, founder of climate skeptic lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

Soon after it aired, the programme received a series of listener complaints accusing it of promoting a false balance, and giving the impression Lawson's views carry equal weight to Hoskins' when it comes to explaining the science behind recent storms, heavy rainfall and flooding.

The Today Programme initially defending the interview, saying the lines of questioning "were designed to help listeners judge how to assess the recent bad weather in the context of climate change".

But in a letter seen by Carbon Brief, the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit has upheld the complaints, concluding the programme "gave an inaccurate and misleading impression of the evidence".

Cause for complaint

Back in February, The Today Programme invited Lord Lawson to discuss with Professor Sir Brian Hoskins the role, if any, of climate change in the flooding engulfing parts of the UK.

Hoskins began by explaining how scientists know climate change is linked to heavier bursts of rainfall, but made clear that any link with the frequent storms that hit the UK last winter is far less clear.

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IPCC authors discuss how science meets politics in the latest summary for policymakers

  • 03 Jul 2014, 19:30
  • Roz Pidcock

The science of climate change, as expressed through the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is pretty well-established.

Over the last quarter of a century, the organisation has refined its review of the scientific literature in a series of weighty reports. Producing these reports is a complex affair requiring a huge team of volunteers, a years-long drafting process, and securing the approval of governments worldwide.

So perhaps it's not surprising that the process sometimes gets criticised by some of those involved. This time around, some scientists complained after text about how countries should be categorised in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions got taken out of a summary.

A new issue of the journal Science, published today, features some different perspectives on what happened - and what it can teach us about where science and policy converge.

A summary for policymakers

When the IPCC releases a new report - which happens about every five or six years - it also puts together a summary of the most politically relevant conclusions. This is called the Summary for Policymakers, or SPM.

During a long and painstaking process in the week before the report's launch, every word of the SPM has to approved by all 195 governments under the United Nations banner.

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