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I. Climate Science

Guest post: Climate change brings threat of ‘bluetongue’ virus to UK farms

The Carbon Brief - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 04:09

Dr Anne Jones is a former postdoctoral researcher at the University of Liverpool, now at IBM Research; Dr Cyril Caminade is a tenure track fellow at the University of Liverpool; Prof Andy Morse is professor of climate impacts at the University of Liverpool; Dr Joanne Turner is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Liverpool; and Prof Matthew Baylis is Oxenhale chair of veterinary epidemiology at the University of Liverpool.

Bluetongue is a viral livestock disease that can cause fever, swelling and death in sheep, and can also infect cattle, deer and other ruminants.

Originating in Africa, the disease has spread to Europe over the past two decades, carried by infected biting midges blown across the Mediterranean Sea. With the help of climate change, bluetongue has become established in southern Europe and is now emerging in northern regions, too.

Our new study, published this week in Nature Climate Change, finds that this expansion is set to continue as temperatures rise, with potentially devastating outbreaks threatening farms in the UK.

Out of Africa

Bluetongue gets its name from the swollen, purpley-blue tongue it can cause in infected animals. While other symptoms differ between types of livestock, they can include reddening of the lining of the mouth and nose, difficulty swallowing and breathing, lameness and failed pregnancies.

The impacts tend to be worst in sheep, but cattle are the main carriers of the disease (although they usually do not show symptoms). If untreated, the disease can cause death, with potentially high mortality rates. An outbreak in the Netherlands in 2006, for example, saw an average of 5% of infected sheep die, but rates were over 70% in some flocks. The disease does not infect people, but it can cause severe economic losses to farmers through death of animals and lost trade.

Bluetongue virus occurs in several forms (called “serotypes”) and is spread by the bites of “Culicoides” midges. Its transmission is inextricably linked to the temperature of the surrounding environment. Midges are cold-blooded insects, meaning higher temperatures can accelerate their lifecycle, population size, range and the development of the bluetongue virus within adults. Outbreaks are most common towards the end of summer when infected midge population numbers peak.

Midges are cold-blooded insects, meaning higher temperatures can accelerate their lifecycle, population size, range and the development of the bluetongue virus within adults.

Outbreaks in southern Europe in the 1990s were linked to an expansion in the range of the African midge, Culicoides imicola. But, in August 2006, bluetongue virus (specifically serotype 8) appeared unexpectedly in northern Europe, hundreds of kilometres further north than ever before, transmitted this time by native midges.

The exceptionally warm European summer of 2006, which subsequent research confirmed was the most conducive for bluetongue on record, was the trigger for this three-year outbreak. It affected tens of thousands of farms at a huge financial cost and resulted in the deaths of millions of animals (both through the disease itself and the slaughter of infected animals). It was only brought to a halt by a newly developed vaccine.

In 2015, bluetongue appeared again in France and has continued to spread further each summer, reaching Switzerland and Germany, and has even been detected in cattle imported from France into the UK.

Predicting bluetongue risk

Two main ingredients are needed for a bluetongue outbreak to occur: favourable temperature conditions for the midge and the virus, and the spread of infection between farms.

While it is not possible to control the movements of midges, there are strict government controls on movements on animals from farms where the bluetongue virus has been detected. However, because the virus has an incubation time of between five and seven days – along with the low proportion of infected cattle which show any sign of the disease – infection can escape before it is noticed.

To understand where bluetongue outbreaks might occur, how quickly they might spread and how best we might control them, we use mathematical models which simulate transmission based on real movements of animals between farms and the effects of temperature on the virus and on midges.

In 2007, the first – and to date only – UK outbreak occurred. It was thought to have been introduced by bluetongue-infected midges carried on the wind from mainland Europe across the English Channel.

The UK outbreak was relatively small and our research has suggested that this was a lucky escape: a combination of geographic location of the virus introduction, the moderate temperatures experienced in 2007, and pre-existing animal movement restrictions in place to control foot-and-mouth disease helped limit the 2007 UK outbreak to 135 farms.

Were bluetongue to have been introduced to the UK in 2006, our simulations show the number of farms affected could have been a factor of 10 larger.

Future outlook

Our study also investigates how changing temperature conditions in northern Europe might affect bluetongue outbreaks.

We find that the area at risk for bluetongue transmission extends further north, with the annual transmission season lasting up to three months longer by the end of the 21st century.


RCP8.5: The RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) are scenarios of future concentrations of greenhouse gases and other forcings. RCP8.5 is a scenario of “comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions“ brought about by rapid population growth, high energy demand, fossil fuel dominance and an absence of climate change policies. This “business as usual” scenario is the highest of the four RCPs and sees atmospheric CO2 rise to around 935ppm by 2100, equivalent to 1,370ppm once other forcings are included (in CO2e). The likely range of global temperatures by 2100 for RCP8.5 is 4.0-6.1C above pre-industrial levels. The release of the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) has introduced a number of additional “no-new-policy” scenarios, meaning RCP8.5 is no longer the sole option available to researchers as a high-end no-mitigation pathway.

RCP8.5: The RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) are scenarios of future concentrations of greenhouse gases and other forcings. RCP8.5 is a scenario of “comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions“ brought about by rapid population growth,… Read More

The maps below shows the potential future expansion of areas suitable for the spread of bluetongue. It uses a “basic reproduction ratio for disease transmission” for the recent climate (left-hand maps) and the 2080s under the high emissions scenario, RCP8.5 (right) during August (top) and September (bottom). Reproduction ratio values greater than one indicate that if infection occurred, it could be sustained, allowing the disease to spread and potentially leading to an outbreak.

The oranges and red shading show ratios above one, while the blues show those below. In the recent climate, much of the southeast UK already has temperatures that are suitable for bluetongue transmission, but this drops off into the midlands and further north. By the end of the century, however, all but the highlands of Scotland could be warm enough.

Maps show the basic reproduction ratio for disease transmission, “R0”, for current (left-hand maps) and future (right) climates, during August (top) and September (bottom). A ratio of greater than one indicates suitability for sustained bluetongue transmission. Source: Jones et al. (2019)

For England and Wales, our simulations suggest that an outbreak we might expect once every 20 years in the current climate could become typical for any year by the 2070s.

One concern in the UK is the possibility of bluetongue reaching high farm density areas in Wales, the south west and north west of England. Fortunately, our modelling suggests that animal movement restrictions can play a role in limiting the spread if an outbreak starts.

The maps below show the impact that animal restrictions could have if an outbreak began in southern England under a future climate. They show “mean fractional infection”, which is the proportion of model simulations for which a given farm is infected – therefore, a score of one indicates that a farm is infected in all simulations. The results are for an outbreak in the 2080s with (left-hand map) and without (right) restrictions to animal movements.

The right-hand map shows a much bleaker picture and illustrates the full potential impact of climate change. In this scenario, projected temperatures at the end of the 21st century result in widespread outbreaks, where more than 40% of all farms in England and Wales are infected in a one in 10-year outbreak under the RCP8.5 scenario. This would mean bluetongue infecting around 50,000 farms, which would otherwise be limited to around 2,000 with the restrictions in place.

Maps show “mean fractional infection” in England and Wales for the 2080s under RCP8.5, based on an original outbreak originating in Hampshire, England and assuming standard animal movement restrictions (left-hand map) and no restrictions at all (right). On a sliding scale from: zero = farm not infected in any simulation (shaded white), up to: one = farm infected under all simulations (red). Source: Jones et al. (2019)

Although our simulation model was developed for bluetongue, the transmission processes are similar for many insect-borne diseases. Climate change is expected to result in a large expansion of the areas potentially suitable for transmission of these diseases.

Therefore we expect that early, accurate disease detection, along with efficient strategies for disease control, will become increasingly vital in future, warmer climates.

The post Guest post: Climate change brings threat of ‘bluetongue’ virus to UK farms appeared first on Carbon Brief.

Categories: I. Climate Science

State of the climate: How the world warmed in 2018

The Carbon Brief - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 09:13

The climate data for 2018 is now mostly in, though the ongoing shutdown of the US government has caused some datasets to be delayed.

In this article, Carbon Brief explains why last year proved to be so remarkable across the oceans, atmosphere, cryosphere and surface temperature of the planet.

A number of records for the Earth’s climate were set in 2018:

  • It was the warmest year on record for ocean heat content, which increased markedly between 2017 and 2018.
  • It was the fourth warmest year on record for surface temperature.
  • It was the sixth warmest year in the lower troposphere – the lower part of the atmosphere.
  • Greenhouse gas concentrations reached record levels for CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide.
  • Sea ice was well below the long-term average at both poles for most of the year. The summer Arctic sea ice minimum was the sixth lowest since records began in the late 1970s.
Warmest year on record in the oceans

Last year was the warmest on record for the heat content of the world’s oceans. Ocean heat content (OHC) has increased by around 370 zettajoules – a billion trillion joules – since 1955. The heat increase in 2018 alone compared to 2017 – about 9 zettajoules – is around 18 times more than the total energy used by everyone on Earth in 2018.

Human-emitted greenhouse gases trap extra heat in the atmosphere. While some of this warms the Earth’s surface, the vast majority – around of 93% – goes into the oceans. About two thirds of this accumulates in the top 700 metres, but some also ends up in the deep oceans. Annual OHC estimates between 1955 and present for both the upper 700m and 700m-2000m depths of the ocean are shown in the figure below.

Annual global ocean heat content (in zettajoules – billion trillion joules, or 10^21 joules) for the 0-700 metre and 700-2000 metre layers. Data from Cheng et al 2017, updated through the end of 2018. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

In many ways, OHC represents a much better measure of climate change than global average surface temperatures. It is where most of the extra heat ends up and is much less variable on a year-to-year basis than surface temperatures.

Changes in the amount or rate of warming are much easier to detect in the OHC record than on the surface. For example, OHC shows little evidence of the slowdown in warming in the mid-2000s. It also shows a distinct acceleration after 1991, matching the increased rate of greenhouse gas emissions over the past few decades.

Just about every year since 1991 has set a new OHC record, showing that heat has continued to accumulate in the Earth system as concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases have increased.

As Carbon Brief discussed in a recent guest post, estimates of OHC published over the past few years represent a large upward revision of past estimates. They also now agree with projections made by global climate models.

Fourth warmest year on the surface

Global surface temperatures in 2018 were the fourth warmest on record since 1850, when global temperatures can first be calculated with reasonable accuracy. Temperatures in 2018 were between 0.9C and 1.1C warmer than temperatures in the late 19th century (between 1880 and 1900), depending on the temperature record chosen. Temperatures were dragged down a bit by a modest La Niña event earlier in the year, while the currently emerging modest El Niño event will mainly impact temperatures in 2019.

Global surface temperatures are reported by a number of different international groups, including NASA, NOAA, Met Office Hadley Centre/UEA, Berkeley Earth and Cowtan and Way. Copernicus/ECMWF also produces a surface temperature estimate based on a combination of measurements and a weather model – an approach known as “reanalysis”.

These records are created by combining ship- and buoy-based measurements of ocean sea surface temperatures with temperature readings of the surface air temperature from weather stations on land.

Unfortunately, the on-going US government shutdown has delayed the reporting of December 2018 temperatures, so the full 2018 values in the figures below are preliminary estimates. They use January-November data, but estimate December based on the change between November and December in the Copernicus/ECMWF dataset – which has not been delayed by the shutdown. Carbon Brief will update this article once the final 2018 values are released.=

The chart below compares the annual global surface temperatures from these different groups since 1850, though some records – NASA and NOAA – do not start until 1880, and the Copernicus/ECMWF reanalysis dataset begins in 1979. Values are shown relative to a common baseline period, the 1981-2010 average temperature for each series. [Click the figure legend to show or hide different temperature records.]

Annual global mean surface temperatures from NASA GISTemp, NOAA GlobalTemp, Hadley/UEA HadCRUT4, Berkeley Earth, Cowtan and Way, Copernicus/ECMWF and Carbon Brief’s raw temperature record (see below). Anomalies plotted with respect to a 1981-2010 baseline; 2018 values are preliminary. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

The global warming seen is not due to any adjustments made to the underlying temperature records. The figure above includes a “raw records” line (shown as a dotted line) calculated by Carbon Brief using data not subject to any adjustments or corrections for changes in measurement techniques. These adjustments make little difference to the record after 1950. Before then, the adjusted temperature records actually show less warming than the raw data.

The figure below shows surface temperatures since 1970, a period during which atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations have been rapidly increasing. While 2018 is not quite as warm as the past three years, it is in-line with the longer-term warming trend seen in the data.

Annual global mean surface temperatures from NASA GISTemp, NOAA GlobalTemp, Hadley/UEA HadCRUT4, Berkeley Earth, Cowtan and Way, Copernicus/ECMWF and Carbon Brief’s raw temperature record (see below). Anomalies plotted with respect to a 1981-2010 baseline; 2018 values are preliminary. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

Short-term variability in temperature records is mostly due to the influence of El Niño and La Niña events, which have a short-term warming or cooling impact on the climate. Other dips are associated with large volcanic eruptions. The longer-term warming of the climate is due to increases in atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases emitted from human activity.

To assess the effects of El Niño and La Niña on the surface temperature record, Carbon Brief has produced an estimate of what temperatures would be in the absence of these events. The figure below shows estimated temperatures with El Niño removed; see the methods section at the end of the article for details on the approach used. The Copernicus records is not included in the figure, as it does not have data available prior to 1979.

Annual global mean surface temperatures with the effect of El Niño and La Niña (ENSO) events removed using the Foster and Rahmstorf (2011) approach, see methods at the end for details. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

Removing the effects of El Niño from the temperature record makes 2017 rather than 2016 the warmest year on record for most temperature series, as 2016 temperatures benefited from a large El Niño event.

Temperatures for 2018 are bumped up modestly with the cooling effects of the early-2018 La Niña event removed, and 2018 would supplant 2015 as the third warmest year. Once El Niño effects are remove, the impact of major volcanic eruptions – such as those in 1982 and 1991 – are also much easier to identify in the temperature record.

Surface temperatures in line with climate models

Climate models provide physics-based estimates of future warming given different assumptions about future emissions, greenhouse gas concentrations and other climate-influencing factors.

Model estimates of temperatures prior to 2005 are a “hindcast” using known past climate influences, while temperatures projected after 2005 are a “forecast” based on an estimate of how things might change.

The figure below shows the range of individual models forecasts featured in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) Fifth Assessment Report – known as CMIP5 models – between 1970 and 2020 with grey shading and the average projection across all the models shown in black. Individual observational temperature records are represented by coloured lines.

Twelve-month running average of global mean surface temperatures from CMIP5 models and observations between 1970 and 2020. Models use RCP4.5 forcings after 2005. They include sea surface temperatures over oceans and surface air temperatures over land to match what is measured by observations. Anomalies plotted with respect to a 1981-2010 baseline. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

While global temperatures were running a bit below warming projected by climate models between 2005 and 2014, the last few years have been pretty close to the model average. This is particularly true for globally complete temperature records like NASA, Cowtan and Way, Berkeley and the Copernicus reanalysis.

Sixth warmest in the troposphere

In addition to surface measurements over the world’s land and oceans, satellite microwave sounding units have been providing estimates of global lower atmospheric temperatures – the lower troposphere – since 1979.

The records produced by Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) and the University of Alabama, Huntsville (UAH) show 2018 as the sixth warmest year on record. The two records are shown in the figure below – RSS in red and UAH in blue. The surface record from NASA GISTemp is also shown for reference.

Global average lower troposphere temperatures from RSS version 4 (red) and UAH version 6 (blue) relative to a 1981-2010 baseline. The surface temperature record from NASA GISTemp is shown for reference by a dotted black line. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

These satellites measure the temperature of the lower troposphere and capture average temperature changes around 5km above the surface. This region tends to be influenced more strongly by El Niño and La Niña events than the surface and satellite records show correspondingly larger warming or cooling spikes during these events. This is why, for example, 1998 shows up as one of the warmest years in satellites, but not in surface records.

The two lower tropospheric temperature records – UAH and RSS – show large differences after the early 2000s. RSS shows an overall rate of warming quite similar to surface temperature records, while UAH shows considerably slower warming in recent years than has been observed on the surface. Both are subject to some large uncertainties and have seen large adjustments in recent years that have warmed RSS and cooled UAH compared to prior versions of each record.

Greenhouse gas concentrations rising

Greenhouse gas concentrations reached a new high in 2018, driven by human emissions from fossil fuels, land use and agriculture.

Three greenhouse gases – CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) – are responsible for the bulk of additional heat trapped by human activities. CO2 is by far the largest factor, accounting for roughly 50% of the increase in “radiative forcing” since the year 1750. Methane accounts for 29%, while nitrous oxide accounts for around 5%. The remaining 16% comes from other factors including carbon monoxide, black carbon and halocarbons, such as CFCs.

Human emissions of greenhouse gases have increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide to their highest levels in at least a few million years – if not longer. The figure below shows concentrations of these greenhouse gases – in parts per million (ppm) for CO2 and parts per billion (ppb) for methane and nitrous oxide – from the early 1980s through September 2018 (the most recent data currently available).

Global concentrations of CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Based on data from NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.


