Analysis

Q&A: The EU's 2030 climate targets

  • 24 Oct 2014, 16:45
  • Simon Evans

Last night EU leaders came to a compromise deal on climate targets for 2030.

The headline target is to cut EU emissions by "at least" 40 per cent of 1990 levels by 2030. The EU has also agreed targets to get at least 27 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and to cut energy use by at least 27 per cent against business as usual.

Is the deal ambitious and world-leading, as some EU countries are claiming? Or is it more a case of bungs to the Polish coal industry and weak ambition on energy saving and renewables?

We take you through the essential questions about the 2030 deal.

How ambitious is the EU being?

The EU announcement is certainly world-leading in at least one sense: it is the first major player to lay down its commitment to tackling climate change out to 2030. UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon says the target demonstrates the continued global climate leadership of the EU.

The likes of China and the US are expected to take note when deciding their own commitments in the run up to next year's talks in Paris, where a global climate deal is due to be signed.

In this context the two little words, "at least", are all-important.

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The gas industry's delicate climate policy balancing act

  • 23 Oct 2014, 15:39
  • Mat Hope

Credit: US Department of Energy

European leaders are currently meeting to discuss the future of the region's climate and energy policy. Today, representatives of the gas industry called for ambitious changes to ensure the EU hits its ambitious emissions reduction goal without jeopardising their commercial interests.

"Dealing with climate change is a long term issue," Elisabeth Tørstad, CEO of fossil fuel industry advisers DNV told an audience of experts at the Financial Times' gas summit today. Tørstad was part of a panel tasked with assessing current threats to the European gas industry.

So how enthusiastic is the gas industry feeling about climate policy?

Carbon pricing

If the gas industry wants to help cut emissions and boost it's own prospects, the biggest obstacle is Europe's dysfunctional carbon market, the panel agreed.

EU leaders are due to discuss a  suite of reforms to the emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) this week. Passing those reforms is an "opportunity that has to be seized", says Dick Benschop, vice president of Shell's gas market development.

It might seem odd that an industry that would bear much of the economic cost of those reforms should be so keen to see them implemented. But there's an obvious reason for the gas industry to support a price on carbon: it could help squeeze coal out of Europe's energy mix.

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US emissions increase hints at limitations of Obama’s clean power plan

  • 22 Oct 2014, 17:10
  • Mat Hope

President Obama | Shutterstock

US energy sector emissions increased slightly in 2013, according to new data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). This may seem like bad news for President Obama, who has pledged to cut the country's emissions 17 per cent by 2020.

Obama unveiled his  clean power plan earlier this year to much fanfare. The centrepiece of the plan is to reduce emissions from electricity generation by 30 per cent by 2020.

The US's rising energy sector emissions seem to  suggest the policy may not be as effective as Obama hopes.

Obama's clean power plan specifically targets emissions from power generation, which accounts for   about 32 per cent of the US's total emissions. Cutting emissions from the US's homes and businesses is a much smaller part of his wider   Climate Action Plan.

The EIA's data shows the potential limitations of focusing on cutting power generation emissions without addressing the country's broader energy consumption.

Emissions increase

US energy sector emissions increased 2.5 per cent in 2013 compared to year before, the EIA's data shows. The EIA says the main reason for the increase was colder weather.

Winter temperatures at the start of 2013 were lower than a year before, and the US also experienced a particularly mild spring last year. Temperatures fell again later in the year, when the US was  engulfed by the polar vortex.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 16.15.40.png
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, average monthly temperatures. Graph by Carbon Brief.

Households and businesses turned up their thermostats in response to the lower temperatures, which meant burning a lot more gas and a bit more oil. The residential sector was responsible for 48 per cent of 2013's emissions increase, mostly due to heat demand, the EIA says.

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How National Grid keeps the lights on when a large power station catches fire

  • 20 Oct 2014, 16:55
  • Mat Hope

Didcot power station | Andrew Smith

What happens when a major gas power station catches on fire? Well,  it certainly looks spectacular. But it appears the short term impact on the UK's power generation is pretty minimal.

Energy company RWE npower had to  unexpectedly shut down one of the Dicot B power station's 700 megawatt units last night after a fire broke out in one of the cooling towers.

Didcot's shutdown is the latest in a series of unexpected outages which National Grid has had to cope with in recent months. This has led to a  spate of headlines questioning whether National Grid will have enough power stations available to cope with high demand over the winter months.

We take a look at how National Grid copes with such unexpected events, and why it remains confident the UK will have enough power this winter.

Where does the UK's power come from?

National Grid is legally required to make sure there's always enough power to meet demand. The UK's peak demand - at around 6pm on weekdays - is currently around 45 gigawatts. This is expected to rise to about  55 gigawatts over the winter, as people spend more time indoors and use more electricity.

Big coal, gas, and nuclear power stations are responsible for meeting most of this demand. The government's  latest statistics show 30 per cent of the UK's electricity comes from gas, with 28 per cent coming from coal. Nuclear power provides about 20 per cent.

