Analysis

Election 2015: What the manifestos say on climate and energy

  • 21 Apr 2015, 12:35
  • Simon Evans

PlusONE |   Shutterstock

Update 21/4 - We added the DUP manifesto.

Update 20/4 - We added the SNP manifesto and Labour's Green Plan.

Update 17/4 - We added the Plaid Cymru manifesto.

Update 15/4 - We added the Liberal Democrat and UKIP manifestos.

Update 14/4 - We added the Conservative and Green Party manifestos.

The UK's closest election in a generation is now three weeks away. Carbon Brief is tracking the climate and energy content of the parties' manifestos as they are launched.

Labour went first on Monday 13 April, followed a day later by the Conservatives and Greens. The Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party launched on Wednesday 15 April. Other parties followed over the following week.

In contrast to 2010, climate change has barely featured on the campaign trail so far. That's despite - or perhaps because of - the joint climate pledge from the leaders of the three largest parties. This promised to work towards a legally-binding global climate deal, to agree new UK emissions-cutting goals and to phase out unabated coal-fired power.

Carbon Brief's climate and energy tracker will be updated through the week as the manifestos come in, allowing party policies to be compared side by side. The image below is a preview of the information available if you click through to the interactive online version.

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Carbon Brief's climate and energy election grid includes key extracts from the 2015 election manifestos along with commentary and links to further information. Click the image or this link for the full interactive version.

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Is BP's shareholder resolution really an "activist victory"?

  • 20 Apr 2015, 16:00
  • Sophie Yeo

M DOGAN / Shutterstock

Climate campaigners celebrated on Thursday as 98% of shareholders backed a  resolution forcing BP to come clean about the impact that climate change will have on its operations.

BP is a company which emits about the same volume of greenhouse gases as Norway. It has advocated for a global economy-wide price on carbon, yet also  scaled back its investments in renewable energy. Thanks to the resolution, it will have to be more transparent in the future about how it plans to move towards a greener business model.

The  Financial Times described the vote as a "major victory" for activists, while transparency pressure group  CDP called it "a game changing day".

Yet the resolution, though unusual, was not controversial. BP itself backed the motion, and it received the overwhelming support of shareholders across the board. A similar motion, backed by Shell, will be put to vote at their AGM on 19 May.

Carbon Brief looks at whether the resolution could change BP's approach to climate change for the better.

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Expert views: What the general election means for UK climate and energy policy

  • 17 Apr 2015, 15:15
  • Simon Evans

Update 21/4 - We added the views of Tim Rotheray.

Update 20/4 - We added the views of Professor Paul Ekins.

In three weeks, the UK will go to the polls in one of the closest-fought and least predictable elections in a generation. Carbon Brief has already pored over the political parties' manifesto views on climate and energy.

But the likelihood of a multi-party coalition makes extrapolating pre-election commitments into future government action a real challenge. Carbon Brief asked a range of experts for their views on the May 7 poll's implications, in particular:

  • What are the key climate and energy dividing lines for the election?

  • How do you see potential election outcomes affecting climate and energy policy, post-election and in the run-up to Paris?

Here's what they had to say:

Jim Watson, research director of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) and professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex Science and Technology Policy Research Centre (SPRU):

"The large uncertainty about the outcome of the election, particularly the different coalitions that may emerge, makes it hard to predict what the next government's policy will look like. An important lesson of the 2010 election is that strong manifesto commitments by some parties could be traded off in post-election negotiations if the result is close.

"However, given the recent joint statement by Miliband, Cameron and Clegg, a strong commitment to continued emissions reductions is likely. There is much more uncertainty about specifics. If the Conservatives lead the next government, there would be more pressure to reduce funding for some low carbon technologies - including cost effective options like onshore wind. If a Labour-led government sees its plans through, this would mean significant regulatory upheaval - and a reinforcement of the more interventionist policies we have seen in the past few years."

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Climate showdown: Has the US, UK or Germany done more to cut emissions?

  • 10 Apr 2015, 16:10
  • Simon Evans

The UK and Germany like to think of themselves as climate leaders. But how does their progress in cutting carbon stack up against the US, which has famously failed to pass climate laws?

Over the past two weeks the results came in, with each country publishing carbon dioxide emissions figures for 2014. Carbon Brief slices up the data to find out who's winning the climate showdown.

Climate rule

In the UK, government ministers like to boast about the nation's progress. Carbon emissions were down 9.7% in 2014, a record fall for a growing UK economy. The UK must be doing something right because other countries are modelling their efforts on the UK's legally binding Climate Change Act, which the UK's three main political leaders recently promised to uphold.

The US, by contrast, has tried and failed many times to pass climate legislation. That's why the Obama administration is trying to use and extend existing laws to force through emissions-cutting regulation. Despite this modest record on climate rules, it's common to hear it claimed that the US is leading the way on cutting emissions because of shale gas.