Sea ice remains low

Sea ice spent much of early 2018 at record lows in the Arctic and quite low in the Antarctic. It recovered somewhat at both poles by mid-year, but by the end of the year had returned to record lows in the Antarctic and is currently the third lowest on record in the Arctic. The Arctic spent most of the year well below the historical range over the 1979-2010 period and saw the sixth lowest summer minimum since records began in the late 1970s

The figure below shows both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extent in 2018 (solid red and blue lines), the historical range in the record between 1979 and 2010 (shaded areas) and the record lows (dotted black line).

Arctic and Antarctic daily sea ice extent from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. The bold lines show daily 2018 values, the shaded area indicates the two standard deviation range in historical values between 1979 and 2010. The dotted black lines show the record lows for each pole. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

Sea-ice extent only tells part of the story about changes at the poles; thickness (and volume) are also important variables, though they are more difficult to measure. The Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) project provides estimates of sea-ice volume since 1979, shown in the figure below.


Arctic sea-ice volume anomalies from 1979 through 2018 from PIOMAS.

Sea-ice volume shows a clear downward trend. While some individual months have lower or higher values than others, the range in 2018 to date is consistent with the long-term decline in Arctic sea-ice volume. Unfortunately, due to the government shutdown in the US, sea-ice volume estimates for December 2018 are not yet available.

Looking ahead to 2019 surface temperatures

While a modest La Niña event helped drag 2018 down to being the fourth warmest year on record, modest El Niño conditions have developed over the past few months and are expected to persist through late spring. This will help bump up 2019 temperatures, all things being equal.

Both the UK Met Office and NASA’s Dr Gavin Schmidt have already predicted what temperatures might look like in 2019. Both suggest that 2019 will most likely be warmer than 2018, with a best guess of a second place finish and a range of anywhere between the warmest year and the fifth warmest year on record.

The figure below, by Schmidt, shows 1980-2017 temperatures in black, a 2018 projection made at the end of 2017 in dark blue, a 2018 projection using data through October in light blue, and a 2019 projection based on modelled future El Niño conditions in green.

Temperature projections for 2018 and 2019 provided by Dr Gavin Schmidt in late November 2018, using data from NASA GISTemp.


Carbon Brief has produced a raw global temperature record using unadjusted ICOADS sea surface temperature measurements gridded by the UK Hadley Centre and raw land temperature measurements assembled by NOAA in version 4 of the Global Historical Climatological Network (GHCN).

Raw land temperatures were calculated by assigning each station to a 5×5 latitude/longitude grid box, converting station temperatures into anomalies relative to a 1971-2000 baseline period, averaging all the anomalies within each grid box for each month, and averaging all grid boxes for each month weighted by the land area within each grid box. Raw combined land/ocean temperatures were estimated by averaging raw land and ocean temperatures weighted by the percent of the globe covered by each. The resulting global temperature estimate was “rebaselined” to 1981-2010 to be comparable to other estimates shown.

For the plot showing temperatures without El Niño/La Niña, the effect of ENSO was removed from each surface temperature record for each month using an approach adapted from Foster and Rahmstorf (2011). A regression model was used to estimate the impact of ENSO on each group’s temperature series from January 1950 through December 2018, using a three month lagged Oceanic Niño Index. This estimated ENSO impact was then subtracted from the temperature series to calculate what the temperature records might look like in the absence of an ENSO signal.

The post State of the climate: How the world warmed in 2018 appeared first on Carbon Brief.

Categories: I. Climate Science

Vacancy: Journalist at Carbon Brief

The Carbon Brief - Mon, 01/14/2019 - 02:13

This is an exciting opportunity to become a journalist at Carbon Brief, helping us to analyse and report climate change and society’s response to it.

  • Do you have expertise in climate and energy policy?
  • Can you turn complicated jargon and data into clear, compelling copy?
  • Do you want to contribute to accurate reporting of energy and climate change?
Job Description

As a keen writer with a good eye for detail, you will report on climate and energy policies, helping to improve understanding of these complex issues in the context of climate change. This could include explaining what’s in the news, unpacking new developments, or providing important technical or political context.

Carbon Brief’s award-winning team of journalists, analysts and data visualisers produce engaging and data-driven articles to help explain the evidence base on climate change. Our content is used and respected by researchers, journalists, policymakers, campaigners and scientists worldwide.

  • Write features, analysis, factchecks and explainers.
  • Develop graphics, video and other media on relevant topics.
  • Plan and develop Carbon Brief’s energy and climate policy coverage with the team.
  • Build up and maintain a network of contacts.
  • Engage on social media on behalf of the organisation.
  • Identify and attend relevant conferences and events on behalf of Carbon Brief.
  • Interview key players in energy and climate policy.
  • Summarise climate and energy media coverage for Carbon Brief’s daily newsletter.
Qualifications – Essential
  • At least two years’ journalistic experience.
  • Familiarity with the issues and debates surrounding energy and climate policy.
  • Excellent writing skills and the ability to write to a deadline.
  • The ability to quickly absorb new and complex information.
  • Enthusiasm for situating reporting within the context of climate change.
  • A degree or postgraduate qualification.
Qualifications – Desirable
  • Knowledge of international climate negotiations.
  • Experience with data analysis.
  • A network of contacts in the energy and climate space.
  • Language skills – particularly French, Spanish, German or Mandarin.
  • Experience of producing multimedia content.
  • Excellent social media skills.

Location: The role is based at our offices in central London. You may be expected to undertake some international travel as part of your work.

Reporting to: The director.

Hours/Duration: This is a permanent full-time contract, subject to a six-month review period.

Salary: £33,000.

How to apply

To apply, please send:

  • Your CV;
  • A one-page covering letter explaining why you would be a good fit for the role and your plan to develop our energy and policy coverage;
  • Two samples of your published work (print or online) on a topic relevant for Carbon Brief.


The deadline for applications is 11pm on Sunday, 10 February 2019. Interviews will be held on 18-19 February 2019. Candidates will be asked to complete a short, written exercise.

Candidates must already be able to work permanently in the UK legally.

We are committed to the principles of equal opportunity in our employment practices. We will seek to ensure that individuals are recruited, selected, trained and promoted on the basis of their aptitude, skills and abilities.

About Carbon Brief:

Carbon Brief is a UK-based website covering the latest developments in climate science, climate policy and energy policy. We specialise in clear, data-driven articles and graphics to help improve the understanding of climate change, both in terms of the science and the policy response. We publish a wide range of content, including science explainers, interviews, analysis and factchecks, as well as daily and weekly email summaries of newspaper and online coverage.

The post Vacancy: Journalist at Carbon Brief appeared first on Carbon Brief.

Categories: I. Climate Science

COP24: Capricious foes, Big Sister and high-carbon plutocrats

Climate Code Red - Sun, 01/13/2019 - 14:20
Note: If you want to know what really went on at the December UN climate policy talks in Katowice, Poland, Prof. Kevin Anderson, with his characteristic direct and insightful analysis, tells it like it is: the good, the bad and the ugly.  This article was first published at kevinanderson.info Kevin described it as “irreverent musings from Katowice’s COP24”, but it is more than that! by Kevin Anderson

Four weeks on and the allure of Christmas and New Year festivities fade into the grey light of a Manchester January – a fine backdrop for revisiting December’s COP24.

An Orwellian tale: myths & hidden enemies

A quick glance at COP24 suggests three steps forward and two steps back. But whilst to the naïve optimist this may sound like progress, in reality it’s yet another retrograde bound towards a climate abyss. As government negotiators play poker with the beauty of three billion years of evolution, climate change emissions march on. This year with a stride 2.7% longer than last year – which itself was 1.6% longer than the year before. Whilst the reality is that every COP marks another step backwards, the hype of these extravaganzas gives the impression that we’re forging a pathway towards a decarbonised future.

For me the fantasy-land of COP24 was epitomised at the UK’s ever-busy Green is Great stand. Here, the nation that kick-started the fossil-fuel era, regaled passers-by with a heart-warming tale of rapidly falling emissions and a growing green economy. This cheerful narrative chimed with those desperate to believe these annual junkets are forging a decarbonised promise-land. Despite my cynicism, I was nevertheless surprised just how pervasive the UK’s mirage had become.

Adjacent to Brexit Blighty’s pavilion was the WWF’s Panda Hub. Here I attended a session at which two British speakers offered advice to the New Zealand government on their forthcoming energy law. The mantra of the UK being at the vanguard of climate action was reiterated by a ‘great & good’ of the NGO world and by the Director of Policy at a prestigious climate change institute. A similar fable from a couple of Government stooges would not have been a surprise. But surely the NGO and academic communities should demonstrate greater integrity and a more discerning appraisal of government assertions

If you ignore rising emissions from aviation and shipping along with those related to the UK’s imports and exports, a chirpy yarn can be told. But then why not omit cars, cement production and other so-called “hard to decarbonise” sectors? In reality, since 1990 carbon dioxide emissions associated with operating UK plc. have, in any meaningful sense, remained stubbornly static.[1] But let’s not just pick on the UK. The same can be said of many self-avowed climate-progressive nations, Denmark, France and Sweden amongst them. And then there’s evergreen Norway with emissions up 50% since 1990.

Sadly the subterfuge of these supposed progressives was conveniently hidden behind the new axis of climate-evil emerging in Katowice[2]: Trump’s USA; MBS’s Saudi; Putin’s Russia; and the Emir’s Kuwait – with Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, quietly sniggering from the side-lines. But surely no one really expected more from this quintet of regressives. It’s the self-proclaimed paragons of virtue where the real intransigence (or absence of imagination) truly resides. When it comes to commitments made in Paris, the list of climate villains extends far and wide – with few if any world leaders escaping the net.

Let them eat cake: a legacy of failure & escalating inequity

How is it that behind the glad-handing of policy makers and the mutterings of progress by many academics, NGOs and journalists, we continue to so fundamentally fail?
On mitigation, endless presentations infused with ‘negative emissions’, hints of geo-engineering and offsetting salved the conscience of Katowice’s high-carbon delegates. But when it came to addressing issues of international equity and climate change, no such soothing balm was available. I left my brief foray into the murky realm of equity with the uneasy conclusion that, just as we have wilfully deluded ourselves over mitigation, so we are doing when it comes to issues of fairness and funding.

COP after COP has seen the principal of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ (CBDR) weakened. Put simply, CBDR requires wealthier nations (i.e. greater financial capacity) with high-emissions per capita (i.e. greater relative historical responsibility for emissions) to “take the lead in combating climate change”. This was a central tenet of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and specifically committed such wealthy nations to peak their emissions before 2000. Virtually all failed to do so.

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol established binding but weak emission targets for these nations, with the intention of tightening them in a subsequent ‘commitment period’. The all-important second ‘commitment period’ was never ratified – partly because a new ‘regime’ for international mitigation was anticipated.

In 2015, and to wide acclaim, the new regime emerged in the guise of the Paris Agreement. This saw the dismantling of any legally binding framework for wealthier high CO2/capita countries to demonstrate leadership. Instead nations submitted voluntary bottom-up mitigation plans based on what they determined was their appropriate national responsibility for holding to a global rise of between 1.5 and 2°C. True to form, world leaders dispensed with any pretence of integrity, choosing instead to continue playing poker with physics & nature. Even under the most optimistic interpretation of the collective nonsense offered, the aggregate of world leaders’ proposals aligned more with 3.5°C of warming than the 1.5 to 2°C that they had committed to.

So, has the shame of repeated failure on mitigation initiated greater international funding for those poorer nations vulnerable to climate impacts and in the early phases of establishing their energy systems?

In Copenhagen ‘developing’ nations agreed to produce mitigation plans, with the understanding that their “means of implementation” would attract financial support from the wealthier hi-emitters. Move on to Paris, and the wealthy nations flex their financial muscles and begin to backtrack. Rather than deliver a new and anticipated post-2020 finance package, they chose to extend what was supposed to be their $100billion per year ‘floor’ (i.e. starting value) out to 2025. To put that in perspective, $100billion equates to one twenty-eighth of the UK’s annual GDP – and even this paltry sum is proving difficult to collect from rich nations.

Surely COP24 couldn’t belittle poor nations further? Yet the Katowice text stoops to new lows. Funding initially intended to mobilise action on mitigation and adaptation is transposed into various financial instruments, with the very real prospect of economically burdening poorer countries with still more debt.

Big Sister & ‘badge-less’ delegates

Finally, I want to touch on something far outside my experience and probably one of the most damning aspects of the COPs that I’ve become aware of.

As a professor in the gentle world of academia, I can speak wherever I’m able to get a forum. I can explain my analysis in direct language that accurately reflects my judgements – free from any fear of being actively shut down. Certainly, there are academics (usually senior) who favour backstabbing over face to face engagement, but typically their comments are later relayed via their own (and more honest) Post-Doc & PhD colleagues. And if I find myself on a stage with climate Glitterati & accidently step on a few hi-emitting toes – the worse I face is an insincere smile and being crossed off their Christmas card list. But such bruising of egos and prestige is relatively harmless. Elsewhere however this is not the case – for both early career academics and civil society.

At COP24 I spoke at some length with both these groups. Not uncommonly early career researchers feared speaking out “as it would affect their chances of funding”. This specific example arose during a national side event on the miraculous low-carbon merits of coal and extractive industries. However, similar language is frequently used to describe how hierarchical structures in universities stifle open debate amongst researchers working on short-term contracts. Given senior academics have collectively and demonstrably failed to catalyse a meaningful mitigation agenda, fresh perspectives are sorely needed. Consequently, the new generation of academics and researchers should be encouraged to speak out, rather than be silenced and co-opted.

Turning to wider civil society, I hadn’t realised just how tightly constrained their activities were, or that they are required to operate within clear rules. At first this appears not too unreasonable – but probe a bit further and the friendly face of the UNFCCC morphs into an Orwellian dictator. Whilst country and industry representatives can extol the unrivalled virtues of their policies and commercial ventures, – civil society is forced to resort to platitudes and oblique references. Directly questioning a rich oil-based regime’s deceptions or even openly referring to Poland’s addiction to “dirty “coal is outlawed. By contrast eulogising on the wonders of clean coal is welcomed, as is praising a government’s mitigation proposals – even if they are more in line with 4°C than the Paris commitments.
Titanic deck chair
All this is itself disturbing. Whilst the negotiators haggle over the colour of the Titanic’s deckchairs and how to minimise assistance for poorer nations, the UNFCCC’s overlord ensures a manicured flow of platitudes. The clever trick here is to facilitate the occasional and highly choreographed protest. To those outside the COP bubble, such events support the impression of a healthy balanced debate. National negotiators with their parochial interests and hydrocarbon firms with their slick PR, all being held to account by civil society organisations maintaining a bigger-picture & long-term perspective. But that is far from the truth.

For civil-society groups getting an “observer” status badge is an essential passport to the COPs. These are issued by the UNFCCC and can easily be revoked. Without ‘badges’, or worse still, by forcibly being “de-badged” (as it’s referred to), civil society delegates have very limited opportunity to hold nations and companies to account or to put counter positions to the press. Such tight policing has a real impact in both diluting protests and, perhaps more disturbingly, enabling nations and companies to go relatively unchallenged. The latter would be less of a concern, if the eminent heads of NGOs were standing up to be counted. But over the years the relationship between the heads of many NGOs and senior company and government representatives has become all too cosy. Witness the UK Government’s decoupling mantra forthcoming from the lips of one of the UK’s highest profile NGO figures.

So what level of ‘control’ is typically exerted at COPs? To avoid compromising badges for those wishing to attend future UNFCCC events, I can’t provide detail here, but the range is wide: highlighting the negative aspects of a country or company’s proposals or activities; displaying temporary (unauthorised) signs; asking too challenging questions in side events; circulating ‘negative’ photographs or images; and countering official accounts. In brief, criticising a specific country, company or individual is not allowed in material circulated within the conference venue. Previously, some civil-society delegates have had to delete tweets and issue a UNFCCC dictated apology – or lose their badges. This year, and following a climate-related protest in Belgium, those involved were subsequently stopped from entering Poland and the Katowice COP; so much for the EU’s freedom of speech and movement.

If the COP demonstrated significant headway towards delivering on the Paris agreement, perhaps there would be some argument for giving the process leeway to proceed unhindered by anything that may delay progress. But no amount of massaging by the policy-makers and the UNFCCC’s elite can counter the brutal and damning judgement of the numbers. Twenty-four COPs on, annual carbon dioxide emissions are over 60% higher now than in 1990, and set to rise further by almost 3% in 2018.


It’s a month now since I returned from the surreal world of COP24. I’ve had time to flush out any residual and unsubstantiated optimism and remind myself that climate change is still a peripheral issue within the policy realm. The UK is an interesting litmus of just how fragmented government thinking is. A huge effort went into the UK’s COP presence – yet back at home our Minister for Clean Growth celebrates the new Clair Ridge oil platform and its additional 50 thousand tonnes of CO2 per day (a quarter of a billion tonnes over its lifetime). Simultaneously, the government remains committed to a new shale gas revolution whilst plans are afoot for expanding Heathrow airport and the road network.

COP can be likened to an ocean gyre with the ‘axis of evil’, Machiavellian subterfuge and naïve optimism circulating with other climate flotsam and with nothing tangible escaping from it. Twenty-four COPs on, questions must surely be asked as to whether continuing with these high-carbon jamborees serves a worthwhile purpose or not? Thus far the incremental gains delivered by the yearly COPs are completely dwarfed by the annual build-up of atmospheric carbon emissions. In some respects the Paris Agreement hinted at a potential step change – but this moment of hope has quickly given way to Byzantine technocracy – the rulebook, stocktaking, financial scams, etc.; not yet a hint of mitigation or ethical conscience.

