Analysis

New US poll shows gap between scientists, the public, and politicians on climate change

  • 30 Jan 2015, 12:30
  • Mat Hope

Crowd outside Congress | Shutterstock

The US Congress  set up a showdown with the Barack Obama yesterday over the approval of the  controversial Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Most members of Congress argue it's necessary for the country's energy security. The president is concerned about the impact that extracting, transporting, and burning the oil could have on climate change.

New polling data shows the vast majority of the US's scientists and growing numbers of the public share the president's concern about how human activity may impact climate change. It suggests that the views of politicians are increasingly at odds with the country's climate scientists.

Causes of climate change

Growing numbers of US adults attribute climate change to human activities, new data from the  Pew Research Centre shows. But there's a big discrepancy between the public, politicians, and scientists' views on climate change.

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Sources: Public and scientists,  Pew Research Centre. Congress, the  Centre for American Progress. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Coal returns as most-used fuel for electricity generation, new government statistics show

  • 29 Jan 2015, 12:00
  • Mat Hope

Spinning turbines | Shutterstock

After being briefly displaced by gas, coal returned to its place as the UK's most used fuel for electricity generation towards the end of 2014, new government statistics show.

At the same time, low-carbon electricity generation fell slightly as two nuclear power reactors were unexpectedly taken offline and wind speeds slowed.

The data shows the UK's continued reliance on the most carbon-intensive fuel source for its power, and the energy system's sensitivity to international fuel-price volatility.

Carbon Brief goes through the Department of Energy and Climate Change's latest  energy trends statistics, which provides data up to the end of November 2014. 

Coal use increases

Gas was the most used fuel for electricity generation during the third quarter of 2014, bucking a long-term trend. But, in November, coal generation overtook gas generation for the first time in five months.

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Source:  DECC energy trends, UK electricity supply

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In depth: Infrastructure bill amendments on fracking, fossil fuels, and zero carbon homes

  • 27 Jan 2015, 12:15
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Docklandsboy

  • MPs vote to increase restrictions on fracking.
  • Conservatives and Labour claim credit for creating a positive investment environment for UK shale gas industry.
  • Government agrees to obligation to outline how fracking fits within the UK's climate targets.
  • Industry react positively to amendments. Environmental groups fear changes are superficial.
  • Opposition fails to remove a clause obligating the UK to "maximise" oil and gas extraction.
  • Infrastructure bill leaves House of Commons with watered-down proposal for building new zero-carbon homes.

MPs yesterday voted to increase restrictions on fracking while continuing to try and maximise exploitation of the UK's oil and gas reserves. They also voted to water down a commitment to provide zero-carbon homes.

All three items were contained in the mammoth  infrastructure bill. The energy and climate provisions were the focus of what has become an increasingly partisan fight to dictate the future direction of the UK's energy and climate policy.

Fracking

The most high-profile amendments to the bill were around the issue of whether the UK should go "all out" for shale gas. After several hours of debating, amendments were included to increase the stringency of regulations dictating where shale-gas companies can explore, and place further obligations on the government to explain how fracking fits with the UK's broader climate-change goals.

Before the debate, the parties made clear their positions on whether the government should support the nascent industry. Conservatives MPs, and  the chancellor in particular, are  very keen. Labour is willing to permit fracking with some additional checks. Some Liberal Democrats and the Greens remain staunchly against any fracking.

An amendment put forward by Labour for a fracking moratorium was rejected by 308 votes to 52. The government accepted an opposition amendment to allow fracking with "appropriate regulation and monitoring", broadly in line with recommendations from an  Environmental Audit Committee report released yesterday.

 

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Survey shows partisan split among MPs on climate and energy issues

  • 26 Jan 2015, 16:55
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Docklandsboy

With one hundred days to go until the election, analysts are eagerly looking for ways to differentiate between the parties. New data suggests MPs' views on energy and climate change could do just that.

