Analysis

UK meets interim renewable energy target, says DECC report

  • 25 Jun 2015, 11:40
  • Simon Evans
Department for Energy and Climate Change

Carbon Brief

Contrary to recent press reports, the UK met its interim renewable energy target for 2013/14, according to a report issued earlier this morning.

The news came as ministers for the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)  defended their approach in parliament, fending off questions about the decision to end support for onshore wind early despite it being the cheapest form of renewable power.

The UK remains well short of its target under the EU Renewable Energy Directive. The UK must source 15% of its energy for heat, transport and power from renewable sources by 2020. As of 2013, the UK was  further behind its 2020 goal than any other EU member state.

Renewable progress

Last week, the Guardian  reported on progress towards the EU 2020 renewables goals under the headline, "UK misses interim renewable energy target". The headline was later amended.  ENDS Report also said the UK had missed its target.  Business Green and other publications said a European Commission report found the UK was at risk of missing its 2020 goal.

Today, a new  update from DECC says the UK actually surpassed its interim target for 2013/14. Renewables supplied 7.0% of UK energy needs in 2014, it says, up from the previously reported figure for 2013 of 5.1%. That means the UK got 6.3% of its energy from renewables averaged over 2013/14, easily passing its interim goal of 5.4%.

Renewable -energy -directiveShare of UK energy for heat, transport and power supplied by renewables. Source:  DECC

The fastest growth in 2014 was in renewable electricity, which was up 11,377 gigawatt hours (GWh) (21%) on 2013's output to 64,654GWh, according to DECC figures.  Renewables generated nearly a fifth of all UK electricity needs in 2014.

Biomass power was the largest contributor to the increase in 2014, as the Drax plant in Yorkshire converted additional units from coal to wood pellets. Drax says this conversion generates large greenhouse gas benefits. A DECC-funded research project is  investigating claims that biomass could be worse for the climate than coal.

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IEA: China has greatest potential to raise climate ambition

  • 17 Jun 2015, 15:30
  • Simon Evans
Yanjinhe Arch Bridge

Yanjinhe Arch Bridge | Wikimedia

The world is not on track to avoid dangerous climate change and China has the greatest potential to close the gap in climate ambition, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In a special report on energy and climate change the IEA has added up the combined impact of current climate pledges and other likely policies, including China's hotly anticipated  contribution for the post-2020 period.

Dr Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, says in an interview with Carbon Brief that these pledges are far from what would be needed to limit warming to below 2C. We've taken a look at which countries would make the biggest contribution to bridging the gap towards 2C, under the IEA's cost-neutral bridge scenario.

Climate ambition gap

The climate ambition gap is widely recognised. Last week, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres  told Carbon Brief it was "completely clear" that current pledges would be insufficient to avoid 2C of warming above pre-industrial temperatures over the course of the century - the internationally  agreed climate target.

The IEA's new assessment suggests they would instead put the world on track for 2.6C by 2100 and 3.5C after 2200. Their long-term impact may be "rather small", says Birol, but that's largely because they extend at most 15 years out to 2030.

The pledges collectively bend the world's emissions trajectory (blue line, below) away from business as usual emissions (green line) by 6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2). Even in the short term, however, the gap between the pledges and what would be needed for 2C (yellow line) grows rapidly, reaching 9GtCO2 in 2030.

Emissions -paths -to -2030Emissions growth under the IEA's 'current policies' scenario, corresponding to business as usual (BAU), compared to the path with current climate pledges, the IEA's bridge scenario and a scenario consistent with 2C. Source: IEA special report on climate and energyIEA World Energy Outlook 2014. Chart by Carbon Brief.

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In-depth: Is the 1.5C global warming goal politically possible?

  • 15 Jun 2015, 14:30
  • Sophie Yeo
Aerial view of Penrhyn atoll in the Cook Islands

Penrhyn, Cook Islands | Ewan Smith

For the past five years, international climate change negotiations have been guided by the  principle that the rise in global average temperatures should be limited to "below 2C above pre-industrial levels".

Is this goal adequate? Probably not, according to a report conducted by the UN and launched at the climate change negotiations in Bonn.

Containing the views of 70 scientists gathered together in a process called the "  structured expert dialogue", the report warns that even current levels of global warming - around 0.85C - are already intolerable in some parts of the world. It says: 

"Some experts warned that current levels of warming are already causing impacts beyond the current adaptive capacity of many people, and that there would be significant residual impacts even with 1.5C of warming (e.g. for sub-Saharan farmers), emphasising that reducing the limit to 1.5C would be nonetheless preferable."

This report provides the evidence base for discussions at UN level over whether the world is being ambitious enough on long-term action to tackle climate change.

Climate talks in Bonn

While the message of the report is clear, it does not close the current chasm between climate science and policy.

At UN climate negotiations  in Bonn last week, the report and its findings were subject to intense scrutiny and discussion by diplomats from around the world.

It is these policymakers - not the scientists - who get the final say on whether the findings become the new basis for future political decisions, embedded in a new international climate deal set to be signed at the end of this year in Paris.