But is this jettisoning of COPs too simple? Perhaps international negotiations could run alongside strong bilateral agreements (e.g. China and the EU)? Stringent emission standards imposed on all imports and exports to these regions could potentially lead to a much more ambitious international agenda. The US provides an interesting and long-running model for this approach. For just over half a century, California has established increasingly tighter vehicle emission standards, each time quickly adopted at the federal level by the Environmental Protection Agency. Clearly internationalising such a model would have implications for WTO. But in 2018, and with global emissions still on the rise, perhaps now is the time for a profound political tipping point where meaningful mitigation takes precedent over political expediency?

Of course, the COPs are much more than simply a space for negotiations. They are where a significant swathe of the climate community comes together, with all the direct and tacit benefits physical engagement offers. But did Katowice, Fiji-Bonn, Marrakech or even Paris represent the pinnacle of high-quality and low carbon discussion and debate? Could we have done much better? Perhaps established regional COP hubs throughout the different continents of the world, all with seamless virtual links to each other and the central venue. Could journalists have listened, interviewed and written from their offices? Could civil society have engaged vociferously in their home nations whilst facilitating climate vulnerable communities in having their voices heard? Almost fifty years on from the first moon landing, are the challenges of delivering high-quality virtual engagement really beyond our ability to resolve?

If the COPs are to become part of the solution rather than continuing to contribute to the problem, then they need to undergo a fundamental transformation. Moreover the UNFCCC’s elite needs to escape their Big Sister approach and embrace rather than endeavour to close down a wider constituency of voices. Neither of these will occur without considerable and ongoing pressure from those external to, as well as within, the UNFCCC. The time for action is not at COP25, but now and during the intervening months.

Lowlights of COP24
  • Several climate glitterati & their entourages again jet in and parade around making vacuous noises. This would be a harmless aside if it were just a tasteless comedy act, but it is these carbon bloaters and their clamouring sycophants that set much of the agenda within which the rest of us work. Whilst they remain the conduit between the Davos mind-set and the research community, climate change will continue to be a failing techno-economic issue, ultimately bequeathed to future generations.
  • The pathetic refusal of several nations to formally ‘welcome’ the IPCC’s 1.5°C report (and I say this as someone who has serious reservations about the mitigation analysis within the report).
  • The blatant travel-agency nature of many of the national pavilions – with the periodic glasses of bubbly and exotic nibbles undermining the seriousness of the issues we were supposed to be there to address.
  • The level of co-option, with academics and NGOs all too often singing from official Hymn sheets.
  • The absence of younger voices presenting and on panels.
Highlights of COP24
  • Amy Goodman and the excellent Democracy Now (DN) team providing a unique journalistic conduit between the COPs and the outside world. Certainly DN has a political leaning, but this is not hidden. Consequently, and regardless of political inclination, any discerning listener can engage with the rich and refreshingly diverse content of DN’s reporting. For a candid grasp of just where we are (or are not) in addressing climate change Amy’s full interviews give time to extend well beyond the polarising headlines preferred by many journalists and editors.
  • Listening to John Schellnhuber call for “system change” and “a new narrative for modernity”. John is arguably the most prestigious climate scientist present at COPs and the science darling of ‘the great & the good’ (from Merkel to the Pope). Whilst many others in Professor Schellnhuber’s exulted position have long forgone their scientific integrity, John continues to voice his conclusions directly and without spin. I really can’t exaggerate just how refreshing this is. I may not agree with all he has to say, but I know that what he is saying is carefully considered and sincere.
At the other end of the academic and age spectrum was the ever-present voice of Greta Thunberg soaring like a descant above the monotonic mutterings of the status-quo choir. We need many more voices from her generation prepared to boldly call out the abysmal and ongoing failure of my generation. Applying Occum’s razor to our delusional substitutes for action, this fifteen year old (now sixteen) revealed just how pathetic our efforts have been. In so doing Greta opened up space for a vociferous younger generation to force through a new and constructive dialogue.
[1] An actual fall of around 10% in 28 years (i.e. under 0.4% p.a.)
[2] The group of national leaders who refused to “welcome” the IPCC special report into 1.5°C (SR1.5).
For a review of the COP23 (Bonn-Fiji) see: Personal reflections on COP23
An edited version was published in the Conversation: Hope from Chaos: could political upheaval lead to a new green epoch
For a review of the Paris COP21 see: The hidden agenda: how veiled techno-utopias shore up the Paris Agreement
An edited version was published in Nature: Talks in the city of light generate more heat
Categories: I. Climate Science

Global Commission Describes New Geopolitical Power Dynamics Created by Renewable Energy

Carbon Tracker Initiative - Fri, 01/11/2019 - 01:15

Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation says the new energy age will reshape relations between states and regions; bringing “A New World” of power, security, energy independence and prosperity.

Abu Dhabi, UAE: 11 January 2019 —Political and business leaders from around the world have outlined the far-reaching geopolitical implications of an energy transformation driven by the rapid growth of renewable energy. In a new report launched today at the Assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation says the geopolitical and socio-economic consequences of a new energy age may be as profound as those which accompanied the shift from biomass to fossil fuels two centuries ago. These include changes in the relative position of states, the emergence of new energy leaders, more diverse energy actors, changed trade relationships and the emergence of new alliances.

The Commission’s report A New World suggests that the energy transformation will change energy statecraft as we know it. Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy sources are available in one form or another in most geographic locations. This abundance will strengthen energy security and promote greater energy independence for most states. At the same time, as countries develop renewables and increasingly integrate their electricity grids with neighbouring countries, new interdependencies and trade patterns will emerge. The analysis finds oil and gas-related conflict may decline, as will the strategic importance of some maritime chokepoints.

The energy transformation will also create new energy leaders, the Commission points out, with large investments in renewable energy technologies strengthening the influence of some countries. China, for instance, has enhanced its geopolitical standing by taking the lead in the clean energy race to become the world’s largest producer, exporter and installer of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles. Fossil-fuel exporters may see a decline in their global reach and influence unless they adapt their economies for the new energy age.

This report represents the first comprehensive analysis of the geopolitical consequences of the energy transition driven by renewables, and a key milestone in improving our understanding of this issue,” said Commission Chair Olafur Grimsson, the former President of Iceland. “The renewables revolution enhances the global leadership of China, reduces the influence of fossil fuel exporters and brings energy independence to countries around the world. A fascinating geopolitical future is in store for countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. The transformation of energy brings big power shifts.”

“The global energy transformation driven by renewables can reduce energy-related geopolitical tensions as we know them and will foster greater cooperation between states. This transformation can also mitigate social, economic and environmental challenges that are often among the root causes of geopolitical instability and conflict,” said Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA.

Overall, the global energy transformation presents both opportunities and challenges,” continued Mr. Amin. “The benefits will outweigh the challenges, but only if the right policies and strategies are in place. It is imperative for leaders and policy makers to anticipate these changes, and be able to manage and navigate the new geopolitical environment.

The Commission says countries that are heavily reliant on fossil fuel imports can significantly improve their trade balance and reduce the risks associated with vulnerable energy supply lines and volatile fuel prices by developing a greater share of energy domestically. With energy at the heart of human development, renewables can help to deliver universal energy access, create jobs, power sustainable economic growth, improve food and water security, and enhance sustainability, climate resilience and equity.

The report was launched by the Commission at IRENA’s ninth Assembly in the presence of ministers and senior policymakers from more than 150 countries. A full list of Commissioners together with the report can be found here.

Notes to editors:

About the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation

The Global Commission on the Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation was established as an independent initiative by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in January2018. during the eighth IRENA Assembly. Chaired by Mr. Olafur Grimsson, the former President of Iceland and supported by the governments of Germany, Norway and the United Arab Emirates, the Commission was mandated to raise awareness and deepen understanding of the geopolitical implications of the energy transformation driven by renewables. The Commission is made up of experienced leaders from the worlds of energy, politics, trade, environment and development.

About the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is an intergovernmental organisation that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future, and serves as the principal platform for international co-operation, a centre of excellence, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy.

Contact information:

Damian Brandy, Communications Officer, IRENA,; +971 2 417 9016

The post Global Commission Describes New Geopolitical Power Dynamics Created by Renewable Energy appeared first on Carbon Tracker Initiative.

Categories: I. Climate Science

Guest post: Observations and models agree that the oceans are warming faster

The Carbon Brief - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 11:00

Dr Lijing Cheng is an associate professor at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in China; Prof John Abraham is a professor in the School of Engineering at the University of St. Thomas; Zeke Hausfather is the US analyst for Carbon Brief; and Dr Kevin Trenberth is a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Ocean heat content (OHC) is one of the main measures of climate change, with around 93% of all heat trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere accumulating in the Earth’s oceans.

The “fingerprint” of human influence on the climate is much easier to detect in the oceans, as it is much less affected by year-to-year natural variability than more commonly used surface temperature records.

Back in 2013, the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) featured five different OHC estimates that generally showed oceans warming more slowly than most models projected.

However, over the past five years the research community has made substantial progress in improving long-term OHC records and has identified several problems with prior OHC estimates. Improvements include properly accounting for limitations in some older OHC instruments and taking advantage of better methods of accounting for gaps in the coverage and completeness of ocean temperature measurements.

In a new “perspectives” paper for the journal Science, we show that these updated OHC estimates agree well with climate model projections over the past few decades. This means that scientists can have more confidence in climate model simulations of OHC changes now and into the future.

Ocean heat content from Cheng et al 2017 in zetajoules (10^21 joules) compared to atmospheric CO2 concentrations in parts per million.

Recent records show more warming

OHC is a record of the heat content of the Earth’s oceans. It is generally given for a range of depths from 0-700 metres or 0-2000 metres, as historical measurements below 2000 metres are extremely sparse.

The majority of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the past century – over 65% – has accumulated in the top 700 metres of the ocean, with most of the remainder in the top 2000 metres. OHC is a different metric from sea surface temperatures, which only measure the top metre or so of the ocean and more closely match changes in air temperatures.

OHC is challenging to measure. However, since the mid-2000s, scientists have had the benefits of a network of thousands of autonomous robots – called Argo floats – that dive down to depths of 2000 metres or so and measure temperature, salinity, pH and other ocean characteristics as they slowly ascend. Once the Argo floats surface, the data they have collected is relayed back to scientists by satellite. The collated data is freely available for anyone to download and use.

Researchers deploying an Argo float. Credit: Cara Nissen.

Prior to the mid-2000s, measurements were much less frequent and used devices called “expendable bathythermographs” (XBTs) – a temperature probe connected by wire to a ship, which sinks down into the ocean until the wire runs out and the probe is lost – that required extensive calibration to produce a consistent record.

XBTs are problematic in that they do not measure the depth at which they take temperatures. Using them for OHC estimates requires assumptions around the rate of both horizontal and vertical movement in the ocean. Differing corrections to XBT measurements, as well as different approaches to infilling regions where data is sparse, have led to large differences in OHC estimates prior to the Argo era.

In our article, published in Science, we analyse a number of OHC records published by different groups. We examine the five records included in AR5, as well as four new or updated records that have been published over the past few years.

The figure below shows the rate of OHC warming in these records, as well as the rate projected by the climate models featured in AR5 (collectively known as “CMIP5”). The rate of warming is shown for the 1971-2010 period highlighted in AR5; estimates in blue were included in AR5, while those in purple were published more recently. The range of OHC warming across all the CMIP5 models is shown in grey.

Rate of ocean heat content warming for the top 2000 meters of the ocean, from 1971-2010, in zetajoules (10^21 joules) per year. For each study the bar shows the 90% trend uncertainty, with the mean estimate shown by the black dot in the middle. For CMIP5 models, the bar spans the 90% range of models, with the black dot showing the multi-model mean. Data available here.

OHC records published in recent years show, on average, about 40% – with a range of 15% to 100% – more warming than the OHC records featured in AR5.

These three new records have been corrected for issues that were identified in data collected from XBTs. They also employ better statistical methods to account for limited coverage of data sampling for OHC, particularly prior to the Argo era.

A fourth new study by Prof Laure Resplandy of Princeton University and colleagues used a novel approach of estimating changes in OHC based on the amount of oxygen and CO2 being released by the oceans. Their data is not included in the chart above because they only provide estimates after 1991 due to a lack of measurements prior to that point.

However, their best estimate – after recent corrections to their methods – agrees quite well with other recent studies, despite their uncertainties being quite large.

The figure below shows the change in OHC over time in all four new studies, and compares them with the range of OHC changes across the CMIP5 models (grey band). The average of all the models is shown by the black line. The climate models and observations are plotted with respect to a 1981-2010 baselines, which results in model uncertainties that expand both before and after the baseline period.

Change in ocean heat content – in zetajoules – for the top 2000 meters of the ocean with respect to a 1981-2010 baseline period in CMIP5 climate models (black line is the multimodel mean, grey area represents the 95th percentile range of model runs; RCP8.5 runs are used after historical runs end in 2005) and recent observational records (coloured lines). Data available here.

As with the earlier chart, these new records agree well with climate model projections over the past few decades, resolving the apparent discrepancy between CMIP5 models and the OHC observations featured in the IPCC AR5.

That four independent groups of researchers have all found similar results for OHC in recent years makes us more confident that these results are accurate – and that prior OHC records suffered from problems that led them to systematically underestimate OHC changes.

The agreement between climate model projections and OHC observations over the past few decades also gives us confidence that climate models are able to reliably project OHC changes into the future.

The post Guest post: Observations and models agree that the oceans are warming faster appeared first on Carbon Brief.

Categories: I. Climate Science

Scope for Improvement

Carbon Tracker Initiative - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 01:30

Why carbon intensity ambitions are welcome, but strict limits on future project sanction remain the route to Paris alignment

Download the full analyst note here.

Three European oil and gas producers (Repsol, Shell and Total) have set long term goals relating to the relative carbon intensity of their output, in terms of CO2 emissions per unit of energy produced.

These include emissions defined as scope 3 – those released when the oil and gas products are actually used, and the large majority of emissions related to fossil fuels. These goals are then framed relative to low-carbon scenarios, suggesting pathways that the companies might follow to claim compliance with the climate change imperatives agreed at Paris in 2015.

This represents a fundamental development in an industry looking to dispel investor pressure on climate issues and positions these companies at the more progressive end of their peer group. It also demonstrates that investors have the power to influence corporate behaviour. However, crucial pieces of the puzzle are still missing.

Key takeaways:
  • The inclusion of scope 3 emissions in oil and gas company strategy is an important step forward. Shell’s linking them to short term targets and management pay further focuses attention on practical implementation.
  • However, by framing the emissions ambitions in relative terms, companies leave themselves free to chase ever greater fossil fuel output. This is at odds with the finite limits on carbon emissions inherent to our climate system and reflected in our international commitments.
  • Strategies that allow investment in future stranded assets are insufficient from both environmental and financial value perspectives. If companies are still growth-oriented, they continue to run the risk of investing in projects that may destroy value in low carbon outcomes. The specific economic attributes of a company’s portfolio remain paramount.

Climate change mitigation requires falling emissions in absolute terms, not just relative, yet the idea of an investment strategy that countenances lower oil and gas output remains anathema. We think that capital planning will need to fully incorporate absolute emissions limits (and the company’s competitive positioning within those limits) before companies can truly consider themselves “Paris compliant”.

Download the full analyst note

The post Scope for Improvement appeared first on Carbon Tracker Initiative.

Categories: I. Climate Science

Analysis: The climate papers most featured in the media in 2018

The Carbon Brief - Tue, 01/08/2019 - 00:00

In a year dominated by events such as Brexit, royal weddings, the Salisbury poisonings, US Supreme Court nominations and the World Cup, there was still space in the news media in 2018 for reporting on new climate research.

These new journal papers were reported around the world in news articles and blogs and shared on social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Reddit. Tracking all these “mentions” was Altmetric, an organisation that scores and ranks papers according to the attention they receive. (Full details of how the Altmetric scoring system works can be found in an earlier article.)

Using Altmetric data for 2018, Carbon Brief has compiled its annual list of the 25 most talked-about climate change-related papers of the year. The infographic above shows which ones made it into the Top 10.

Top spot

The most talked-about paper last year on any topic, not just climate change, was “Mortality in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria”, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This came first in Altmetric’s Top 100 journal papers of 2018 with an overall Altmetric score of over 10,000.

The press focused on the study’s estimate that the number of deaths in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017 was around 70 times higher than official figures. The study received further coverage when US President Donald Trump later tweeted his disagreement after Puerto Rico’s government increased its official death toll.

While the paper is related to climate change – human-caused warming is likely to have played a role in 2017’s unusually active hurricane season – it focuses on mortality statistics rather than the climate. Therefore, it does not it does not make it into Carbon Brief’s list of research papers.

The highest-ranked climate research paper is “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene“, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (“PNAS”) and led by Prof Will Steffen of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Australian National University. It accrued an Altmetric score of 6,061.

Widely referred to as the “Hothouse Earth” paper, the study explored the self-reinforcing “feedback loops” that could magnify how the Earth warms in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations. These feedbacks could push the Earth’s climate beyond a “planetary threshold”, the paper suggests, which – if crossed – could “lock in a continuing rapid pathway toward much hotter conditions”.

The paper was the fifth most talked-about of all journal papers published last year. It was the subject of 460 news stories in 326 outlets, including the Guardian, BBC News, Sky News, New Scientist, Al Jazeera and the Sydney Morning Herald. Links to the paper were also  included in 5,392 tweets and 34 Facebook posts.

