Climate policy

Analysis: Who wants what from the EU 2030 climate framework

  • 17 Oct 2014, 12:45
  • Simon Evans

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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Owen Paterson on scrapping the UK’s commitment to reducing emissions

  • 15 Oct 2014, 20:50
  • Mat Hope & Simon Evans

Former environment secretary Owen Paterson tonight delivered a lecture to climate skeptic thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation. In his speech, he called on the government to suspend the UK's legally binding obligation to cut emissions and abandon its pursuit of renewable energy in favour of submarine-style nuclear power.

Paterson's speech was  heavily trailed in the media earlier this week, which we  analysed in detail here. Here's a summary, with some extra context on what Paterson had to say on...

The science

Paterson suggests forecasts of climate change's impacts have been "consistently and widely exaggerated", adding that the atmosphere has failed "to warm at all over the past 18 years".

This is incorrect. The atmosphere has warmed by about 0.05 degrees since the end of the 1990s. This is slower than in previous decades, but when what's happening to the oceans is also considered, scientists are clear that the planet as a whole is warming.

Scientists expect air temperatures to rise quickly again when natural cycles that are currently pushing heat into the deep ocean reverse. This kind of natural fluctuation has happened many times in earth's history - and when you take the ups and downs out, the long term trend is one of warming since industrialisation.

Paterson doesn't dispute that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but he says there is "considerable uncertainty" over how much warming we'll see.

Scientists haven't pinned down exactly how much temperatures rise per doubling of carbon dioxide - known as the climate sensitivity. But importantly, if we continue emitting greenhouse gases as fast as we are, we'll see serious warming this century wherever climate sensitivity sits within the range scientists have identified.

The lights going out

Cutting emissions and decarbonising the energy sector means "the lights would eventually go out".

While the idea of the lights going out is an attractive shorthand for journalists and commentators, it  isn't seriously expected to become reality.

However, the government has long recognised the need for significant investment to replace the UK's aging energy infrastructure. Many of the UK's power stations are  very old and are due to  reach the end of their natural life over the coming decades. There are  particular concerns about generating capacity over the next few winters.

That's why the government is planning to pay firms to  reduce demand at peak times, and is creating a  capacity market. This will pay power companies money to ensure there is always enough capacity to cover peak demand, so that the lights will always stay on, even if we have to pay to make sure.

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Five weird things about the EU's cost of energy study

  • 15 Oct 2014, 11:11
  • Simon Evans

The cost of energy tends to dominate arguments about how the world should respond to climate change.

Opponents of strong climate action say that coal is cheap, and government support for renewables is expensive. Green energy advocates say that apparently 'cheap' fossil fuels are failing to pay the full costs they impose on society, including health impacts and climate change. There's an argument about which costs should count, and which shouldn't.

Getting the right answer really matters. A case in point are the climate and energy targets for 2030 that are due to be agreed by European leaders at a summit next week. Much of their attention will be taken up by whether climate ambition will lead to higher energy costs.

In the lead up to the summit the European Commission has published a  detailed study that attempts to tease apart all of the different types of energy cost. The idea is to assess fossil fuels, renewables and nuclear power on a level playing field, including government subsidies and costs not currently priced by the market.

The study contains mountains of information that took a monumental effort by consultants Ecofys to pull together. But it still leaves almost as many questions as answers.

Here are five weird things we learnt from looking at their work, that show how fiendishly difficult it is to assess the true costs of energy.

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