Degrees of change: the IPCC’s projections for future temperature rise

  • 15 Apr 2014, 12:00
  • Robin Webster

Many governments are trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But unless policymakers raise their ambition significantly, temperatures are likely to rise beyond safe levels. We examine the pathways that could take us towards a two degrees temperature rise by the end of the century - or considerably higher. 

On Sunday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the last in a series of three reports, which together assess the physical evidence that climate change is happening, the  expected impacts over the course of this century and what would need to happen to curb the rise in greenhouse gases.

Embedded in the reports are the scientists' predictions for how high temperatures are likely to rise this century - and what that's likely to mean for ecosystems and societies around the world. 

Comparing scenarios 

The IPCC bases its projections for future temperature rise on two different techniques. 

First, the IPCC has created its own storylines, or scenarios, describing how high temperatures are likely to rise in the future and what that might mean. The scenarios vary according to different predictions for how societies develop and how much effort we make to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the course of this century.

Read more

Excitement over ‘clean’ underground coal gasification masks technical reality

  • 15 Apr 2014, 10:50
  • Mat Hope

Credit: US Department of Energy

Coal is cheap, abundant, and responsible for about 40 per cent of the world's electricity generation. That's a problem, because it also has some of the highest greenhouse gas emissions of any energy source. It's no wonder that a technology that could allow the world to continue burning coal - but cleanly - is being met with some excitement, then.

Writing in the  Telegraph at the end of last year, Algy Cluff, chief executive of energy company Cluff Natural Resources, said 'underground coal gasification' could "provide a vital energy solution and produce abundant and cheap gas for generations". The technology briefly put its head above the parapet again today, as the  BBC asked whether it be "the clean energy of the future".

The prospect has certainly piqued the government's interest, with energy minister Michael Fallon  establishing a working group to explore its feasibility.

But is it too good to be true? We explore underground coal gasification's prospects and try to separate the theory from the reality.

What is underground coal gasification?

Underground coal gasification (UCG) involves drilling down into coal - normally deep underground - then igniting it. The resulting gas then runs up another borehole and is collected on the surface, as the diagram below shows:


underground coal gasification diagram

Once the gas is collected, companies can use it to run power stations, or convert it into transport fuel. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology can be added, reducing the process' emissions, and making it relatively 'clean'.

As such, the government now sees the "exciting potential" of UCG as means to generate abundant, domestically-sourced, ostensibly fairly low carbon power in the UK, the Telegraph  reported.

So, what are UCG's prospects in the UK?

Read more

Not just another climate report: main messages from the UN report on tackling emissions

  • 13 Apr 2014, 14:15
  • Robin Webster

If we're going to curb the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, the world's governments need to co-operate - and they're running out of time to do it. That's one of the top-line messages from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s latest mega-report into current and future greenhouse gas emissions. 

Today's report is the last in a series of three from the IPCC. The first two summarised the physical evidence base for climate change and its potential  impacts on ecosystems and human societies. Now the organisation is looking at what's likely to happen to greenhouse gas emissions over the course of this century - and what possibilities there are for reversing the upwards trend. 

The full report runs to thousands of pages, providing an overview of all the research in the area. In order to complete it, the scientists assessed more than 1200 scenarios for how the future might unfold from different studies. The report's  summary is slightly more digestible, at just 33 pages. Here's our run-down of its key points. 

Emissions rising

Between 2000 and 2010, greenhouse gas emissions grew at 2.2 per cent a year -  a faster rate of increase than over the previous three decades. Human-caused emissions were "the highest in human history" in the first decade of this century, the IPCC says. 

Read more

Stormy weather leads to record levels of renewable electricity

  • 27 Mar 2014, 11:30
  • Mat Hope

Vincent van Zeijst

Stormy weather pushed the UK's renewable electricity generation to to record levels at the end of 2013, according to official statistics. However, fossil fuels still made up the largest proportion of the UK's energy mix.

Renewables generated almost 18 per cent of the UK's electricity in the last three months of 2013, with high wind speeds ramping up wind generation.

The figure comes from Department of Energy and Climate Change's monthly energy statistics, which track energy production and consumption between November 2013  and January this year.

Electricity mix by fuel

Electricity generation fell by 3.4 per cent on a year before, the statistics show.

Renewables' share of the overall mix increased to around 18 per cent. Meanwhile the proportion of fossil fuels used to generate electricity decreased slightly, to 61 per cent. Coal power continued to have the highest share: to 36 per cent.

UK electricity mix nov to jan14


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

Budget 2014: Five key climate and energy numbers

  • 20 Mar 2014, 13:50
  • Mat Hope

Chancellor George Osborne delivered his fifth budget yesterday. It seems the chancellor has been taking notes from his party leader, with a number of measures squarely aimed at  cutting the "green crap".

We've picked out the five most important energy and climate change numbers.

Budget 2014, CPF

Osborne announced the UK's top-up carbon tax - the  carbon price floor - will be frozen after 2016. The government only introduced the measure last year, and the price was intended to rise every 12 months - hitting £30 by 2020. That's now not going to happen, and the chancellor said the government would review the policy altogether in 2020.