The Top 5

Falling between this year’s first and second-ranked papers is “The biomass distribution on Earth”, published in PNAS. While its Altmetric score of 4,413 would be enough for second spot and the paper does estimate the carbon stored in the world’s plants and animals, its principal focus is providing “a census of the biomass of all kingdoms of life”. As with the Hurricane Maria paper, it therefore earns an honourable mention rather than a place on the leaderboard.

In second place, published in Nature, is “Global warming transforms coral reef assemblages”. The paper, led by Prof Terry Hughes of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Australia, warns that corals on the Great Barrier Reef began to die immediately in the aftermath of the record-breaking marine heatwave in 2016.

As Carbon Brief explained when the paper was published in April, this immediate and long-lasting die-off of coral has led to vast swathes of the reef being transformed into “highly altered, degraded systems”, which are now vulnerable to total “ecological collapse”.

Hughes told Carbon Brief that the Great Barrier Reef was changing “faster than any of us anticipated”. Hughes also discussed the prospects for the reef in an in-depth interview with Carbon Brief later in the year.

With a score of 4,392, the study’s total is even higher than the 3,166 scored by Hughes’s paper that came first in Carbon Brief’s 2017 list. The latest paper was covered by 246 news stories from 177 outlets – such as the New York Times, CNN, BBC News, Atlantic, Guardian, Der Spiegel, HuffPost and Forbes. This paper was also tweeted 8,843 times – more than any other in the Top 25.

Taking third place is “Decreases in global beer supply due to extreme drought and heat”, published in Nature Plants. The research, led by Dr Wei Xie of Peking University, warned that drought and extreme heat could reduce yields of barley and cause beer prices to as much as double. While this is “not the most concerning impact of future climate change”, the authors concede, the research shows how rising temperatures could “threaten the availability and economic accessibility of beer”.

The paper’s overall Altmetric score was 3,624. Unsurprisingly newsworthy, the study was the subject of 383 news articles from 318 outlets, including the Hill, New York Times, Guardian, Quartz, Wired and Scientific American. It also featured in 1,413 tweets and on 12 Facebook posts.

In fourth place is the Nature paper “Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2017”. As Carbon Brief reported when it was published, the paper found that rate of sea level rise from melting of the Antarctic ice sheet has tripled over the past five years.

With an Altmetric score of 3,230, this would have been enough to give it top spot last year.

And completing the Top 5 with a score of 2,989 is “Spatial and temporal patterns of mass bleaching of corals in the Anthropocene”, published in Science. The study, published in early January 2018, found that mass coral reef bleaching events have become five times more common worldwide over the past 40 years.

This is another paper from Terry Hughes, giving him two papers in this year’s Top 5, along with last year’s most talked-about study.

Making up the Top 10

Falling outside the Top 5 is the Science paper “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers” in sixth and the Nature Climate Change study “The carbon footprint of global tourism“ in seventh.

The latter paper calculated the carbon footprint of global tourism. As lead author Dr Arunima Malik, a lecturer in sustainability from the University of Sydney, told Carbon Brief, the estimate included quantifying “the impacts of tourist spending on food, clothing, transport and hospitality”. The findings suggested that worldwide tourism accounted for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions from 2009 to 2013.

In eighth is “The demise of the largest and oldest African baobabs”. This “brief communication” paper in Nature Plants outlined that nine of the 13 oldest of Africa’s baobab trees had died over the past 12 years, and five of the six largest had met the same fate.

These gigantic trees can contain as much as 500 cubic metres of wood and live for almost 2,000 years. In a project that began in 2005, where scientists had identified and dated all of Africa’s baobabs, the researchers found a worrying number had died or “or at least their largest and/or oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died”.

While the “cause of the mortalities is still unclear”, the authors say they “suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular”.

Completing the Top 10 is “Climate-driven declines in arthropod abundance restructure a rainforest food web”, published in PNAS, in ninth, and the Science paper “Climate model shows large-scale wind and solar farms in the Sahara increase rain and vegetation” in 10th.

Elsewhere in the Top 25

Just missing out on the Top 10 – by a mere 16 Altmetric points – is the Science paper “Declining oxygen in the global ocean and coastal waters”. Oxygen levels in the world’s oceans have fallen over the past half century, the study explained, primarily a result of “increased global temperatures and nutrients discharged to coastal waters”.

Notably in 12th place is the Nature paper “Quantification of ocean heat uptake from changes in atmospheric O2 and CO2 composition”. The study’s main finding – that the oceans have taken up 60% more heat than previously thought – garnered a lot of media attention. However, very shortly after publication, problems with their calculations were spotted by other scientists, principally independent climate researcher Nicholas Lewis.

While these issues did not “invalidate the methodology or the new insights into ocean biogeochemistry on which [the study] is based”, explained co-author Prof Ralph Keeling, they did affect their estimates and uncertainty bounds for average ocean heat uptake. As a result, their “error margins are too big now to really weigh in on the precise amount of warming that’s going on in the ocean”, said Keeling.

The reaction played out in the days immediately following the paper’s publication, generating further online mentions in the news and on social media. (The authors reworked their calculations and submitted a correction to Nature, but this has not yet been published.)

In 13th is “Climate-change–driven accelerated sea-level rise detected in the altimeter era”, published in PNAS, which found that the rate of global sea level rise is accelerating. This is the last paper in the Top 25 with an Altmetric score of more than 2,000. In 2017, only the first five papers reached this milestone, while only one paper managed it in 2016 and 2015.

In 15th and 16th are two papers, both published in February, about iconic creatures that live at the Earth’s poles. The former is the Nature Climate Change study “Climate-driven range shifts of the king penguin in a fragmented ecosystem”, which warned that 70% of king penguins could “abruptly relocate or disappear” by 2100 under a business-as-usual climate change scenario. As Carbon Brief explained when the paper was published, the findings suggest that ocean warming in Antarctica could drive the penguins’ primary hunting grounds further poleward and away from their favoured breeding spots.

The latter paper is the Science paper “High-energy, high-fat lifestyle challenges an Arctic apex predator, the polar bear”, which tracked the movements, metabolism and body conditions of nine female polar bears in the wild. The findings suggested that earlier melting of Arctic sea ice in spring was making it harder for the bears to hunt enough seals to meet their energy demands. Losing weight during the spring months could leave female bears without the resources needed to raise their young, lead author Anthony Pagano told Carbon Brief:

“Basically, they’re not able to provide for their young at an adequate level and that’s driving declines in cub survival.”

Coming to the end of the Top 25 list, a pair of Nature papers are separated by just five Altmetric points. In 24th is “A global slowdown of tropical-cyclone translation speed“ with a score of 1,621. As Carbon Brief explained when the paper was published in June, the research found that the speed at which tropical storms travel across the Earth has slowed by an average of 10% over the past 70 years, allowing them more time to unleash rainfall.

(The paper “Bitcoin’s Growing Energy Problem” in the journal Joule, scored 1,657, which would have been enough to give it 24th spot. However, the article – which discusses the “energy-hungry” way in which Bitcoins are mined – is a commentary and so does not make the list.)

And in 25th place is “Observed fingerprint of a weakening Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation” with a score of 1,616. This was one of a pair of studies published by Nature on the same day that used different approaches to show the ocean circulation system known as the “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation” (AMOC) is now in a weaker state than it has been for decades.

As lead author Levke Caesar told Carbon Brief, it was “very likely” that most of the AMOC slowdown was a result of human-caused warming.

All the final scores for the Top 25 climate papers of 2018 can be found in this spreadsheet.


And, finally, looking at which journals feature most heavily in the Top 25, Nature has the most papers with eight, followed by Science in second place with six and PNAS and Nature Climate Change in joint third with three each.

In total, 14 papers from the Top 25 were published in journals in the Nature family.

Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts


The post Analysis: The climate papers most featured in the media in 2018 appeared first on Carbon Brief.

Categories: I. Climate Science

Guest post: A Met Office review of the UK’s weather in 2018

The Carbon Brief - Fri, 01/04/2019 - 08:54

Dr Mark McCarthy is science manager of the Met Office National Climate Information Centre, which provides monitoring and analysis of UK climate variability and change.

2018 came to a close with a notably mild December, bringing an end to a warmer, drier and sunnier year than average for the UK.

But 365 days is a lot of weather to summarise in just three words. So, in the following article, I take a look back at some of the defining weather and climate events of the year – and how have they contributed to these main takeaways.

Annual average

The year 2018 is provisionally ranked as the UK’s seventh warmest year in the Met Office national series, which goes back to 1910. It was also the second sunniest year since records began in 1929, behind only 2003.

As the maps below illustrate, the highest temperature anomalies were in south-east England, while the driest and sunniest places – relative to average – were in East Anglia and northern Scotland.

Maps of UK annual average temperature (left) rainfall (middle) and sunshine duration (right) for 2018. Credit: Met Office

Average TemperatureRainfallSunshine Absolute (C)Anomaly (C)Absolute (mm)Anomaly (%)Absolute (hours)Anomaly (%) 9.50.61064921581115 UK average temperature, accumulated rainfall and sunshine statistics for 2018. Anomalies are presented relative to 1981-2010 average.

Overall, last year was slightly cooler – by approximately 0.07C – than 2017. All 10 of the warmest years on record for the UK have now occurred since 2002, and 2014 is still the UK’s warmest year.

 Year Average Temperature (degrees C)  20149.91 20069.73 20119.64 20079.59 20179.56 20039.50 20189.49 20049.47 20029.47 20059.45 Top ten warmest years for the UK

By looking at individual months of the year, we can pinpoint the major climate events that contributed to the annual averages. The series of maps below show average conditions for each month of the year for temperature (top row), rainfall (middle) and sunshine duration (bottom).

The warm, dry and sunny conditions through May to July stand out in particular. Sunny conditions centred on the longest days of the year helped boost the annual average. For example, 2018 had the sunniest May on record, the fifth sunniest June, and the sixth sunniest July.

For rainfall, June was the third driest on record for England. In the annual statistics, this was partially offset by the seventh wettest March. As quite often happens, north-west Scotland exhibits an opposite pattern of rainfall anomalies between these two months. This serves as a handy reminder that UK-wide statistics can mask important regional detail, particularly where rainfall is concerned.

Maps of UK monthly temperature (top), rainfall (middle) and sunshine (bottom) anomalies from January to December, relative to 1981-2010. Credit: Met Office

Cold and Snow

February and March were the only months in 2018 with widespread lower-than-average temperatures. The UK experienced a spell of severe winter weather with low temperatures, strong easterly winds and significant accumulations of snow. This “Beast from the East”, as it became known, was the most significant spell of snow and low temperatures for the UK since 2010.

The blast of cold weather was ultimately a result of a “sudden stratospheric warming” event that occurred over the north pole in mid February. In a series of connected events, high pressure subsequently became established over Scandinavia and northern Europe. This drew extremely cold air from Finland and northern Russia across continental Europe and to the UK.

The low temperatures meant that most precipitation fell as snow. The snow cover across southern England was substantially enhanced in early March by a low pressure system – named “Storm Emma” by the Portuguese Met Service – bringing moist air from the south.

Furthermore, the easterly winds across the UK were strong, resulting in drifting and deep accumulations of snow, coupled with low temperatures and wind chill. The Met Office issued two red warnings for snow during this event.

The chart below shows the UK average daily temperature, relative to 1981-2010, for the first four months of 2018.

The lowest temperature of the year for anywhere in the UK was recorded on 28 February with -14.2C in Faversham, Kent. On 1 March, the first day of meteorological spring, parts of the west Midlands and south Wales recorded daily maximum temperatures that were more than 12C below the March average. And a new record low daytime maximum temperature of -4.7C was measured in Tredegar, south Wales.

Daily average UK temperature averaged for January to April 2018 (blue). Hatching shows departure from the 1981-2010 average, which itself is shown as the orange line. Credit: Met Office

The daily temperature series illustrates that the event was relatively short lived with below-freezing temperatures for just a couple of days. Although the low temperatures were notable, the 2018 event was not comparable in length to previous cold extremes, such as winter of 2010, when sub-zero temperatures lasted for more than a week, or the extreme winter of 1963, which lasted from late December through to early February.

In November of 2018, the Met Office published a report on climate extremes which found that there had been a decline in the number of “icing days” – where the maximum temperature is below zero – in the UK. Provisional analysis for 2018 puts the icing day count at 4.3 days, which is above the 1981-2010 average of 3.6 days and the highest since the 4.6 days in 2013 – but far fewer than the 14.2 days seen in 2010.

Annual icing days index for the UK from 1961-2018 inclusive. Credit: Met Office

Hot and Dry

In a dramatic turn of events after the cold weather of March, a hot southerly flow during 18-20 April saw remarkably high temperatures for the time of year. In St James’s Park in London, temperatures reached 29.1C – making it the hottest April day since 1949. Temperatures were 25-28C across south-east England and reached 25C as far north as Whitby in Yorkshire.

This set the stage for May, which, after an unsettled start, saw two further spells of warm weather. By happy coincidence, these aligned with the two bank holidays of the month and resulted in the warmest early May bank holiday since it was introduced in 1978. It was the joint warmest May on record for both Scotland and England and the sunniest on record for the UK as a whole.

After May, the weather became settled and high pressure dominated the summer. As you can see in the map below, June was exceptionally dry for southern England, with little or no rain from late May into July.

In the south, some rain gauges recorded more than 50 consecutive dry days and parts of Hampshire, London and Cambridgeshire received less than 1mm during June. For the summer overall, it was the driest since 2003 and sunniest since 1995.

Map of UK June rainfall anomalies as a percentage of 1981-2010 average Credit: Met Office

An easterly flow, with high pressure to the north of the UK in late June, saw temperatures in the north and west reach 31.9C in Glasgow and 33C in Porthmadog on 28 June. Unusually, temperatures across Northern Ireland also exceeded 30C.

The fine and hot weather persisted through July and into early August, with the highest temperature of the year – 35.6C – recorded in Felsham, Suffolk on 27 July. Heat extremes were also felt across much of the northern hemisphere.

However, in contrast to the other extreme summers such as 2003 or 2006, the UK did not experience any extended spells of exceptionally high temperatures in 2018.

The summer overall was the equal-warmest for the UK, tying with 2006, 2003 and 1976. For England, it was the warmest summer and equal fourth warmest in the Central England Temperature series from 1659.

To understand why the summer was so warm and dry over the UK, there are a number of factors to consider.

Primarily, the jet stream – a fast-flowing river of air high up in the atmosphere – weakened and stayed north of the UK, allowing high pressure to become established over the UK and Europe.

In late spring and early summer, a distinctive “tripole” pattern of sea surface temperatures was observed across the north Atlantic. This comprised a band of warmer than average conditions at mid-latitudes, with cooler than average conditions to the north and south.

This pattern is known to influence the jet stream and surface air pressure patterns consistent with what happened in 2018 and has some striking similarities to the situation early on in the UK’s record-hot summer of 1976. You can see this below in the maps of June temperature anomalies in 1976 (left) and 2018 (right).

And, finally, the sea surface temperatures in the immediate vicinity of the UK were also well above average for the time of year, which will have also helped elevate UK temperatures during the summer.

June surface air temperature anomalies in 1976 (left) and 2018 (right), relative to 1961-90. Credit: Met Office

A crucial factor in the magnitude of the heatwave is that the 2018 summer weather was playing out in a warmer world. Human-induced climate change has made summer temperatures like those of 2018 about 30 times more likely than would be expected from natural fluctuations in climate alone.


A total of 10 named storms affected the UK during 2018 – of which four occurred in January. (Large storms are named to help communication of approaching severe weather.)

NameDate of UK impacts Eleanor2-3 January Fionn16 January David (named by Meteo France)18 January Georgina24 January Emma (named by Portuguese Met Service)1-2 March Hector13 June Ali19 September Bronagh20-21 September Callum 12-13 October Deirdre15 December Named storms affecting the UK in 2018

Storm Hector and Storm Ali were notable as unusually severe storms for the time of year, bringing close to record-breaking wind gusts for June, and one of the most notable September storms in recent decades, respectively.

And, finally, Storm Callum brought persistent and heavy rain to western areas in October, resulting in disruption from both strong winds and flooding. The Brecon Beacons in south Wales were particularly affected with 150-200mm falling over a 48-hour period. In addition, temperatures widely exceeded 25C on 13 October, unusually high for the time of year.

In summary, the year 2018 saw both some high and low temperature records broken. However, the prevalence of warmer days in general – that were not restricted to the summer heatwave – continue a pattern of a warmer UK climate and contributed to a Top 10 warmest year for the UK, which was warmer than any year of the 20th Century.

The post Guest post: A Met Office review of the UK’s weather in 2018 appeared first on Carbon Brief.

Categories: I. Climate Science

Carbon Tracker at WEF Annual Meeting in Davos

Carbon Tracker Initiative - Fri, 01/04/2019 - 08:08

World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
Globalisation 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
22-25 January 2019 | Davos

Our CEO Anthony Hobley will be in Davos from 22 – 25 January.

If you would like to arrange a meeting with Anthony, or invite him to speak at an event, please contact Rachel on Anthony has a white badge, meaning he will be able to enter all venues.

Anthony will also be attending the meeting for Climate Change NGO CEOs if you would like to chat with him there.


The post Carbon Tracker at WEF Annual Meeting in Davos appeared first on Carbon Tracker Initiative.

Categories: I. Climate Science

What is the Financial Impact of Climate Risk?