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Analysis: Who wants what from the EU 2030 climate framework

  • 17 Oct 2014, 12:45
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Number 10

Ambitious EU 2030 climate targets could be crucial to unlocking a global climate deal in Paris next year. Yet EU leaders still can't agree the details, with just days to go.

Uncertainty remains because different EU member states want different things from the 2030 policy framework, which will set the trajectory for EU climate and energy policy for the next 15 years. Some countries want three targets - to cut emissions, increase use of renewable energy and boost take up of energy efficiency. Others want an emissions target only. And a few say they will only accept targets with sweeteners.

So who wants what from the EU 2030 climate framework, and what does that mean for how ambitious it will be?

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Factcheck: Daily Express claims windfarms will add £1,000 to household bills

  • 15 Oct 2014, 16:00
  • Simon Evans and Mat Hope

Utility bill | Shutterstock

Wind farms will be responsible for adding £1,000 to household energy bills, the Daily Express's frontpage today claims.

The figure is based on a submission by campaign group the Scientific Alliance to the House of Lords Science and Technology committee. The committee is exploring different ways the UK can cut energy sector emissions while making sure the lights stay on.

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 13.58.14.png

But the alliance takes an outdated approach to calculating how many power stations the UK needs, leading it to come up with numbers that are significantly out of step with other experts.

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Owen Paterson’s objections to the Climate Change Act: some context

  • 13 Oct 2014, 15:00
  • Simon Evans and Mat Hope

Wind & coal | Shutterstock

Former environment minister Owen Paterson has been in the papers over the weekend. In an article on the front page of yesterday's Sunday Telegraph he says we won't be able to keep the UK's lights on unless we scrap the Climate Change Act. This is a law requiring the government to cut the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, which he himself voted for.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 12.45.06.png

Paterson is due to give a lecture to climate sceptic thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation on Wednesday, where he will expand on this theme. In advance of his talk we've taken a look at what he has to say.

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How much of China's carbon dioxide emissions is the rest of the world responsible for?

  • 09 Oct 2014, 15:00
  • Mat Hope

China smog | Shutterstock

China is the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, by far. The country produces more than a quarter of the planet's annual greenhouse gas emissions.

World leaders increasingly reference China's spiralling emissions as a reason why it should commit to dealing with climate change.

But is it fair to ask China to lead the way? After all, a hefty share of the pollution rising out of China's smokestacks comes from factories churning out TVs, mobile phones and cheap toys for the rest of the world.

China's emissions

In 2006, China became the  world's largest emitter, overtaking the US. By 2013, 28 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions came from China, according to data from the Global Carbon Project.

This graph shows the dramatic step change in the growth of China's carbon dioxide emissions that's taken place in the last 15 years:

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 15.09.41.png
Source: Data from the Global Carbon Project, Global Carbon Atlas. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Three charts that show how efficiency has saved a continent’s worth of energy

  • 08 Oct 2014, 15:30
  • Simon Evans

Facade windows | Shutterstock

Energy efficiency has saved more energy than is used by the EU, China or the US according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). It is an "invisible powerhouse" for the global economy, improving energy security, reducing bills and making it easier to avoid dangerous climate change, says IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven.

The IEA was singing the praises of energy efficiency a month ago but governments seem to be failing to embrace its full potential. Its latest publication takes a more optimistic view of recent progress.

So how much has efficiency achieved since the turn of the century?

Continent-scale energy saving

The most arresting comparison made by the IEA report is that efficiency efforts in the decade to 2011 saved more energy (the large light blue bar on the chart below) than a year's worth of consumption in the US, China or EU (the dark blue bars).

IEA EE Chart

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Why the European Commission approved the UK’s plans for a new nuclear plant

  • 08 Oct 2014, 12:50
  • Mat Hope

Shutterstock | Sizewell nuclear

The European Commission today gave the go-ahead for the UK government to subsidise the building of two new nuclear reactors. The decision is something of a U-turn for the commission, which outlined a range of objections to the deal late last year.

The UK government last October signed a deal with energy company EDF to build the first new nuclear power plant in the UK for 20 years, worth between £16 billion and £24.5 billion. The government agreed to pay a guaranteed price for the plant's electricity and underwrite the loans needed to get construction started.

The European Commission was called in to check the deal didn't  contravene EU laws designed to avoid governments giving unfair support to particular industries. Last December, the commission published a  long list of objections to the deal. But today it has decided the deal can go ahead after all.

So why the change of heart?

Clawing back profits

It's hard to know exactly what went on  behind the scenes over the last 10 months, but the commission claims two changes to the Hinkley deal were enough to get it to change its mind.

The commission originally said the UK government hadn't forced EDF to agree to pay enough money back if the Hinkley plant was more profitable than expected. The government agreed to tweak the agreement  earlier this month, and seems to have won the commission round.

The commission was unhappy with how the government and EDF initially agreed to split the profits from the plant once it was up and running, called a 'gain share mechanism'.

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