The views of diplomats around the world differ widely on how the findings of the report should be incorporated.

At the most hopeful end of the scale, countries want to include an official decision that "there is a need to strengthen the global goal on the basis of limiting warming to below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels".

A minority would rather ignore the report - the product of two years' work - altogether.

In any case, two weeks of discussions ended in an outcome that most had hoped to avoid: just two short sentences acknowledging that a report had been written, and that countries would continue to discuss it when they meet again in Paris.

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10 charts showing why carbon emissions stalled last year

  • 10 Jun 2015, 16:45
  • Simon Evans
Solar energy panels and wind turbines

Solar and wind power | Shutterstock

Strong growth in solar and wind was accompanied by stalling growth in fossil fuels use and energy-related emissions last year, the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015 shows.

Solar continues to exceed expectations, with output expanding by 38% during 2014. Wind also grew in double digits, though its 10% growth rate was down on the 24% average rate seen in the previous decade. Coal demand growth slumped from 3.6% over the decade to just 0.4% last year. Oil and gas also grew by less than 1%, far below historical averages - in line with predictions from the International Energy Agency.

Shifts in China's model of economic growth once again dominated the global energy story. It accounted for three-quarters of the increase in renewable electricity generation, while its coal use and emissions stalled.

Carbon Brief has produced ten charts using BP review data, showing why these shifts in energy use helped global energy-related carbon emissions stall in 2014.

Emissions and coal

The BP data confirms that previous growth in carbon dioxide emissions stalled in 2014, in line with early indications first  reported by the Financial Times in March. What's even more remarkable is that the global economy performed strongly last year, growing by 3.2%.

This suggests GDP and emissions could be decoupling. Indeed, the 2014 figure appears to be part of a trend towards slower emissions growth that has followed the post-recession bounce in 2010 (blue bars, below left).

Previous pauses or reductions in global emissions have been associated with seismic events that caused a weak economy (red line, below left), for instance the financial crisis in 2008/9 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Graph 1

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G7 leaders target zero-carbon economy

  • 08 Jun 2015, 17:00
  • Simon Evans & Sophie Yeo

Global climate talks received a symbolic boost today, as the G7 group of rich nations threw their weight behind a long-term goal of decarbonising the global economy over the course of this century.

The  joint communique from the leaders of Japan, Germany, the US, UK, Canada, Italy and France reaffirms their commitment to the internationally agreed  target of limiting warming to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels. It also reiterates their commitment to deep cuts in emissions by 2050.

Today's declaration goes a step further, however, backing a long-term goal of cutting global greenhouse gas emissions at the "upper end" of 40-70% below 2010 levels by 2050 and decarbonising completely "over the course of this century".

These milestones are broadly in line with  the path to avoiding more than 2C of warming, set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year. The IPCC said this would require "near zero emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases by the end of the century".

The 40-70% reduction on 2010 levels by 2050 is the range for 2C set out by research organisation Climate Analytics  earlier this year. It also just about reaches the 70-95% range of emissions reduction by 2050 that would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5C. A review of whether to adopt this tougher temperature target is expected to conclude at UN climate talks in Bonn this week.

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Coal in the G7: Who's burning what?

  • 06 Jun 2015, 00:01
  • Sophie Yeo
Flags of G7 countries and global map

G7 countries | Shutterstock

Tomorrow, leaders of the world's seven largest economies will meet in Germany to discuss what they view to be the most important issues facing the world today.

High on their  agenda will be climate change. With a new UN deal to curb emissions expected to be signed in December, it is already an issue that is uppermost in their minds, and all but Japan have formally submitted pledges to cut their greenhouse gases after 2020.

But while warm words about new actions are likely to abound, a new report from Oxfam, Let Them Eat Coal, has pointed out that all seven countries remain bound to coal - one of the most polluting fossil fuels.

According to the report, coal-fired power plants in the G7 countries are responsible for more than twice the total emissions of the 54 countries of Africa, and ten times more than the 48 least developed countries of the world.

Using modelling by Berlin-based researchers at Climate Analytics, which assumes all governments implement their existing policies, the report says that emissions from G7 coal plants will cause $84bn per year in climate-related costs in Africa by the end of the century, based on the expected the costs resulting from adaptation and damage.

This is more than three times the $24bn the G7 delivered in bilateral aid to Africa in 2013.

Globally, the report says that G7 coal emissions will cost $450bn per year by the end of the century.

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Analysis: DECC budget details show limited scope for cuts

  • 03 Jun 2015, 14:20
  • Simon Evans
Department for Energy and Climate Change

Carbon Brief

Update 4 June: Chancellor George Osborne has announced £3.1bn of in-year departmental budget cuts, including a £70m cut for DECC.  The Carbon Brief analysis below shows even this relatively small 2% cut to DECC's budget will pose a challenge to the department.

The limited scope for spending cuts at the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has been laid bare, in details released to Carbon Brief under freedom of information rules.