Carbon Tracker Initiative - Fri, 01/04/2019 - 07:45

What is the Financial Impact of Climate Risk?
15 January 2019 | London

Significant advances in data and modelling are helping investors better understand their exposure to climate risk. More investors are looking beyond their carbon footprint to understand how various climate scenarios can impact their risk and return profile such as extreme weather events, changing climatic conditions, government climate policies and disruptive technological advances.

MSCI are hosting this seminar where you can hear from leading industry experts on the latest developments from the COP24 Katowice Climate Change Conference and from investors on how they are managing climate risk and their transition to a low carbon economy.


  • Mark Cornelius, Head of Major Life Groups Division, Prudential Regulation Authority, Bank of England
  • Jean-Francois Coppenolle, Group Head of Financial Risk, Aviva
  • Sagarika Chatterjee, Director of Climate Change, PRI
  • Kingsmill Bond, New Energy Strategist, Carbon Tracker Initiative
  • Dana Sasarean, Vice President, Senior Analyst, MSCI
  • Marion de Marcillac, Executive Director, Head of Climate Change Solutions, MSCI
  • Panos Seretis, Executive Director, Head of ESG Research, EMEA, MSCI

This invitation is open only to clients and potential clients of MSCI. There is no fee to attend, you can register via the link on this page.

The post What is the Financial Impact of Climate Risk? appeared first on Carbon Tracker Initiative.

Categories: I. Climate Science

Analysis: UK electricity generation in 2018 falls to lowest level since 1994

The Carbon Brief - Wed, 01/02/2019 - 16:00

The amount of electricity generated in the UK last year fell to its lowest level in a quarter century, Carbon Brief analysis shows.

At the same time, output from renewable sources rose to another record high, generating an estimated 33% of the UK total in 2018. In combination with nuclear, low-carbon sources contributed 53% of UK generation in 2018, with the share from fossil fuels at its lowest ever.

Lower per-capita electricity generation and cleaner supplies have contributed roughly equal shares to the reduction in power sector CO2 emissions since demand peaked in 2005. This has helped to cut UK greenhouse gas emissions overall, even as the economy grows and population rises.

The reduction in the UK’s per-capita electricity generation has saved 103 terawatt hours (TWh) since 2005, slightly more than the 95TWh increase in renewable output over the same period. If this electricity had instead been generated from gas, CO2 emissions for the entire UK economy would have been around 80 million tonnes (MtCO2, 20% )higher than the 368MtCO2 total seen in 2017. If it had come from coal emissions would have been some 180MtCO2 (50%) higher.

Carbon Brief’s analysis of UK electricity generation in 2018 is based on figures from BM Reports, Sheffield Solar and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). See the notes at the end for more on how the analysis was conducted.

Last year, Carbon Brief analysis showed that, for the first time, more than half of UK electricity generation was low-carbon in 2017.

Falling generation

Some 335TWh of electricity was generated in the UK in 2018, Carbon Brief analysis shows.

The last time UK generation was this low was in 1994, when Nelson Mandela became South African president and the apartheid era officially ended. That year also saw Tony Blair become leader of the opposition UK Labour Party, US president Bill Clinton deliver his first State of the Union address and Finland and Sweden voting to join the European Union.

The history of UK electricity generation since 1920 is charted in the graph below (blue line). Generation rose throughout the 20th century, barring the 1974 three-day week and the recession and miners’ strikes of the early 1980s. It then levelled off in the early 2000s and has been declining since 2005, including before, during and after the 2008 financial crisis.

UK electricity generation 1920-2018, terawatt hours (TWh) per year (blue line) and what would have happened if per-capita generation had remained at 2005 levels (dashed yellow line). Sources: BEIS, BM Reports, Sheffield Solar and Carbon Brief analysis. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

Generation in 2018 was some 63TWh (16%) lower than in 2005, a reduction equivalent to 2.5 times the output of the new nuclear plant being built at Hinkley Point in Somerset. This is despite the UK population increasing by 10% from 60 million to 66 million people.

If per-capita electricity generation had remained at 2005 levels then the UK total in 2018 would have reached 439TWh (dashed yellow line in the chart, above). This means the UK has saved 103TWh relative to constant per-capita generation, equivalent to four times the output of Hinkley C.

Overall, the amount of electricity generated per person in the UK has fallen by 24% since 2005, down to its lowest level since 1984 (34 years).

Growing economy

The UK trend since 2005 breaks with the economic orthodoxy that a growing economy must be fuelled by rising electricity use. Instead, the economy has continued to grow even as electricity generation has levelled off and then started to decline, as the chart below shows.

The yellow line shows changes in UK real GDP (economic output adjusted for inflation) relative to its level in 1980, since when the economy has expanded more than two-fold. Generation – shown in blue and also relative to 1980 – had grown some 40% by 2005, but is now up less than 20%.

Changes in UK real GDP (yellow) and electricity generation (blue) relative to their levels in 1980, which is set equal to 100. Sources: World Bank, BEIS, BM Reports, Sheffield Solar and Carbon Brief analysis. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

The reasons for this decoupling are not fully understood. There are several known contributory factors to the decline in UK electricity generation and demand since 2005. They include product energy efficiency regulations, energy-efficient lighting, environmentally conscious consumers and economic restructuring, including offshoring of energy-intensive industries.

For example, low-energy lightbulbs can cut electricity use by up to 90% while newer “white goods” such as fridges, freezers and washing machines can use up to 75% less electricity each year than the oldest models. There is significant untapped potential to continue cutting electricity use by replacing old appliances at the end of their lives with the latest models, according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

There will also have been some impact from rising electricity prices since 2003 in the face of rapidly increasing wholesale gas prices, economic hardship following the 2008 financial crisis and price increases due to the growing costs of government climate and social policies. [In contrast to rising electricity and gas prices, average UK energy bills have fallen overall since 2008.]

A similar, if less extreme version of the UK decoupling of GDP and electricity use has been taking place in many other developed countries as their economies shift away from energy-intensive industries towards services and high-value manufacturing. This includes the US, where electricity demand has been flat for a decade after more than half a century of uninterrupted growth.

Manufacturing accounted for 17% of the UK economy in 1990, but this fell to 11% by 2005, with services picking up the slack. Manufacturing has held steady at 10% of the UK economy in 2017. Moreover, UK manufacturing output has been growing steadily since the financial crisis.

This shift towards a service-led economy initially saw growing imports of goods and their associated CO2 emissions. However, the outsourcing of UK emissions stopped growing around 2007.

Fossil fuel decline

The sources of UK electricity have shifted dramatically towards cleaner sources as generation has declined, with low-carbon supplies making up a record 53% of the total in 2018.

This was mostly down to strong growth for wind, up 16% to 58TWh in 2018, as the chart below shows (green line and area). This is nearly 3.5 times as much as the 17TWh from coal (black).

Annual electricity generation in the UK by source (terawatt hours). Source: BEIS, BM Reports, Sheffield Solar and Carbon Brief analysis. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

The capacity of offshore windfarms nearly doubled over the course of 2018, with more set to open this year. Solar generation increased by 11%, reaching 13TWh in 2018 (yellow in the chart, above).

Biomass generation also increased by 13% in 2018 to 36TWh. This was due to the former coal plant at Lynemouth in Northumberland reopening to run on imported wood pellets and Drax in Yorkshire converting a fourth unit to burn the fuel.

The CCC recently recommended that the UK should “move away” from large-scale biomass burning over time. Subsidies for biomass burning at Drax, Lynemouth and other sites will come to an end in 2027.

Meanwhile, the combined share of UK electricity generation from fossil fuels fell to 46% in 2018, its lowest level ever, as the chart below shows (grey line). This was primarily due to another 25% fall in coal, scotching fears it could make a comeback this year after precipitous recent declines.

Annual electricity generation in the UK by type of fuel (terawatt hours). Source: BEIS, BM Reports, Sheffield Solar and Carbon Brief analysis. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

Coal plants continued to close in 2018 and remaining stations ran fewer hours, despite the fuel having been expected to be favoured by high gas prices this winter. The UK has pledged to phase out all its coal plants by 2025 at the latest.

Gas generation was down 4% in 2018 to 132TWh (blue line). It remains the single-largest source of generation in the UK, accounting for 39% of the total last year. Gas is expected to be overtaken by renewables in the early 2020s and must contribute no more than 25% of the total by 2030 if the UK is to meet its legally binding climate goals.

Nuclear generation fell 7% in 2018 to 65TWh after cracks were discovered at two of Hunterston’s reactors, keeping the site closed for an extended period. Nuclear is the single-largest source of low-carbon electricity in the UK, but is in decline as ageing reactors are being retired. Barring life extensions, all but one of the UK’s current nuclear plants will have closed by 2025.

Climate contributions

In total, UK renewable generation has increased by 95TWh since 2005 while savings in per-capita  generation over the same period avoided 103TWh of extra electricity being needed.

These contributions have each helped avoid around 40Mt of annual UK CO2 emissions, compared to generating equivalent amounts of power using gas. Without this dual contribution, UK CO2 emissions would have been some 20% higher than the 368MtCO2 seen in 2017. If the power had come from coal, emissions would have been nearly 50% higher (+180MtCO2).

Lowering electricity use is not an end in itself, given the useful services it provides. But energy efficiency and renewable energy are both key elements of most pathways to meeting UK and global climate goals.

Forthcoming Carbon Brief analysis, due to be published later this month, will show that reduced electricity use and the rise of renewables have been the two largest contributors to cutting CO2 emissions from the power sector in the UK since 1990. Coal-to-gas switching is the third-largest factor.

While continued reductions in UK electricity demand are likely in the short term, the CCC and others expect UK electricity demand to increase in the medium term, if climate goals are to be met.

This is because continued improvements in energy efficiency would be more than offset by increased demand from electric vehicles (EVs) and electric heat pumps. In effect, the UK would be electrifying part of the energy demand it currently meets using fossil gas and oil.

For example, the CCC’s central scenario to 2030 anticipates electricity demand of 365TWh, up around 8% on 2018 levels. This allows for 2m heat pumps and 20TWh for EVs. Demand from road transport could eventually reach more than double this level, if the whole UK fleet switches to EVs.

Generation and supply

The figures in this article and analysis are based on UK electricity generation. This is the amount of electricity produced at power plants within the UK’s borders. It includes generation at pumped hydro stations, even though these are net electricity users after accounting for what is needed to pump water to their uphill storage reservoirs.

These figures align with the widely reported numbers published by BEIS in its quarterly Energy Trends chapter 5. BEIS also publishes figures on the amount of electricity supplied to the UK grid after accounting for power used on site – for instance, to run nuclear plant cooling equipment or coal pulverisers. This includes electricity imported to the UK from overseas via interconnectors.

On this measure, the UK imported around 6% of its electricity supplies in 2018, Carbon Brief analysis shows. Most of the UK’s imported electricity comes from France, via the 2 gigawatt (GW) electricity interconnector between the two countries that opened in 1986.

The UK imported 4-6% of its power in the 1990s via this link. The share of imports in UK supplies halved during the 2000s before rising back to its current level of 6%. The UK also has a 1GW link to the Netherlands and a 0.5GW cable to Ireland. A 1GW link to Belgium is to open early this year.

After accounting for imports, the amount of electricity supplied in the UK in 2018 is about the same as that seen in 1995. UK electricity demand has fallen significantly since 2005, though the 47TWh reduction is slightly lower than the 65TWh fall in generation. This is because of increased imports.

A large number of new interconnectors are being developed and government projections suggest imported electricity could supply as much as a quarter of UK power by the mid-2020s.

Projections from the CCC assume net imports will average out to zero across each year in future. Instead, interconnectors would help to balance supply and demand between countries over shorter timescales, from minutes through to seasons.

The post Analysis: UK electricity generation in 2018 falls to lowest level since 1994 appeared first on Carbon Brief.

Categories: I. Climate Science

Lessons from European electricity for global oil & gas

Carbon Tracker Initiative - Thu, 12/20/2018 - 02:06

What can the global oil and gas sector learn from the decline of the European electricity sector after 2007?

The story of the decline of the European electricity sector in the decade after 2007 is a complex one. Nevertheless, we believe that it is possible to draw out some aspects most relevant to the environment facing the oil and gas sector today, and we seek briefly to do this in this analyst note.

Download the full analyst note here.

Key Findings

Rapid technology-driven change disrupts a complacent slow-growing incumbent.  The energy transition that has caused havoc in the European electricity sector over the last decade now threatens the global oil and gas industry.

The experience of the European electricity sector.  Policy support and new technology enabled new competition which drove down demand for incumbents, leading to over $150bn of write-downs, replacement of management teams and sector restructuring.

The five errors of the European electricity sector.  They followed consensus thinking and expected continued growth.  They underestimated the fall in the costs of challenging technologies.  They underestimated the ingenuity of engineers at finding ways to solve bottlenecks.  They misunderstood the threat to their business model from marginal change.  They thought incumbency was an asset, but it turned out to be a liability.

Investors lost money early.  Investors in the European electricity lost half their money by the time the renewable challengers made up just 4% of electricity supply, and underperformed the rest of the European market dramatically in the decade after 2007.  Some companies like RWE and E.ON have lost four-fifths of their value since 2007.

The similarities for oil and gas.  The challenging technologies of EV, wind and solar are on technology-driven learning curves.  The cost tipping-point is right now.  Anticipated annual demand growth is low at 0.4% for oil and 1.6% for gas. Efficiency is chipping away at demand growth and policymakers are stepping up the pressure.  The industry believes in business as usual and is sceptical about the challenges from outside.

The differences are not so great.  Technology is reducing the significance of the areas where oil and gas believes it is different.  Electric vehicles smooth the difference between a molecule and an electron and encourage cross-sectoral competition.  Decline rates only help incumbents in a seller’s market.  Petrochemicals and other hard-to-solve sectors are an endgame issue which will be unable to counter falling demand in larger sectors like electricity (40% of gas demand) and light transportation (23% of oil demand).

In some ways oil and gas are more vulnerable.  Electricity has long-term growth and domestic support; while oil and gas have a limited long-term future, and 80% of people live in countries that are net importers of oil and gas and would like to reduce their import dependency.

Implications for the oil and gas sector.  Business as usual approaches simply do not work when confronted by disruptive change.  Peak demand is a systemic threat to incumbents.  Lip service is no protection against reality.

The post Lessons from European electricity for global oil & gas appeared first on Carbon Tracker Initiative.

Categories: I. Climate Science

The Carbon Brief Interview: Teresa Ribera

The Carbon Brief - Tue, 12/18/2018 - 22:55

Teresa Ribera has been Spain’s minister for the ecological transition since June 2018. Before then, she had been the director of IDDRI (Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations) in Paris since 2014. Between 2008 and 2011, Ribera was Spain’s secretary of state for climate change. She has also been an assistant professor in public law at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.


Carbon Brief: Can you just explain the first moment you became aware of climate change? Was it a lecture? Was it a book you read? A TV programme? Just to begin the story of your interest and concern about climate change…

Teresa Ribera: I think the first time I became aware of climate change and the geopolitics of climate change was around COP5 [in Bonn in 1999]. So, a long time ago. In the newspapers we had not so much information, but in the days during the COP we had some headlines. And it was always a combination of summit, high political relevance, information about things not going very well and warnings on the impacts of climate change in day-to-day life.

So it was quite a strange thing. There was something that was going on. It seemed to be interesting, so appealing for political engagement, but things didn’t look like working as they should. Well, of course, I read those newspapers and it was not so easy to understand what was going on, or what it was intended to get. But some curiosity came up into my mind. I think that the whole process was quite interesting to be followed from outside. I was working as a civil servant. Someone from the meteorological office was very worried because they didn’t understand a word from negotiators about the compliance regime of the Kyoto Protocol before the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol – so making available the Kyoto Protocol ratification for all the parties to the UNFCCC.

Then I started to work a little bit deeper, to understand a little bit more, why there was a need to count on a compliance regime and to what extent dealing with climate [change] meant the need to get everybody involved.

It was very relevant from the perspective of public management and governance, but it was also very relevant from the business perspective, the industrial processes, the financial systems, the education, the science, innovation and research. My impression was that people were not on that. I remember an old professor of law – I’m a lawyer by training – but an old professor of law saying: “What are you working on, if this is something for meteorology, for climatologists, but not something for people interested in law?” Well, you’re wrong. It’s for people working in law, but people working in economics, and people working on industrial processor, or engineers or people working on agriculture. It’s very much a cross-cutting issue.

CB: So you were the minister for climate change from the period of 2008-11, right? Around the COP in Durban?…

TR: So, I was the director general on climate in the first [term] of Prime Minister Zapatero, 2004-2008. That was the period where the European action [on climate change] started to become a reality. So implementing the European Emissions Trading Scheme. Trying to identify where the strong points among the research communities to better understand the potential impacts and to promote a resilient adaptation strategy at home. Working with the different levels of the administration.

Then I became instead the state secretary for climate and environment between 2008 and the end of 2011. I was in charge of that agenda in the preparations towards Copenhagen [COP16 in 2009] and post-Copenhagen. And that was a very dramatic moment. We [Spain] were going to chair the European Union from January 1, 2010. So, just after Copenhagen. I remember those days, that Christmas, I could not sleep. I came back from Copenhagen in shock. I had been very involved during the COP and the negotiations, of course. We had the impression that there was a split between the official way of negotiating things and the way the Danish presidency tried to handle that at the end. Plus, all those other partners or countries that were not very interested in promoting the agenda.