Meanwhile, Germany's Energiewende, its generational push away from nuclear towards an energy-efficient and largely renewable economy, is frequently either lauded or derided in UK media as an example of how (or how not) to decarbonise.

Emissions records

The UK, US and Germany all published official carbon dioxide emissions estimates for 2014 at the end of March.

Carbon Brief already took a detailed look at the UK data, which showed a 9.7% drop in carbon emissions compared to 2013. The US data shows 2014 carbon emissions increased by 1% compared to a year earlier, while Germany's fell by 4.8%.

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Five ways the UK's electricity grid is changing

  • 10 Apr 2015, 08:20
  • Simon Evans

The rapid increase in UK solar power capacity will help the electricity grid to experience record lows in peak demand this summer, the National Grid says.

Its 2015 summer outlook report, published yesterday, describes the changes and challenges that can be expected for gas and electricity networks this year. Its sister publication, the winter outlook, tends to attract more headlines.

But the latest report is full of fascinating insights into how the UK's relationship with electricity is changing as part of efforts to tackle climate change. Here are five things we learned from the summer outlook.

The solar surge is driving demand off grid

National Grid says the UK's embedded solar power capacity has almost doubled in the past 12 months, from 2.4 gigawatts in February 2014 to 4.4 gigawatts a year later. The solar surge has been driven by falling module prices and a rush to install solar farms before a change to subsidy rules kicked in earlier this month.

Embedded solar capacity is not connected to the national electricity transmission grid. The amount of electricity this capacity supplies is not measured directly by National Grid, but it shows up indirectly as reduced demand.

This demand-reduction effect is growing as solar capacity expands (orange areas, below). The impact is greatest around midday in the summer months, when solar electricity output (yellow areas) approaches installed capacity.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 At 16.10.55

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More coal plants are being cancelled than built

  • 16 Mar 2015, 13:00
  • Sophie Yeo

Coal trucks | Shutterstock

The global coal boom has started to slow, a new  report says, as more plans for new power plants are now being shelved than completed.

The number of cancelled coal projects across the world has outstripped those completed at a rate of two to one since 2010, according to Sierra Club and CoalSwarm - two campaign groups that have tracked the progress of 3,900 intended plants since 1 January 2010.

The findings update a 2012 report by the World Resources Institute, which estimated that 1,199 new coal-fired power plants, with a total capacity of 1,401 gigawatts, were in the pipeline for construction.

New figures suggest that, by 2014, this had shrunk by 23% to a proposed 1,083 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity.

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Comparison of 2012 WRI figures and 2014 Global Coal Plant Tracker. Source: Boom and Bust: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline

The report puts this down to citizen opposition, competition from renewables, new policy initiatives and political scandals putting a freeze on the highly polluting projects.

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Five charts showing the EU's surprising progress on renewable energy

  • 11 Mar 2015, 13:06
  • Simon Evans

Renewables provided 15% of the EU's energy in 2013, according to new data published yesterday by Eurostat, the EU's official statistical body.

The figures show the EU is on track to meet its 20% renewables target in 2020. Transport and heat are lagging behind progress in electricity, where wind and solar remain relatively small contributors. The figures also show that the UK is further behind its 2020 renewable energy target than all other member states.

Carbon Brief breaks down the figures to show how the EU is progressing towards its 2020 target, which sectors are going green and where it's getting renewable energy from.

Member state performance

Under the headline 20% by 2020 EU renewables target, each member state has its own goal. These were set in early 2008 and reflected progress at the time and capacity to add further renewable energy by 2020. The sum of national targets adds up to the overall 20% goal.

Progress varies widely among the 28 member states. For instance, Sweden, which got 39% of its energy from renewables in 2004, has a 49% target for 2020. It has already exceeded this target by 3% (far left column, below).

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Member states' gaps between their renewable energy shares in 2013 and their targets for 2020. Sweden (SE) has exceeded its target. The UK is furthest behind, closely followed by the Netherlands (NE). Source: Eurostat. Chart by Carbon Brief.

The UK is near the bottom of the pile, with a 5.1% renewable share in 2013 up from 1.2% a decade earlier. Only the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Malta get a lower share of their energy from renewables than the UK.

The UK is further behind its 2020 target than any other member state, remaining 10% short of  its 15% goal for 2020 (far right column, above). Renewable energy's share of the energy mix has grown more quickly in the UK than in most other member states, however.

In the decade to 2013, the UK renewable share quadrupled, a feat matched only by Belgium, Luxembourg and Malta. The German renewable share doubled over the same period.