Political analysts Dods asked 100 MPs what they thought about the scientific consensus around climate change and their energy preferences. Here's what they had to say.

Climate change

A large majority of the MPs surveyed, 72 out of 100, said they thought more than 75 per cent of scientists attributed climate change mainly to human activities. It was by far the most common answer for MPs from all the parties.

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Source:  Dods Energy Preference Briefing. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Briefing: India’s energy and climate change challenge

  • 26 Jan 2015, 11:45
  • Mat Hope

Old Delhi | Shutterstock

The US and India have signed a deal to "enhance cooperation" on cutting emissions and investing in low carbon energy sources. The countries agreed the deal during President Obama's  state visit to meet India's prime minister Narendra Modi this weekend.

Last time the president visited one of the world's foremost developing economies, China, he signed an  historic deal on climate change. As the world's third largest emitter, India is coming under increasing pressure to  follow suit.

The new US-India pact is weaker than the agreement Obama signed in Beijing. But there are a number of good reasons India is reluctant to take strong action to curb its emissions in the short term.

Carbon Brief takes a look at the factors likely to shape India's energy and climate choices in the coming years, and what it means for the world's efforts to tackle climate change.

india challenges

Population and poverty

India has become noticeably more progressive on climate change under  prime minister Narendra Modi. It remains adamant that the world's developed economies must shoulder most of the responsibility for curbing emissions, however.

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MPs brand fracking 'incompatible' with UK climate targets

  • 26 Jan 2015, 06:56
  • Simon Evans

Onshore gas rig | Shutterstock

Fracking should be banned because it is incompatible with the UK's climate targets, according to the cross-party House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

The committee's report has been rushed out in advance of a series of parliamentary votes this afternoon on the government's Infrastructure Bill. Ten MPs have tabled an amendment to the bill that would ban fracking "in order to reduce the risk of carbon budgets being breached".

This amendment also has cross-party support: it is backed by former Conservative environment secretary Caroline Spelman along with two other Conservatives, five Labour MPs and one each for the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

The Labour Party says it will block UK fracking unless the government agrees to a series of environmental conditions set out in a separate amendment to the Infrastructure Bill.

The committee report and parliamentary votes come at a crucial time for the nascent UK shale gas industry. It is hoping to resume exploration activities, which have been on hold since causing earth tremors in 2011.

Last week, Lancashire council's planning department said exploratory fracking at two sites should not go ahead, citing concerns over noise and traffic. The council's planning committee was due to have voted on the plans this week until developer Cuadrilla asked for more time.

Carbon Brief takes you through the EAC's conclusions on fracking and the climate, and assesses the evidence behind its findings.

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Oil industry cuts jobs and exploration budgets in response to falling prices

  • 16 Jan 2015, 12:05
  • Mat Hope

North Sea oil rig | Shutterstock

Oil prices slumped to a six-year low earlier this week. In response, oil companies around the world have been cutting jobs and exploration and production budgets.

The situation has become worrying enough that the UK government today ordered  a review into how low prices put the North Sea industry at risk.

For months, analysts have  warned of the effect such a price dip could have on the industry.

This week, a number of companies,  including fossil-fuel giants Shell and BP, announced they were reducing their budgets for 2015 and cutting hundreds of jobs as a consequence of the low oil price.

Carbon Brief looks at the cuts some of the industry's key players are making in response to the oil price drop.

Major oil company cuts

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UK emissions fall to 25 year low as a surge in coal use ends

  • 15 Jan 2015, 14:15
  • Simon Evans

Ferrybridge coal plant | Shutterstock

There was a 10 per cent reduction in UK carbon dioxide emissions in the twelve months to October 2014 compared to the previous year, new government data shows.

The majority of the 49 million tonne reduction came from reduced energy emissions as a three year surge in UK coal use came to an end, with renewables and gas picking up the slack in power supplies.

The reduction saw total UK carbon dioxide emissions fall to their lowest level in the past quarter-century, to 28 per cent below 1990 levels (the dark grey line on the chart below).