It was a kind of milestone. It was the end of the childhood and entry into the teenage [years]. So I was discovering that life is not so easy and that the resistance was much bigger than what we could expect. The challenges were much bigger. But it was also difficult moment for multilateralism. I think there was a strong temptation among some good friends, some partners, to give up on the UN system and try to do things [on] his or her own. The preparation on how to get the lessons learned from what it had meant, in order to facilitate the recovery of how to solve the global agendas through the cooperation of multilateralism was part of the main concerns in those days.

CB: Do you think the Paris Agreement did that? Compare what the vision was in Copenhagen to what was delivered in Paris. Are you satisfied? There is a difference between the bottom-up and the top-down. What is your view on the difference between Copenhagen and Paris?

TR: I had the privilege to live the Paris Agreement from a different perspective. I had moved to Paris to work at a very relevant thinktank working on sustainability and climate issues, IDDRI. We were providing some support to better understand where the common ground could be and how we could frame the question marks so the questions and the answers to the climate multilateral agenda in a different manner.

I think that the Paris Agreement is pretty interesting because it is much more…it’s much closer to the real life [than Copenhagen]. It’s more holistic. It provides the good incentives in terms of promoting action. You act because it is your duty, your responsibility and because you invest in yourself. That applies to governments, to governments dealing with their own societies and to business or to civil society associations whenever they feel such about this agenda.

It is a challenge. It is uncertain, because the main motivation is not because someone is telling you what to do, but because you understand that it is your duty to your own responsibility in the world where you live and so according to your own capacity.

It changes also the understanding of the commonalities. In fact, it’s a treaty dealing with governance issues. What is the common goal? How we learn together? How we share the risk? And how we implement solidarity instruments to make this engagement, or the rest of humankind a variable in the context of suffering difficulties or great challenges? It makes it stronger, because it allows much more flexibility, understanding, freedom and different manners to be positive and active.

It is true that it can only work if people really do what they should be doing. That’s the good point. To what extent we all are in the same level of understanding. Or to what extent we try to escape, we try to avoid duties and responsibility.

CB:  Looking domestically, looking back at the period when you were in government last time, what do you think were your big successes and what do you have regrets about that you could have maybe done differently?

TR: I think that the great success was to facilitate the spread of the concern and the very diverse levels of action that we need to put in place. So a better understanding by the society and the key stakeholders that it was important to act.

CB: Please explain to our audience, what the level of interest and concern on climate change was before that period…

TR: I think that for a very long time, as has happened in many other countries, climate change was something that was the agenda of scientists. It was the agenda of some very relevant experts. But it was not something connected to the day-to-day life of normal citizens. It was far away, in terms of geographical distance, in terms of time, in terms of their priorities of the agenda or the expectations towards the regulators and the institutions, the public institutions.

In the research community, I think that there were great researchers working in an isolated manner. But it was not so common to see teams that combined different backgrounds, to approach the problem with a much more holistic view. And it was not so frequent to find researchers trying to identify where the answers may be and not just where the knowledge is, but trying to be more oriented in terms of how to make things different, to change things. I think that what happened over those years was that it was vocalised, if we can say that way. It was much more accessible and easy to be understood. It became something that was closer to any average citizen.

Not meaning by that, that everything was achieved. But, for the first time, the different companies understood that there was something that also was relevant for them. So, they started to think about the question. What does that mean for me and my business strategy. For local authorities, it started to be part of their agenda. What does this mean for me? For my mandate? What should I be doing on this?

We started to see different initiatives growing on their own. Different interests that tried to make their voice heard to claim for further action, or for a change in the regulation of the energy system, or in the regulation in the use of land, or the role that agriculture could play. To have a public debate on what this could mean in terms of the combination of…

CB: Was there a media debate? Did you do a communications campaign, as the government? How did public awareness increase?

TR: We tried to work at different levels. We thought that the main duty should come from the government level. But government should go beyond the ministry of environment. It should affect the different departments in the government, the national government, but also the different regional governments and the different municipalities, the local governments. So we created different spaces for good governance, at the level of the national government, with all the ministries, or most ministries, being involved in a coordination body. And between the national government and the regional governments, a specific committee. Where we raise the issues and discuss the main lines of the main strategy, or the main laws, with the local authorities through the associations of the local authorities.

At the same time, we started to push the debate among the main business associations. We created some space for the research community. So, to develop some national assessments on main issues around climate, but also to provide some incentives in term of financial support for the research dealing with the climate-related aspects in different fields of research and knowledge.

CB: So looking back to that period…is there a regret, or were there mistakes made around the generous subsidies for renewable energy? Do you think that you would do things differently now?

TR: I think that there are two, three things that I learned from that period. I was not responsible for the energy portfolio. It was very difficult because I think we did not understand to what extent it was important to develop strategy to phase out what we needed to phase out. I think my colleagues in the energy ministry were still learning how to incentivise the renewable energy solutions. So, to a certain extent, you can make mistakes. The problem was that it was very difficult to react or correct those mistakes. When it was made, it was too late. The answers were not the right ones. There could have been other ways to solve or to face this issue. I think that they made a great mistake on that because that broke the confidence on the system. That was a hard lesson.

While I thought in real time that it was a difficult thing. And out of the government. When the new government, the next government went directly to tackle all of that, I think the solution was not better than the problem that we had to handle. Fortunately, they did it much better than us.

The other thing I learned – and that’s something that now we all realise is the case – is that we cannot tackle the climate issues just as an environmental issue, or an economic issue, or insisting on the business opportunities full stop. Of course, development and business opportunities are a great positive message and it is full of business opportunities and prosperity in terms of development and growth of wealth. But I think that distributional aspects are key. What we need to insist on is that the people should be at the centre of the discussion. Things are not easy because they are good. Because the phase-out strategies do also have an impact on the people. And those feeling menace by the change, who cannot see any type of hope or alternative for their own future, I’m not going to accept that the global [needs mean they] need ask them to be sacrificed.

What does this mean for me? Is this just sacrifice and that I have to find a different way of life, but nobody’s going to help me? I think that this is a very important lesson that we all should take into consideration. This is why I think the notion of “just transition” is very much a key player right now. Understanding that transition implies accepting an end point. It’s not I’m just going to avoid doing things and that’s all. No, no, I accept a certain level of risk and a certain goal for a certain date. I think that we need to pay attention to the distributional impacts.

CB: So you obviously have great experience of France. You’ve lived there and worked there. Do you think France made a mistake with what led to the yellow-jacket protests and the fuel tax?

TR: I don’t know if we can say that it was a mistake. But, probably now, it is easy to see that it could have been made better. I think that it is very difficult to say that we are going to reduce the taxes on those who are wealthier. And then we are going to ask for an increase of taxes on diesel that affects everybody – including, of course, those people that live in very small villages and do not have an option of public transport to make their day-to-day life. So I think that the cost of energy and the linkage to energy poverty, and the cost and opportunities, new opportunities in terms of employment, are key initial aspects of the transition, of the transformation. We all know that diesel or gasoline are things that need to be taxed, but I think that we need to provide alternatives. And not to promote an increase of these taxation systems without paying attention to who is going to pay. Because otherwise we may be confronting a kind of…

CB: So there were lots of headlines around the deal you made with coal miners in Spain. What exactly was this agreement? And how did you achieve this discussion and resolution with the unions?

TR: We were very worried by the fact that number of people working on coal mine mines was not very huge, or very important. It had been this many for a long time, but there were still a group of people working in coal mines. The owners of these coal mines were, most of them, leading the activity, but nobody was paying attention to these people. They were used to the fact that the future didn’t look very bright. So I think they knew that they would probably be the last generation working on coal mines. That’s very hard from an identity and an emotional point of view. It is very much localised in concrete areas. The way they have fought for their rights had always been based on the fact that there’s an emotional support coming from the rest of the society, because it’s people who have traditionally been very solid, because they put hard work behind them. People do feel touched by what they represent. But there was no way out. So, what they did was to protest and protest, to shout and, at the end, someone promised something to facilitate some more time for them.

But here we were reaching an end for that time. It didn’t make sense any more from an economic perspective in most of these areas. So what we tried to do was to have a very honest and candid conversation with the representatives of the different unions of these miners. Saying that our proposal is to work within the European legal framework and in the context of this long-term perspective of also dealing with climate. But then, under those conditions, we agree with you that society needs to be more solid with you. So, we need to find ways to support you and your villages who have depended traditionally on coal mining.

We worked on different fields. We have reached a deal that includes their pension rights, not only for those who get an early retirement, which is also part of the deal, but also for those that stay. But instead of working in coal mining, they’re working in coal-area restoration. It was still something which was a privilege in terms of the pension system and the salaries, but going towards an activity that looks into the future and not into the past.

Then there was another main line of work, which is supporting the alternative economies in each of these areas being affected by the closing [of the mines]. That was something that was difficult in the beginning. I think the first barrier was to insure that there was common interest on our intention to be supportive and to facilitate the phase-out and the acceptance of this coming to an end, which is emotionally very difficult to accept that this is the end.

But I think that we achieved a good thing. That doesn’t mean that people are so happy. I mean if we go to the villages where they used to work, people face the bad moments of entering into a new phase to discover. Then we need to craft the concrete alternatives with the local authorities, the neighbours, the businesses that are leaving and, of course, the workers and the unions.

CB: Just a final question. What is your personal vision of Spain’s energy mix, in say, 2030? Because you’ve put forward a big, bold vision. Just describe for me how Spain will look in, say, 2030, in terms of the way it generates and uses energy…

TR: This is something we are working on. Because our intention is to end the national integrated plan on energy and climate in the coming weeks and then to open it for general comments. But the main lines is to invest as much as possible in efficiency, to get into an electrification of mobility to certain ambitious level, and to work on the power sector so that we can increase the share of renewables to around 70% of the electricity system.

CB: And coal will be gone by that point?

TR: Our estimate is that coal will decrease dramatically in two years’ time, because of the new legislation on coal and emissions of coal plants in 2020. Then there may be some plants will still be there for a while, for a few years. But, it is not so easy to think that for environmental and economic reasons that will last over 2030. I think that could be quite unexpected.

CB: Thank you very much.

TR: You are welcome.

The post The Carbon Brief Interview: Teresa Ribera appeared first on Carbon Brief.

Categories: I. Climate Science

Coal – the elephant in the room in Katowice

Carbon Tracker Initiative - Tue, 12/18/2018 - 06:10

Arriving into Katowice Poland, host city for COP24, you were immediately struck by the obvious conflict at the heart of the UN climate talks, as sulphur tinged particulate matter began to assault your airways.

Poland chose Katowice as the host city precisely because its location at the centre of the Silesian coal and industrial region would bring into sharp focus the trade-offs to be made by policy makers pursuing radical transition from fossil fuels.

Some 48,000 Poles are estimated to die annually from illnesses related to poor air quality. Poland is home to 33 of the of European Union’s 50 dirtiest cities. At the same time, according to Euracoal, the Polish coal mining industry provides around 100,000 of the 185,000 coal mining jobs in the EU28. These coal workers are represented by powerful trade unions pushing back against energy sector reforms.

For public health and for the climate, Poland needs to urgently transition from a fossil fuel based economy to one based on renewable energy. Yet the Polish government wants to ensure a ‘just transition’, where the rights of workers and communities are respected, with alternative, well paying low-carbon jobs assured for those who want them.

Our primary research focus is the impact of climate change on financial markets. Our latest report, Powering Down Coal explores the global asset level economics of coal generation, demonstrating when coal units should be phased out consistent with the economics of renewable energy cost parity and the climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

In short, how do we attain the least cost renewable energy alternative to fossil fuel generation globally.

The study examined 6685 individual coal units, representing 95% of global coal capacity. We should also note there are other, more compelling reasons to expedite coal phase out than economics alone. Jim Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space has said:

”The single greatest threat to the climate comes from burning coal. Coal-fired generation is historically responsible for most of the CO2 in the air today – responsible for about half of all carbon dioxide emissions globally.”

About 3.5 billion tonnes of coal is currently burnt globally for power and heat every year, contributing to 45 per cent of the world’s emissions. Stopping new investment and unravelling old investment is therefore critical to the success of the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to Nick Mabey, director of the climate change think tank E3G.

Speaking at a Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) forum on Thursday 13 December, Mabey said commitments and promises were not adding up.

We will all need to get off coal if we are to meet the ambitions of the Paris Agreement,said Catherine McKenna, the Canadian Environment Minister who spoke at the event and is leading the PPCA with her UK counterpart, Claire Perry MP.

The PPCA, which promotes switching from coal to clean energy, is made up of states, regions and Cities. Ireland joined earlier this year and Senegal, Israel, Scotland, the cities of Melbourne and Sydney, and Scottish Power were announced as new signatories during COP24, bringing the number of members to 80 in total.

Carbon Tracker’s contribution to the PPCA debate, in the form of the global coal portal and Powering Down Coal report, launched at the UK Pavilion provides a global blue print for governments, civil society and investors to phase out coal in a manner consistent with Paris.

Listen to the presentation from the report’s lead author, Matthew Gray, at the UK Pavilion as part of the PPCA Coal Free Day event via Soundcloud below.

Matt Gray’s Powering Down Coal presentation can be accessed on slideshare below.

Powering down coal: navigating the economic and financial risk in the last years of coal power from Matt Gray

Despite the promise of Katowice which hinted at difficult conversations between coal dependent nations such as Poland, Germany, India, China and Indonesia and climate policy makers – agreeing concrete plans for coal phase out remains the elephant in the room, as rapid deflation in renewables costs, increasingly represents the lowest cost energy option for developing nations.

The PPCA deserve significant credit for sparking a difficult conversation and bringing states, regions, cities, and business to the table in a rapidly growing alliance.

Carbon Tracker sees the transition off coal power as a collective action issue, which will require policymakers, investors and civil society working together. Initiatives such as the PPCA and CA100+ offer promise in this regard. However, a requisite for an effective collaboration between policymakers, investors and civil society is data – and, in particular, data which transparently articulates the economic and financial risks of not shutting coal in a manner consistent with the temperature goal in the Paris Agreement. Carbon Tracker is looking forward to working with PPCA and CA100+ as well as our local partners 2019 to showcase how our analytics can help humanity embrace the low cost renewables revolution.

After the eleventh hour agreement of the ‘Paris rulebook’ at Katowice, Gray said:

we have a mostly complete Paris rule book, which is great. We now desperately need more political ambition to avoid asset stranding which is happening in real-time.”

Our below 2°C scenario finds around -$267bn of stranded asset risk globally, which should help focus the minds of Government policy makers, investors and civil society to agree an orderly and just transition beyond coal.

The post Coal – the elephant in the room in Katowice appeared first on Carbon Tracker Initiative.

Categories: I. Climate Science

IEA: China and India to fuel further rise in global coal demand in 2018

The Carbon Brief - Mon, 12/17/2018 - 16:01

Global coal demand is expected to grow again in 2018, driven by “strong” fuel burning in China and India, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says.

The IEA’s Coal 2018 report finds that global coal demand grew by 1% in 2017 after two years of decline. The rise was chiefly driven by global economic growth, it says. Despite recent growth, demand is still below “peak” levels seen in 2014.

Demand is likely to “remain stable” until 2023, the report authors say. This is because falling demand in western Europe and North America is likely to be offset by increased demand in a host of Asian countries, including India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Carbon Brief takes a look at the IEA’s changing coal forecasts for key world regions.

Plateauing projections

Each year, the IEA publishes a series of six-year forecasts for key energy markets. For example, the Coal 2018 report looks at the market for the fossil fuel out to 2023, broken down by country and sector.

This year’s report leads with the news that global coal demand returned to growth in 2017 after two years of decline. It is likely that demand will continue to grow in 2018, says Keisuke Sadamori, director of energy markets and security at the IEA. He told a press briefing:

“The global coal demand declined in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, it rebounded, and our estimates suggest it will grow in 2018 too. However, this is very different to the growth we saw earlier in the decade.”

In other words, global coal demand is growing, but is still below “peak” levels seen in 2014. Actual demand is shown in red on the chart below, with each year’s IEA forecast shown in shades of blue. (Note that the y-axis does not start at zero.)

The further expected increase to demand in 2018 is thought to be “driven by strong coal power generation in China and India”, the report says.

The chart also shows how, in 2016, global coal demand fell to a level lower than expected by the IEA’s projections.

This year’s six-year forecast is the first to project a small decline in global coal demand by 2021 – suggesting IEA is moving away from forecasting ongoing growth in demand.

The change in forecast reflects the fact that “we are in a different world” to when the IEA made its first coal projections in 2011, says Carlos Fernández Alvarez, a senior energy analyst at the IEA. He tells Carbon Brief:

“In 2011, the big question about coal was when Chinese coal consumption would peak. Given the sheer size of China and of Chinese growth, this meant that the world’s coal consumption would also grow. Now, we are in a different world. Not only owing to changes in China, but many other things have happened in the meantime, such as the shale revolution, the renewable costs decline and the Paris Agreement – so our forecast has also changed.”

‘Two Europes’

The projected plateau and slow decline of global demand in the coming years is partly the result of efforts to move away from coal in western Europe and North America, the authors say.

The map below, which is taken from page 89 of the report, gives an idea of how coal phase-out plans currently look across Europe.

On the map, light green shows countries that have no coal power plants, dark green shows out where phase-out has been planned for 2020-30, orange shows where a phase-out has been discussed and scarlet is used for countries with no phase-out policy.