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The Carbon Brief Interview: Ed Davey

  • 05 Mar 2015, 06:00
  • Leo Hickman

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston and Surbiton, has been the UK's longest-serving secretary of state for energy and climate change since taking office in February 2012. The Liberal Democrats have been in coalition with the Conservative party since the last general election in 2010.

Here, Davey discusses a wide range of issues: his vision for a zero-carbon Britain by 2050; why the Treasury's economic modelling assumptions are "rubbish"; why some Conservatives are "crazy" about fracking; why the proposed Hinkley C nuclear plant would be value for money; why the world needs to get off fossil fuels within "30-40 years"; why maximising North Sea oil doesn't contradict low-carbon objectives; what form of energy he'd invest his own money in; and why energy bills would have been higher if a Conservative had been in charge of his department since 2010 instead of a Liberal Democrat...

CB: This week, you've been setting out the "Green Magna Carta" and the Lib Dems have pledged for the UK to be zero-carbon by 2050. What does that mean exactly and how do you intend we get there? And how are we going to pay for that?

ED: The Green Magna Carta is going to be on the frontpage of the Lib Dem manifesto. It's basically five green bills and I had that idea because I wanted to make sure that we could build on the success that we've had here in energy and climate change, in our department, but also fill in the gaps in other departments, DCLG [Department for Communities and Local Government], DEFRA [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and others, to really take forward the environment and climate change agenda, very strongly in the first half of the next Parliament, with a big legislative agenda. So, we've got the green transport bill, the zero waste bill, the green homes bill, a nature bill and a zero-carbon Britain bill. The zero-carbon Britain is about raising our ambition.


View on YouTube

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UK renewables auction pushes down costs

  • 27 Feb 2015, 08:10
  • Simon Evans

Windfarm | Shutterstock

Contracts worth £315 million have been awarded to 27 renewable energy projects with a combined capacity of 2.1 gigawatts, the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced on Thursday.

The "strike prices" awarded to the schemes in the first-ever Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction were well below those expected. The strike price is the price paid for each unit of electricity supplied by the schemes, guaranteed for 15 years.

Carbon Brief's number crunching shows the government could have supported double the capacity if only the cheapest renewables such as onshore wind had been supported. It also shows that offshore wind projects awarded contracts last year could have been £2.2 billion cheaper, if they had been given the same support as offshore schemes contracted this year.

Most of the projects are windfarms

The majority of the 27 schemes are windfarms, including 15 onshore and two offshore schemes (the blue and green chunks below). The remaining contracts went to five solar farms (yellow) and five schemes that will burn or gasify waste to generate energy (black and grey).

Source: Department for Energy and Climate Change. Chart by Carbon Brief.

The total cost of the schemes is expected to be £315 million between now and the 2020-21 financial year. The schemes will cost around £4 billion over the full 15-year lifetime of the contracts, according to DECC figures quoted by the Financial Times.

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How the EU's evolving Energy Union reveals underlying politics

  • 25 Feb 2015, 16:15
  • Simon Evans

EU flags | Shutterstock

Europe's energy system needs to be fundamentally transformed, shifting away from reliance on fossil fuels, according to the European Commission's proposals for an energy union.

A framework strategy for the energy union, published today, explains how the commission plans to achieve this transformation. The strategy attempts to create a coherent vision by synthesising all existing EU policies on climate and energy with a number of new initiatives.

Reactions so far suggest this synthesis has only been partially successful. Legal NGO ClientEarth says the strategy lacks clear rules on how EU targets will be met. Thinktank E3G says the strategy is "good on vision, but deeply confused on delivery priorities". NGO Greenpeace says the plan is "contradictory" and lacks coherence, while WWF says it has "blind spots".

Carbon Brief explains where the idea of an energy union came from and shows how the strategy text has evolved through several drafts, revealing evidence of the differing political priorities that have challenged creation of a clear and coherent strategy.

It's important to note that the commission proposal will be discussed by member state governments at meetings in March, April and June. They could propose further changes.

Moving on from Tusk's energy security union

The idea of an energy union was first proposed by European Council president and former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk in an April 2014 article for the Financial Times. Tusk's proposal emphasised energy security above all.

It called for region-wide purchasing of gas, linking and strengthening the EU's electricity transmission systems, and making "full use" of EU fossil fuel reserves, including coal and shale gas.

Earlier this month, Carbon Brief produced a detailed energy union briefing based on a leaked draft strategy dated 30 January. The briefing explained how Tusk's proposal had been transformed into a more holistic strategy with five "dimensions": integrated energy markets, a new deal for energy consumers, energy efficiency, decarbonising the economy and research.

Since then, a second draft was widely leaked, including to Carbon Brief. This draft shifted emphasis in a number of key areas while the final version moves things on again. So, how has the energy union evolved in recent weeks?

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