Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, energy dilemmas … don’t they say Christmas to you? Ignore the umpteenth series of Downton Abbey and curl up with Carbon Brief’s pick of the best energy and climate reads from 2013. From the big reports to the best writing, our staff recommend their standout reads of the year.
Climate: The IPCC Working Group 1 report
In case you’ve been living under a stone for the past few months, you’ll know the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Working Group One report this autumn. The report concluded that scientists are more sure than ever- 95 per cent certain – that humans are causing extra warming. The oceans, land and atmosphere are getting warmer, snow and ice is melting and sea levels are rising.
Communicating the science
As not many people are likely to read the whole tome, communicating the report has been a key preoccupation for those of us who are interested in that sort of thing. The IPCC demonstrated laudable self-awareness in producing a 10-minute film running through the main points in the report.
Meanwhile, the Guardian takes the IPCC data to create an interactive tool so you can enter your birth year and see how hot it might get before you snuff it. And the AP’s Seth Borenstein delivered a masterclass in science communication with his piece explaining uncertainty in the report. Putting the 95 per cent figure into context, he explains:
“Top scientists from a variety of fields say they are about as certain that global warming is a real, man-made threat as they are that cigarettes kill… [I]n science, 95 percent certainty is often considered the gold standard for certainty.”
Want to know more about the IPCC? From the effect of previous controversies on the organisation’s psyche to the growing scientific evidence for humans’ effect on the climate evidenced in the reports, ‘ What climate scientists talk about now‘, by the FT’s Pilita Clark is a fascinating insight into the panel’s past, present and future.
Energy: World Energy Outlook
If the IPCC’s conclusions weren’t gloomy enough, the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook this year warns the world’s current emissions are likely to result in six degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels. Two thirds of those emissions come from the energy sector – and on current trends, the IEA projects the world will very nearly have burnt enough carbon to provide more than two degrees of global warming by 2035.
The agency calls (again) for swift action in the form of emissions cuts and energy efficiency – which by itself could provide for 42 per cent of energy-related emissions reductions by 2020. To underline how far governments are off the mark at present, the IEA also produced an interactive map showing who’s doing what to tackle climate change.
…On a related note
Yes, it came out in 2012. But if you haven’t got around to it yet, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis’s Global Energy Assessement is another pretty stunning illustration of how energy efficiency could change the game for global emissions cuts. Not only does efficiency reduce emissions, it gives governments loads of wiggle room in terms of what a decarbonising energy system might look like while keeping the two degree target in sight.
Best energy comment
Whenever energy journalists have met over the past few months, no-one looks well rested. The energy debate has exploded as the tempo of technological change and political rhetoric ratcheted up.
Shale gas entered the public debate after test drilling – and anti-fracking protests – began this summer at Balcombe in West Sussex. But has the government acted too quickly in ushering in this potential new source of energy, in the hopes of emulating the US’s success in bringing down energy prices? University College London’s Professor Paul Ekins in August wrote a well thought-through critique of the government’s shale gas strategy, arguing much economic and political capital has been expended on the basis of little evidence.
Rising energy bills, and Labour’s plan to force energy companies to freeze them if it wins the next election, have dominated the UK energy debate for the latter half of the year. UK Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Committee energetically set about looking into the issue: its set of hearings in which it grilled energy company bosses made for absorbing viewing. And its report on its findings is an incisive look at the failings in the market.
The renewables industry has also progressed in leaps and bounds, with the prices of wind and solar dropping further than anyone had expected. This is already affecting energy markets, and nowhere moreso than Germany, where fossil fuel operators must be paid to stay open. The Economist takes an interesting view on the subject.
A Christmas caveat
Carbon Brief wouldn’t be Carbon Brief without a caveat, so we’d like to acknowledge that this list is not exhaustive. Please give your own suggestions in the comments and we’ll add them to the list. As long as they’re sensible. And no turkeys.