Differences in coal phase-out policy in countries across Europe. Light green shows countries that have no coal power plants, dark green shows out where phase-out has been planned for 2020-30, orange shows where a phase-out has been discussed and scarlet is used for countries with no phase-out policy. Source: Coal 2018, IEA

The map paints a picture of “two Europes”, the report says. In western Europe, specific policies for a coal phase out combined with action on climate change, including through the EU Emissions Trading System, is likely to hit coal demand hard, the report says:

“By 2023, at least two more countries, France and Sweden, will have closed their last coal power plants, and Germany will be the only significant coal consumer remaining in western Europe.”

Across the EU, coal consumption declined by 1.1% to 627m tonnes in 2017. Consumption of thermal coal – which is used in power generation – dropped by a sharp 7% from 2016 to 188m tonnes, while coking coal – which is used in steel production – remained flat. Lignite use for power generation increased 2% to 381m tonnes.

However, in eastern Europe – where coal demand remains level – most countries have not announced phase-out policies, the report says, and new coal power plants are under construction in the Balkans, Greece and Poland.

The report projects that, in the EU, coal demand will drop 2.5% per year, from 325m tonnes of coal equivalent (mtce) in 2017 to 280mtce in 2023. (Coal equivalent is a standardised measure of the energy obtained from burning coal.)

By this point, it will have taken 30 years for coal consumption to drop by half, the report notes – “indicating the resiliency of coal as an energy resource”.

Looking across the whole of Europe, however, brings a different forecast. Coal demand is expected to fall at a rate of 1.3% – owing to demand remaining stable in eastern Europe and potentially increasing in Turkey, the report says.

In the US, coal demand dropped by 2.6% to 641m tonnes in 2017. However, this decline is less rapid than in the last two years, likely reflecting a slow-down in the closure of coal power stations, the report says. Coal retirements have returned to near-record levels in 2018.

Blue-sky thinking

In China, the world’s largest coal producer, demand rose by 10m tonnes to 3,664m tonnes in 2017, following three years of decline. This rise was largely fuelled by an increase in coal-fired power generation, the report says.

However, the IEA projects a decline in coal demand to 2,673mtce by 2023. This is owed to expected declines of coal consumption by key industries, such as steel.

Another expected driver of falling demand in China is the country’s “Blue Sky” policy – an action plan for cutting air pollution across large cities. The policy has seen several cities, including Beijing, introduce bans on residents burning coal for heat. The report says:

“Environmental policies, and in particular clean-air measures, constrain coal demand. The main target of the policy action is to reduce direct coal use and small boilers in residential heating, as well as in the commercial and industrial sectors. Cement, steel and small power producers are also targeted in China’s air-quality campaign.”

These measures, along with China’s commitment to investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, led the IEA to project an overall decline in demand in China – despite the growth seen in 2017. The report says:

“Considering all these moving pieces, we maintain the forecast in last year’s report that China’s coal demand has entered a slow but structural decline at less than 1% per year on average.”

Changing Asia

The world’s greatest percentage increase in coal power demand (5.4%) is expected to occur in Southeast Asia – where demand is projected to rise from 186mtce in 2017 to 259mtce in 2023.

Demand growth is expected to be highest in Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines, the report says:

“Although these countries differ considerably in energy resource endowment, they share robust economic growth, a rising population and an expanding middle class, all of which boost power demand. As coal-based power is expected to cover a significant share of the additional demand…considerable new coal-fired capacity is set to come online in these four countries.”

In India, demand is expected to rise from 563mtce in 2017 to 708mtce in 2023. The chief driver of this demand is a growing desire for coal-fired power, fuelled by ongoing infrastructure development and the expansion of the country’s middle class, the report says.

Coal demand in India is also expected to grow as a result of expansion in key industries, such as cement and sponge iron production. By 2023, India’s non-power coal consumption is expected to rise by 33mtce to 163mtce.

However, demand is expected to rise more slowly than in the previous decade, the report says. This is largely down to investment in renewable sources of power, the report says.

The IEA expects the proportion of electricity from renewable sources to double to 25% of the total power mix by 2023. The Indian government is aiming to install 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar by 2022 and 50GW of wind – double the wind capacity of 2017 and four times the solar capacity. The report says:

“The large-scale ongoing renewable expansion and the use of supercritical technology in new coal power plants will slow coal demand growth, which will grow by less than 4% per year through 2023, compared to over 6% on average per year in the past decade.”

In addition to growing more slowly than in the recent past, India’s coal demand has fallen short of earlier IEA forecasts. This year, the IEA has once again cut its forecast for coal demand growth in India.

The post IEA: China and India to fuel further rise in global coal demand in 2018 appeared first on Carbon Brief.

Categories: I. Climate Science

COP24 video: Three need-to-knows from the UN climate talks in Katowice

The Carbon Brief - Sun, 12/16/2018 - 13:14

The latest round of international climate negotiations concluded late on Saturday evening in Katowice, Poland.

COP24 gathered diplomats from around the world to, among other things, agree on the “rulebook” for the Paris Agreement on climate change, which was first struck in 2015, but will not formally be coming into force until 2020.

Carbon Brief’s video brings you three key details you need to know about the UN talks this year.

The video explains why Poland hosting the talks provided a controversial coal-tinged theme. Meanwhile, Naoyuki Yamagishi, head of climate and energy at WWF Japan, explains why the call for countries to “raise ambition” proved to be such a talking point.

Carbon Brief’s other coverage of the December 2018 climate talks in Katowice includes:

The post COP24 video: Three need-to-knows from the UN climate talks in Katowice appeared first on Carbon Brief.

Categories: I. Climate Science

Mark Fulton appointed Chair of Research as Mark Lewis joins BNP Paribas

Carbon Tracker Initiative - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 06:42

LONDON, December 11 – Mark Lewis will be stepping down at the end of the year to take on a new role in January at BNP Paribas Asset Management as their new Head of Climate Change.  Importantly, he will be staying on Carbon Tracker’s Advisory Board headed by founder and executive director, Mark Campanale.

We are sorry to see Mark leave, but we fully understand and support his decision to follow through on this exciting approach by a leading international bank. BNP Paribas is one of the progressive banks taking a stand on the links between fossil fuels and climate change. His new role will undoubtedly provide some interesting opportunities to collaborate on in the messaging to mainstream investors, and around our own important CA100+ work.

We are delighted that Mark Fulton has accepted the role as Chair of Carbon Tracker’s Research Council, coordinating all aspects of the research programme. Mark Fulton was the lead architect of our ‘cost curve’ analysis we kicked off in 2013. Mark will apply his extensive experience as a former Head of Research (Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Salomon Bros and County NatWest) to coordinate our work both internally and externally across our network, helping to coral synergies and partnerships.

Meena Raju will also be joining us from the European Climate Foundation as a research project manager, helping to coordinate Carbon Tracker’s research programme and dialogue with our funder network.

We have recognised that the head of research role has to be a management role not a writing role and this is where Mark has a solid track record leading international research teams.

Notes to editors

Mark Fulton has 35 years’ experience in financial markets spanning three continents in London, New York and Sydney. As a recognized economist and market strategist at leading financial institutions including Citigroup, Salomon Bros and County NatWest, he has researched international economies, currencies, fixed income and equity markets. Mark has also held corporate strategy, finance and management roles.

Currently, Mark is Founding Partner Energy Transition Advisers: a Research Advisor to the Carbon Tracker Initiative; a Senior Fellow at CERES; Advisor to 2 Degree Investing Initiative and the Climate Bond Initiative. Mark has a BA in Philosophy & Economics from Oxford University.

Head of News & Communications

Stefano Ambrogi                                                +44 7557 916940

The post Mark Fulton appointed Chair of Research as Mark Lewis joins BNP Paribas appeared first on Carbon Tracker Initiative.

Categories: I. Climate Science

Guest post: Is ‘glacier carbon’ good or bad for the climate?

The Carbon Brief - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 02:54

Dr Arwyn Edwards is a senior lecturer in biology from the University of Aberystwyth and Dr Joe Cook is a postdoctoral researcher in glaciology from the University of Sheffield.

Our warming planet is losing its glaciers and ice sheets. Water from melting glaciers trickles into the sea while faster-flowing glaciers are delivering more icebergs, raising global sea levels.

While large icebergs calving into the oceans and the shrinkage of continent-sized ice sheets are dramatic symbols of cryospheric change – they are, in part, controlled by processes operating at the very smallest scales: the scale of individual molecules and microbes.

In this article, we explore one aspect of this remarkable cross-scale linkage: the role of “glacier carbon”. This type of carbon is created by a large community of photosynthetic microbes that draw CO2 down from the atmosphere and store it on the ice surface.

While the activity of these microbes may benefit the climate by removing CO2 from the atmosphere, the dark appearance of glacier carbon causes it to absorb large amounts of sunlight. This, in turn, causes the surrounding ice to melt at a faster rate.

In our research based in the Arctic, we are using a host of techniques – ranging from satellite data collection to real-time genetic sequencing – to try to shed light on whether glacier carbon could be a help or a hindrance to global efforts to tackle climate change.

Frozen communities

Glaciers are not made of ice alone. Ice is a habitat that supports an abundant and active microbial community.

Each individual member of this community is invisibly small. The largest creatures in the glacial food web are the tardigrades, which measure just 0.5mm long.

Microscopic image of a Tardigrade water phylum, showing all eight legs. Credit: Papilio / Alamy Stock Photo.

Together, glacier communities make up the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem – with 70% of all of the Earth’s freshwater locked up in glaciers.

Despite their dominance, little is known about the role that these communities play in accumulating and storing carbon.

Research released in 2009 estimated that, each year, the world’s glacial microbes increase their store of carbon by 64m tonnes. (Roughly, this is enough to cancel out North Korea’s emissions in 2014.)

But this store of carbon comes with a “dark side”. When microbes draw down CO2, they grow and divide, leading to increased biomass on the ice surface.

This accumulation of organic matter on the ice surface is very dark in colour and, therefore, quickly absorbs sunlight, transferring the excess energy into the ice as heat. Our research suggests that it is possible that this process has a warming effect that could oppose any mitigation benefits made by CO2 drawdown by bacteria.

Decoding the ice

To understand the balance between carbon storage and melt impacts, we have been using technologies that are not normally associated with traditional glaciology or microbiology.

First, we need to understand how microbes efficiently absorb CO2 on ice. Our recent work shows that “swarms” of microbes migrate over the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Modern techniques of satellite image analysis, feature tracking, machine learning and big data analysis will enable us to update our carbon storage estimates based on remote observations of the activities of millions of microbes, rather than a few isolated samples.

At the same time as scaling up to the landscape scale using remote sensing, we are scaling down to the molecular level using genomics (the study of genomes: the entire DNA sequence of an organism). We’re bringing genomics to the ice to reveal the genomes and molecular pathways which drive carbon sequestration and ice darkening.

To do this, we use portable DNA sequencing with USB-powered genome sequencers driven by battery-powered mini-supercomputers and controlled from our mobile phones.

Analysing the genomes of Greenland bacteria with an USB-driven nanopore DNA sequencer and a mini-supercomputer. Credit: Melanie Hay

Bridging these technological divides is edging the science towards mapping molecules from the sky, and deep understanding of the connections between life, ice, carbon and climate.

Furthermore, there are truly unexplored areas of the cryosphere that hold vital information about life on ice. So far, studies of life on ice have focused on the summer melt season, but we are venturing into the dark.

It is difficult to imagine how life might survive, deep frozen in the darkness of polar night, but freezing does not totally quench microbial activity in the Arctic.

With the award of a Royal Geographical Society Walters Kundert Arctic fellowship, Arwyn is able to gather data which are challenging earlier assumptions.

Working in 24-hour darkness on Arctic islands where polar bears outnumber humans, we have sampled microbial habitats in the depths of Svalbard’s winter. Ironically, during sampling in December 2017 the temperatures experienced by the microbes and the scientists in the High Arctic were warmer than those in the UK.

The increased frequency, intensity and duration of episodic above-zero temperatures in the High Arctic winter raise the prospect of a “bleakest midwinter” for delicate glacial ecosystems. Understanding the seasonality of glacial carbon cycling is therefore urgent.

Deep-frozen glacial carbon excavated from beneath snow in the “light winter” of Svalbard as part of the Royal Geographic Society Walters Kundert project. Credit: A Edwards

Conserving the cryosphere

And it is in this work at the frontiers of science, technology and exploration that we are discovering that weighing the “good” of carbon sequestration against “the bad” of ice darkening is an oversimplification.

Glacier surfaces are home to hundreds, if not thousands of microbial species. Many of these are poorly known to science. Some may prove useful for discovering new antibiotics or low-energy technologies.

Carbon and nutrient cycling by glacial microbes helps deliver resources to support soil development in the lands released by glacial retreat, or the productive coastal waters fed by glacial melt.

Integrating the ecology of glaciers within the Earth system is therefore providing new insights to present, past and the future of life on Earth. Re-evaluating glaciers as ecosystems should provide additional impetus to their conservation – since otherwise we risk discovering their life only as we watch them die.

The post Guest post: Is ‘glacier carbon’ good or bad for the climate? appeared first on Carbon Brief.

Categories: I. Climate Science

The Carbon Brief Interview: Saudi Arabia’s Ayman Shasly

The Carbon Brief - Wed, 12/12/2018 - 00:50

Ayman Shasly is a senior negotiator for Saudi Arabia at both the UNFCCC and IPCC. In his role as an international policies consultant with the ministry of petroleum and mineral resources in Saudi Arabia, he is a board member of the Green Climate Fund. He has also worked in China for Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s largest oil companies.

  • Shasly on why Saudi Arabia does not want to formally “welcome” the IPCC special report on 1.5C: “You would not say things like, you ‘welcome’ it…because that [means] we are giving legitimacy to some scientific report…that had its own issues of scientific gaps, knowledge gaps.”
  • On his country’s issue with the 1.5C report: “It didn’t say that how much space we need to make for developing countries to continue their development, without hitting 1.5C. That was not mentioned in the report.”
  • On his country’s problem with the 1.5C report’s “storyline”: “We all know it will cost the world a great deal of cost and all elements to achieve 1.5C…The storyline of the entire report shows that it is achievable, it’s doable, let’s all do it together, which is not fair. What is the equity in this? Where is history in this?”
  • On using up the remaining 1.5C carbon budget: “We’re all competing for this limited space. [The 1.5C report] did not really send a signal that someone needs to take more serious, more ambitious actions, for them to reverse their emissions, so that they make room for developing countries to develop.”
  • On Saudi Arabia’s vulnerability to climate change: “As a matter of fact, we are impacted by climate change, perhaps more than anybody else. We are a desert country that heavily relies on this single source of income. We have such a vulnerable economy, fragile economy, and with oil, we eat, we feed, we travel, we educated our people, we have medical care and everything.”
  • On when the world should end the use of fossil fuels: “Well, we hope we get rid of fossil fuel before anybody else. We don’t want to be dependent…We are undergoing – for Saudi Arabia, in particular – we’re undergoing a massive economic diversification plan. Like everybody else, we want to move away from fossil fuels as soon as possible.”
  • On why Saudi Arabia “needs time” before ending the use of fossil fuels: “We really would want to make sure that anything we do, that comes to energy, we do not impact the global economic growth. We do not impact the fight against poverty…We need time. Now, that could be within the next 15, 20, 30 years. It’s just a matter of supply/demand.”
  • On what he says to vulnerable, low-lying countries: “I’ll tell them: ‘Go and speak to the consumers, the large consumers, those who are emitting the most, those who are impacting the climate. You must talk to them. Tell them: what have you done over the last 200 years?’”
  • On the Paris Agreement: “We adore and we really like the Paris Agreement. We think it’s a balanced agreement that had everything, bits and pieces for all of us, and that’s why we want to protect it.”
  • On developed countries’ attitude to climate finance: “There is very little interest among developed countries to really put on the table what is needed to be able to operationalise the Paris Agreement…It’s now been shifted to developing countries through many forms of what’s called ‘innovative’ sources of finance, where they’re going to tax marine transport, aviation, goods and services. All of this would impact our own economies. We’re going to pay for that to go to climate finance, which is not fair.”
  • On who Saudi Arabia’s “friends” are at the UNFCCC: “If we’re all abiding by this principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and equity, that will give time and space for developing countries to develop, then we’re going to shake hands with [them]. Those are the people that are faithful to the Paris Agreement and our friends – and nobody else.”
  • On what will bring success at COP24: “A package for the modalities, procedures and guidelines that will operationalise the Paris Agreement in a balanced way…All the elements should be included. If we get that, we are all successful.”
  • On what, in Saudi Arabia’s view, scientists should have included in the 1.5C report: “You need to tell developing countries, scientists, what does it take as far as finance needs, as far as cost to your GDP…To say that there was a history of emissions…this history needs to be corrected so that you allow space for our countries to continue to develop without being impacted by climate change.”
  • On why the 1.5C report “gives a rosy picture”: “It tries to give a nice rosy picture about the impact of us trying to achieve 1.5C. This is against every other science that we are aware of…It’s as if we’re really losing some very good economic and social opportunities if we do not address 1.5C. This is a skewed perspective…It shows you only the opportunities. It doesn’t show you the price.”
  • On his message to other parties at the UNFCCC: “My message to all of us here at the UNFCCC is to stay away from the IPCC. Let the IPCC do its work and let them go about their scientific assessment. And we will receive.”