With the Conservative government promising to shave £13bn from public spending over two years, while shielding the likes of health, pensions and education, the spotlight will be on unprotected departments. DECC will be one of the biggest casualties, according to the  Independent.

Last month, Carbon Brief published analysis of DECC spending, showing how it managed its £3.4bn ' departmental expenditure limit' in 2013/14. This is the budget set by government and within the direct control of ministers.

Our analysis found that £2.2bn (65%) of spending was devoted to managing the UK's civil and military nuclear waste and decommissioning legacy. Cleaning up after the UK's past military nuclear research accounts for around a quarter of these nuclear liabilities.

However, the £1.1bn (34%) of DECC's spending devoted to core departmental priorities was only broken down in a very limited way, under five budget lines:

  • "Save energy with the Green Deal and support vulnerable consumers".
  • "Deliver secure energy on the way to a low carbon energy future".
  • "Drive ambitious action on climate change at home and abroad".
  • "Manage our energy legacy responsibly and cost-effectively".
  • "Deliver the capability DECC needs to achieve its goals".

The department has now released a more detailed breakdown of its 2013/14 spending under each of these five headings, following a  Freedom of Information Act request by Carbon Brief. The charts below show how this spending was allocated, and a brief discussion of each area follows.

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Analysis: Climate change 'Apollo Programme' raises both hope and questions

  • 02 Jun 2015, 07:30
  • Simon Evans

If only clean energy was less costly than coal, oil or gas, then global energy use could rapidly become zero-carbon and fossil fuels would be left underground.

To get there, the world needs a major publicly-funded research initiative, on a similar scale to the 1960s US Apollo programme, which, in today's money, cost around $15 billion a year over the course of a decade. Spending the equivalent - around 0.02% of global GDP - to develop renewables, smart grids and energy storage could make zero-carbon baseload electricity cheaper than coal within 10 years.

That's the idea behind the Global Apollo Programme to Combat Climate Change, launched today by the London School of Economics. Heavyweight supporters include: Sir David Attenborough; Sir David King, UK special representative on climate change and former UK chief scientist; Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and former president of the Royal Society; Lord John Browne, former head of BP; and Lord Gus O'Donnell, former head of the UK civil service.

The story is the front page splash for The Independent, under the headline "Radical plan to put coal out of business". The Financial Times says "$150 billion need to save the world from climate change". The Guardian and BBC News also have the story.

Carbon Brief looks at the outline of the plan and the multiple questions it raises, including whether it will be enough to put the world's existing fleet of fossil-fuel power stations "out of business".

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Climate benefits of a natural gas bridge 'unlikely to be significant'

  • 29 May 2015, 13:30
  • Simon Evans
Industrial pipe bridge

Industrial pipe bridge | Shutterstock

Natural gas can only be a worthwhile bridge to a low carbon future if a series of tough conditions are met, according to a  working paper from the influential New Climate Economy initiative.

The paper says the climate benefits of gas, including shale gas, could in theory be significant. It suggests a 10% increase in global gas supplies could prevent 500 gigawatts (GW) of new coal capacity being added by 2035, avoiding 1.3 billion tonnes of annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

But it warns that any theoretical benefits could easily be wiped out without controls on methane leakage, limits on total energy use and targets to ensure low-carbon energy sources are not displaced.

Replacing coal

The North American shale gas revolution has helped  drive down emissions from US electricity supplies. The US shift from coal- to gas-fired power stations has been driven,  though perhaps only in part, by market forces because fracking has made US gas cheaper.

The US example is often cited as evidence that gas can act as a lower-carbon bridge to a low-carbon future. Gas advocates argue it could help the world avoid new coal-fired power stations and close down old ones, halving carbon emissions per unit of electricity in the process.

For instance in a  recent interview with Energy Post, Jérôme Ferrier, president of the International Gas Union says that gas, the "cleanest fossil fuel", can play a key role in limiting global warming. He says that the great challenge for the world is to move from coal to gas.

The new working paper, jointly authored by the New Climate Economy initiative and the Stockholm Environment Institute, questions the premise of the gas bridge.

First, it shows how emissions from relatively efficient "super-critical" coal plants can be halved with a switch to gas supplied through pipelines. In climate terms, this is the best-case scenario for added gas use, with each 1GW coal plant replaced by gas saving nearly 3 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

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Opposition to fracking increases again, finds Sunday Times poll

  • 18 May 2015, 17:00
  • Simon Evans

The British public is becoming increasingly opposed to fracking for shale gas, a series of polls for the Sunday Times show. However, as with some  previous polling on energy and climate issues commissioned by the paper, it has not reported the findings.

Support for shale gas extraction has fallen to its lowest level since the series began, falling below one third of respondents for the first time. Opposition has reached its highest level.

The latest survey also finds majority support for allowing or encouraging onshore windfarms and a strong majority in favour of the government either maintaining or scaling up its action on climate change.

Carbon Brief has the numbers, which should provide interesting reading for the  new Conservative government, given its  support for fracking and opposition to subsidised onshore wind.

 

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