UK carbon dioxide emissions since 1990. Graph by Carbon Brief using emissions data from the Department for Energy and Climate Change

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UK coal use to fall to lowest level since industrial revolution

  • 15 Jan 2015, 11:00
  • Simon Evans

Colliery museum | Shutterstock

UK coal use is likely to soon fall back to levels last seen during the industrial revolution, Carbon Brief analysis of official figures suggests.

The UK used 49 million tonnes of coal in 2014 according to Carbon Brief estimates. That's more than a 20 per cent reduction compared to the previous year, and the joint lowest coal use in records going back to the 1850s. Only 2009, when the country was in the depths of the financial crisis, had equally low coal consumption.

There are several reasons to expect coal use to continue falling this year, suggesting a clear historic low is in store for 2015.

Getting out of coal as quickly as possible is necessary in developed countries, to prevent dangerous global warming. To assess UK progress we've looked back at its changing relationship with coal, and what that means for the climate.

Historic coal use

Coal use grew rapidly during the 19th century as the industrial revolution took off and the UK's population increased. A coal-hungry nation used the fuel to produce town gas for lighting from the 1810's, and to power the explosion in rail travel from the 1840s.

The 1880s saw the dawn of today's centralised electricity generation model, with a plant containing a coal-fired generator called Edison's Jumbo opening at Holborn Viaduct in London in 1882.

You can see the impact of all these changes in the steep rise in 19th-century coal use on the timeline below.

Uk -coal -use -timeline -6

Credit: Rosamund Pearce/Carbon Brief using figures from the Department for Energy and Climate Change and Carbon Brief calculations based on European electricity use data.

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Five innovations that could cut the cost of offshore wind

  • 13 Jan 2015, 11:20
  • Simon Evans

Offshore | Shutterstock

Offshore windfarms have a growing role in cutting UK carbon emissions, but they're expensive. We've selected five innovations that could help cut costs, from a new Royal Society journal special issue exploring the cutting edge of wind power.

Cost-cutting innovations are important because a growing share of the UK's electricity is generated by offshore windfarms. The UK has 4,042 megawatts of offshore wind capacity, more than any other country in the world.

These windfarms supplied 3.6 per cent of the UK's electricity in the 12 months to October 2014, a tripling in three years. The amount of electricity we get from offshore wind is expected to at least double by 2020.

Offshore windfarms are attractive to politicians because they're typically built out of sight, plus the wind blows harder and more consistently out at sea. The snag is that they're expensive, nearly twice as costly as onshore windfarms per unit of electricity generated and 50 per cent more costly than nuclear power, according to a recent EU study.

The expense is largely down to the difficulty of installing and maintaining large wind turbines able to withstand the elements.

This week the Royal Society has published a special journal issue devoted to offshore innovation. It has 16 papers covering everything from designing better turbines using computers and miniature models to cutting the cost of installation and maintenance through remote sensing. Here are five ideas from the special issue that caught our eye.

Screw-in turbine foundations

Ever-larger offshore wind turbine designs pose a big engineering challenge. They typically have to be secured in deeper waters, against larger waves and able to withstand heavier loads from their bigger sails. This strains the limits of standard 'single pile' foundations.

Developers are starting to use a range of new foundation designs, from tripods to floating platforms. But one of the Royal Society papers suggests a novel option: helical piles. Instead of driving a single hollow steel tube foundation into the ground with a pile driver, helical piles are essentially giant screws that would be screwed into the sea floor.

There are already used on land for some applications and offer several advantages, the paper argues. They can also be 'unscrewed' when the turbine reaches the end of its life, easing decommissioning.

The paper says they're stronger and suitable for a wider range of soils. Screw-in piles would also bypass concerns over the noise impacts on whales and dolphins caused by pile-driving traditional foundations.

The only problem? Screwing the piles in without spinning the installation boat round and round. One answer may be to screw two helical piles in at one, in opposite directions.

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