Environmental campaigners and commentators said yesterday's decision gave a lifeline to the UK's coal plants as it makes it cheaper for them to pollute.

Budget 2014 climate and energy infographic

Read more

Heatproofing London: Climate change raises city heat death risk, but adaptation can cut the impact

  • 20 Mar 2014, 12:30
  • Ros Donald

Heatwaves have an amplified impact in cities, causing disproportionate discomfort, health risks and mortality rates - an effect that's expected to worsen as temperatures rise, according to new research. But the scientists also find taking measures to adapt cities to higher temperatures can reduce heat-related deaths by between 32 and 69 per cent.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s projections of future climate change suggest it's likely heatwaves may become longer and/or more frequent by the end of the century. That's expected to make baking city summers even more unbearable.

Relatively little research has been done to find out how effective attempts to adapt to hotter temperatures will be.

In the new study, researchers from a group of UK universities set out to give a risk assessment of how higher temperatures will affect city-dwellers - examining projections of urban temperatures into the future, as well as predictions of how populations will change.

Read more

Budget 2014: Key climate and energy announcements

  • 19 Mar 2014, 13:37
  • Mat Hope


Chancellor George Osborne today delivered his fifth budget. Among a few pre-election treats for voters were some important changes to the government's energy and climate policies - few of them good news for the UK's low carbon credentials.

Here's a summary of the key announcements:

Carbon price floor frozen

The chancellor was widely expected to freeze the UK's top up carbon tax - the  carbon price floor - at 2014 levels, and he did just that.

The carbon price floor will be frozen at £18 per tonne of carbon dioxide until the end of the decade, instead of rising to around £30, Osborne said. He hopes that will cut the costs of energy for industry, and help the UK's manufacturing industry.

Campaigners and industry alike criticised the policy when it was introduced in 2013. But as Osborne's announcement drew closer, many environmental groups and industry representatives seemed to change their tune.

The economic impact of the change remains to be seen, with green groups claiming it could give a  lifeline to old coal plants that would otherwise be forced to close. Perhaps more significantly, scrapping the plan just a year after it was introduced sent a message to voters and the rest of the world that the government was  no longer fully committed to combatting climate change, they argue.

More compensation for polluting industries

In the run up to the budget, business and energy minister Michael Fallon called for  further compensation for energy intensive industries he claims are being hit by the government's green levies. The chancellor duly obliged.

Osborne announced a compensation package worth £3 billion to some of the UK"s most polluting companies. Energy intensive industries will not have to pay the costs of two policies desinged to support renewable energy generation, the renewables obligation or feed-in tariffs, he said.

Read more

Budget 2014: Why freezing the carbon price floor is a symbolic blow to UK's climate commitment

  • 18 Mar 2014, 15:25
  • Mat Hope

Sometimes, the Chancellor must feel like he just can't win. When he introduced the UK's top-up carbon tax - the carbon price floor - environmentalists called it costly and ineffective. Now that he's announced it's going to be frozen, the same groups are accusing him of abandoning the UK's climate change agenda.

Derided policy

The carbon price floor is a top-up tax: it exists to bolster the existing EU price of carbon.

Energy companies already pay to pollute under the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS), buying permits to emit greenhouse gases when they generate electricity. But the price of the permits crashed to a  record low last year, meaning there's much less of a financial incentive for companies to cut their emissions.

The carbon price floor is meant to solve this by putting a minimum price on how much power generators in the UK pay to pollute. If the ETS price drops below this level, companies pay the difference to the UK Treasury. The carbon price floor was set to increase each year, from around £16 per tonne of carbon dioxide in 2013, to around £70 by 2030.

Carbon price Mar14The EU carbon price, March 2014

This may sound like a neat way to get polluters to pay for their emissions, but the policy was generally derided when it was introduced.

Left-leaning thinktank, IPPR, said the scheme was socially  regressive, and risked hitting the poor the hardest. Meanwhile Greenpeace's deputy political director, Joss Garman, described the policy as "precisely the sort of measure that  destroys public confidence in environmental policies".

Read more

The carbon price floor: disliked, divisive and about to be frozen

  • 17 Mar 2014, 12:45
  • Robin Webster

Source: Arnold Paul

A controversial government measure aimed at increasing the price of fossil fuels looks likely to be frozen in this week's budget, in a move the Telegraph says will " reignite the row over green taxes". But unusually for low carbon legislation, the carbon price floor (CPF) is unpopular with green campaigners, while attracting support from some in the energy industry. What is it, and why is it earmarked to be chopped? 

Designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, the CPF first appeared in George Osborne's budget speech in March 2011. The chancellor announced the government's intention to increase certainty for investors in low-carbon generation by putting a minimum price on the greenhouse gases emitted by the power sector. 

It sounds like it should have been good news for supporters of low-carbon energy. But the CPF wasn't popular. Last year, left-leaning  thinktank IPPR and  manufacturing industry group EEF both called for it to be scrapped. Even  Greenpeace says it is costly and ineffective. 

But as the possibility of the CPF being reformed has come closer, the renewables industry has expressed  support for the measure - and worries about what happens if it's curbed. 

Read more