Carbon Brief: There’s been quite a lot of media coverage over the past few days over what happened with the end of SBTSA (at COP24) on Saturday night. A lot of the media was focused on four countries, including Saudi Arabia, that didn’t want to “welcome”, in the words of UNFCCC document language, they didn’t want to welcome the 1.5C special report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Can you explain in more detail why that was the case?

Ayman Shasly: By all means. Leo, thank you very much for the opportunity that I would speak to you about this. There are the dynamics of the negotiations that led to where we are in the SBSTA closing plenary. What we are prepared to do…there was a clean text that we all agreed on inside the negotiation rooms and that was tabled for us to adopt and we, Saudi Arabia and the other countries [US, Russia and Kuwait], we did not object to that text. We were ready to adopt, but the objection came from the small island developing states. They should have objected to it inside the negotiation rooms, not at plenary.

And you saw all this reaction of the media, which we can understand. We can understand where they are coming from. Let’s go back to the substance, the issue of the IPCC 1.5C report. We’re saying we “noted” it because noting it [means] you’re taking account of what the report is. You’re looking at it, you noted it. But you would not say things like, you “welcome” it, you’re welcome to “appreciate” it, because that [means] we are giving legitimacy to some scientific report, supposedly there’s a full-fledged scientific report that had its own issues of scientific gaps, knowledge gaps, and that was with the admission, with the exception of panel [inaudible], that this is an incomplete report. There are certain areas that we were unable to cover as part of the outline. We did discuss the outline for this report and there are very missing elements from the outline of this that was not covered by the report.

We were promised that this report, as it makes its way to the sixth assessment report [IPCC AR6] in 2022, they will work on the missing element. They will work on the missing gaps and the missing information, the missing science, and they’ll make it more complete as we go along. In its current state, it did suffer a great deal of gaps in science and knowledge. That is why we are saying we “note” it, but you cannot acknowledge it, one way or another, until you finish off the unfinished elements of the report.

CB: A couple of months ago, in South Korea, Saudi Arabia, along with all the other parties there, they adopted the summary for policymakers, they agreed with it. What is the difference between then and now? You’re talking about “missing science”, etc. What exactly do you mean? And why did you endorse it previously?

AS: Excellent question. Now, I’ll tell you what happened during that adoption of the 1.5C summary for policymakers [SPM]. The version that was submitted to us was in June 4. But not only since June 4, June…July, August, September, and through the night of the opening of the plenary for the IPCC. There was a new version that was issued.

So imagine. You are four months on a report and then just 12 hours before they open the doors, a whole new version is submitted to you for you to adopt. That was the dynamics that we were suffering during the adoption of that report.

CB: But the government version of the report, you had months with that…

AS: Exactly. Four months, but then in the night of the opening plenary of the IPCC, at 9 o’clock in the evening, a new version of the report was issued to governments. So imagine, what you would do with that? We had our experts take time and effort to review that report and then over, just as I said, 12 hours before the opening, you had a new version of the [SPM] that we had to deal with.

What happened? We sat down. We tried to identify all the different pieces of the report and we were told that there are missing gaps and elements. More particularly, the elements that are pertaining to developing countries: the impact on GDP; the costs for us to be able to address the 1.5 degrees. What is it there that we would need to do for us to maintain and continue our development when we need to go all the way to a level where, if we didn’t do nothing, we would have this 1.5C by 2030.

It didn’t say that some other developed countries need to regress, they need to go negate their emissions. We knew the storyline of the report and this is…I leave it to you. You read the storyline of the report, it says, up until now, we don’t have a problem, but the future is going to bring the problem. As if there is no historical responsibility of what has taken us up until now. And this now, all collectively, deal with the problem that is coming in the future.

It didn’t say that how much space we need to make for developing countries to continue their development, without hitting the 1.5C. That was not mentioned in the report. And I did discuss this report and there was, for example, one this figure, it’s called [figure SPM.4] for the report, if you can go and look at it. I discussed that figure 4 because it listed down all the sustainable development goals and it put the relevance of us trying to address the two sectors. In actual fact, there were three sectors – energy, land and ocean.

The full caption for this figure can be viewed on the IPCC website by clicking on “figures”.

They had land and ocean together. I asked the scientist: “How come we have land and oceans together when they are different sectors, different approaches to addressing climate change?” He said, “OK. You want to split?” So they took out ocean, all the way from the picture and they just put land. I questioned them: what kind of scientific activity [is that] when a representative asks for something and immediately they can change it? I realised that this table was a product of the [SPM] authors. It was not from the underlying scientific reports. It was just something that was created by the authors just to show that to achieve the 1.5C the situation is really right/rife/ripe [? inaudible]. The relevance to hunger, to poverty eradication, to health, is really minimum…the relationship, But the opportunities are really great. This has really skewed perceptions. We all know it will cost the world a great deal of cost and all elements to achieve the 1.5C. That did not come out in that figure. The storyline of the entire report shows that it is achievable, it’s doable, let’s all do it together, which is not fair. What is the equity in this? Where is history in this? Where is the finance, because there was very limited…actually there was one report by UNEP [? inaudible] that talked about finance, that they use for the report. There were significant gaps. There was no discussion around the negative impact of the actions taken to address 1.5C. It wasn’t there. As I said, there are a number of outlines that we agreed to back in October, 2016, in Bangkok, that was not covered by the report. That’s why we’re saying that while we “note” the report, we acknowledge that there are gaps in the science and the knowledge. We need to give time to the IPCC to work on it up until we get to 2022, when we have the sixth assessment report.

CB: You say that you need to wait to AR6, but it’s quite clear from AR5 and the 1.5C report that there’s very, very minimal space left in the carbon budget. You’re effectively asking the global community to wait another five years just to fill in…

AS: Thank you very much for brInging that up. We all know, since AR5, that there’s only one quarter of the space available for us to occupy. And the question is, who is going to use that quarter? Now, everyone is competing over it. Developed countries, annex II, annex I, along with developing [countries]. We’re all competing for this limited space. It did not really send a signal that someone needs to take more serious, more ambitious actions, for them to reverse their emissions, so that they make room for developing countries to develop.

Let’s go back to AR5. The special report on the 1.5C report was a result of a negotiation that I attended in Paris [COP21 in 2015]. We were sitting in that room and the [UNFCCC] secretariat did a synthesis report on the submitted INDCs at the time, and they measured it against AR5, which was just less than a year ago issued by the IPCC. Then there was this intervention from the small island states and they said: “Were we measuring against 2C, which is AR5. Why not 1.5C?” We said there is no literature available. IPCC did not develop such science with a way of addressing it. They said: “No, let’s ask the IPCC to do it. Let’s mandate the IPCC.” And this is how it came about. And that was the result…that we, as politicians, mandate a highly reputable organisation, such as the IPCC, that received the Nobel prize in 2007 for their report, now we, the governments, are asking them to do things against their own scientific ability to produce. They went and they tried to tap on anything that is available to produce this report. Just because government told it to do this. And here the logic is reversed. Instead of science telling governments what to do, now we are governments telling science what to do.

I’ll give you another example. Now there are calls from governments here [at COP24]…they are asking the IPCC to change the cycle of its products, its assessment reports, to match the global stocktake five-year cycle. Is this fair? Is this fair to science? When science is saying that they need 7-10 years to be able to produce something really scientifically sound, now we’re thinking, no, cut it down to five years because we wanted to be synchronised with the global stocktake. We’re not really doing justice to science and we are influencing science with politics to drive them into a certain direction. That is not fair.

That’s why we’re saying we fully appreciate and acknowledge the efforts done by the scientists, by the IPCC as an organisation, and we take “note” of the report, but we will work on it going forward to 2022 and we have the sixth assessment report. Nothing at this stage said that we’re totally ignoring the report. We’re saying we’re “noting” it, but using more words to “welcome” it “with appreciation”, as if you are accepting everything in the report, which is not the case… And I have to tell you one thing. Many of the people that you hear speaking in plenaries and in reaction and at SBSTA, they really didn’t know what the report is about. They really have not had the history of how this report came about. They just know it came one after another because it sounds good, but, in reality, it’s really not, and I mentioned that it has serious gaps in knowledge and in science.

CB: Saudi Arabia has, obviously, huge resources of oil and gas that generates an income. It generates money from this. A lot of people are viewing the reaction of Saudi Arabia and a small other group of countries over the reaction to the IPCC, as effectively being almost like a selfish attitude, like: “We’re Saudi Arabia. We’re OK. We’ve got this oil.” But are you not worried about that perception around the world? And are you also not concerned about your own impacts of climate change on your own communities?

AS: As a matter of fact, we are impacted by climate change, perhaps more than anybody else. We are a desert country that heavily relies on this single source of income. We have such a vulnerable economy, fragile economy, and with oil, we eat, we feed, we travel, we educated our people, we have medical care and everything. But this is not to say that we’re oblivious to the impact of climate change. You can come to Saudi Arabia and we can demonstrate to you, on the ground, how much we are doing to address climate change, be it on adaptation or mitigation. This is a great deal of misperception that because we are such an oil producer country that we don’t care about the climate.

We have had a number of high officials who have come and they saw for themselves what we are doing on the ground to increase efficiency in the use of fossil fuel, to minimise the impact of fossil fuels to the environment. And this is what we are asking the world: “Please, use this commodity that is available to fuel economies around the world in a more environment friendly [way]. That’s what we’re saying. We want to invest in technology and you can go to the [Saudi] pavilion [at COP24] now and you see an engine of a car that we invested in that will treble the amount of kilometres that you can get for the same amount of fuel that you use in conventional cars, which will, as a matter of fact, be very competitive to the Tesla car, in terms of the carbon footprint that it makes.

CB: When will the world stop using fossil fuels, in your view?

AS: Well, we hope we get rid of fossil fuel before anybody else. We don’t want to be dependent.

CB: Give me a date.

AS: We don’t know. We’re all trying. We are undergoing – for Saudi Arabia, in particular – we’re undergoing a massive economic diversification plan. Like everybody else, we want to move away from fossil fuels as soon as possible. Like everybody else, globally.

CB: Is that 2050? 2100?

AS: We really would want to make sure that anything we do, that comes to energy, we do not impact the global economic growth. We do not impact the fight against poverty. We do not impact the development of emerging and small economies. We really want to be balanced in our approach. All sorts of energies are needed and we have the largest programme for renewable energy globally. It is in Saudi Arabia, because we really want to move away from fossil fuel. But we need time. Now, that could be within the next 15, 20, 30 years. It’s just a matter of supply/demand. It’s a matter of how successful we are in addressing our economical diversification and the rest of it.

But we all have the same drive. We all have the same interest. As a matter of fact, we have much more interest in moving away from fossil fuels than anybody else, but we have to be given time to do it. Time is of the essence.

CB: But time is not something that the low-lying island countries, the AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States) countries have. What do you say to them when they come up to you and they say: “Mr Shasly, you’re helping to produce these emissions all around the world by selling this product that the world is consuming, but this is going to overwhelm our nations.” What do you say to them?

AS: I’ll tell them: “Go and speak to the consumers, the large consumers, those who are emitting the most, those who are impacting the climate. You must talk to them. Tell them: what have you done over the last 200 years? I know what you’re going to do going forward: what is your commitment that you’re showing to us as far as providing finance and technology for all of us to move away from fossil fuel?” You would direct the question to them, that you are not standing up to your commitments. You’re leading the world for emission reductions and for providing the necessary means of implementation for all of us. They are the one in question, not us. They are the one who should really make the space for all of us, as developing countries, to at least develop to something closer to the level of development that is enjoyed by the industrial world.

CB: Is the success of the Paris Agreement really about moving finance from the richest countries towards, say, a country such as Saudi Arabia, which many people would perceive as being a very wealthy country?

AS: Well, I’ll tell you, the success of Paris Agreement is that, first of all, we adore and we really like the Paris Agreement. We think it’s a balanced agreement that had everything, bits and pieces for all of us, and that’s why we want to protect it. That’s why now, in Katowice, we want to come up with a “modalities, procedures and guidelines” that we [use to] operationalise all elements of the Paris Agreement. Let’s not forget, we ratified the Paris Agreement on the basis of its own merits. The balance. That’s how we managed to convince our governments and our parliaments that this Paris Agreement is balanced in its approach to climate change, and now we want to operationalise it in the same balance.

Now, finance is a big element of implementing the Paris Agreement. But go and listen to the discussions about the articles 9.5 and 9.7 [which both relate to how and when developed countries should “communicate” their financial pledges], and see the reaction from developed countries. There is very little interest among developed countries to really put on the table what is needed to be able to operationalise the Paris Agreement. For one, because it’s their commitment. For two, we need to have this international solidarity where we can all be able to accomplish the Paris Agreement the same. And the Paris Agreement is under the [UNFCCC] convention. The purpose of the Paris Agreement is to enhance implementation of the convention. Something is being watered down. Differentiation is being watered down. Equity is being watered down. All this commitment about the provision of finances is just being watered down.

As a matter of fact, it’s now been shifted to developing countries through many forms of what’s called “innovative” sources of finance, where they’re going to tax marine transport, aviation, goods and services. All of this would impact our own economies. We’re going to pay for that to go to climate finance, which is not fair. We’re going to pay for our own needs and we’re going to…which is something that should not be the case.

CB: In this [UNFCCC] process, who are your friends? Who are your key allies? Is it Donald Trump’s America? Who are your allies here?

AS: It’s all those who care about climate change. All those who are willing to sit down and have a balanced approach to implementing the Paris Agreement. Those are our people that we wish to sit and talk to. Those who really have a genuine interest in keeping the Paris Agreement as balanced as how it was created – and they’re willing to really do their part based on the elements of the Paris Agreement. Let’s not forget article 2 of the Paris Agreement, which says CBDR [common but differentiated responsibilities] and equity. If we’re all abiding by this principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and equity, that will give time and space for developing countries to develop, then we’re going to shake hands with [them]. Those are the people that are faithful to the Paris Agreement and our friends – and nobody else.

CB: At COP24, what, in your view, is success? What has to happen at COP24?

AS: Very simple. The package for the modalities, procedures and guidelines that will operationalise the Paris Agreement in a balanced way. All the elements come. All the elements should be included. If we get that, we are all successful.

Ayman Shashly at COP24. Credit: International Institute for Sustainable Development

CB: One last question, which is about the science. I have the 1.5C report here. [Carbon Brief hands Shasly a copy of the report.] Just to tell the scientists who worked on this, what specifically is the “missing science” here? The report is designed to show levels of uncertainty, so they say “medium”, etc. It’s designed in this way. Speaking to the scientists who wrote this, what are you saying is missing from this?

AS: Well, I’ll say, thank you very much, scientists, for the efforts that you spent and the time to do this. And for you to reflect on the comments that you received. There was thousands and thousands of comments. I think at some point there were close to 35,000 or something comments, and they responded to those comments. So thank you very much for all the hard work that you’ve done as scientists.

However, the report needs to be more complete. There are missing elements in the report. Go back, scientists, to the outline that we agreed to in the outline that we discussed in October, 2016, in Bangkok, when we said these are the elements to be covered. There were missing elements. They’re not here.

As I said, means of implementation, finance, technology is not covered. The impact of the actions to address climate change to achieve doing so is not covered. And many other elements. It is kind of concerning for us that were telling the world that it is easy. It’s OK that we can do something…it’s achievable to do the 1.5C, in a sense where it does not identify all those gains, because developing countries will not be able to do their part if we could not cover this areas. You need to tell developing countries, scientists, what does it take as far as finance needs, as far as cost to your GDP, and as far as the opportunities that you can, perhaps, be able to tackle [it] in a balanced way to achieve 1.5C.

To put it as such and say, up until now, we don’t have a problem. But we are now almost at the cliff. If we just take one more step, we’re going to fall. There is a skewed perception on 1.5C. To say that there was a history of emissions…this history needs to be corrected so that you allow space for our countries to continue to develop without being impacted by climate change. I would ask the scientists to please look at this, revise this, make it an integral element to the sixth assessment report that will come in two, three years time.

In the end, thank you very much for the work you’ve done, but we can acknowledge and we are mindful of the fact that you are unable to find some literature. But this is something should really be taken into account and fixing all those gaps. This figure 4 here, that shows the relevance…

CB: Can you show it?

AS: Let me see. Let me see. The figure 4 here, this one. This figure 4 here, it puts the sustainable development goals and it puts three elements – energy supply, energy demand, and land to address 1.5C. This is the one I was referring to. It was land and ocean, for you to imagine. And I said: “Why? How could you put land and ocean together, because they’re two different sectors?”. They said: “OK, we can split them and remove ocean.” And they put land. That made me worried. This is something that is not really very well supported by the underlying literature. Then I realised that this table never came in any of the underlying literature. It was just the making of the authors.

Look at what this table tells you. If you go to the first one [points at far-left column], what is this, poverty, it tells you that the relationship, the trade-offs, is minimal. But the synergies is really big. And the same thing for hunger. If you read it, it tries to give a nice rosy picture about the impact of us trying to achieve 1.5C. This is against every other science that we are aware of. For you to address 1.5C, you need to minimise land use and agriculture, which will impact food security significantly.

See all these “synergies”? [Points to figure 4.] When this says synergy, they mean opportunities. Look at all this colour here. It’s as if we’re really losing some very good economic and social opportunities if we do not address 1.5C. This is a skewed perspective. This is not concerning, not alarming to politicians, who really need to know that this is what it takes to address 1.5C. If we’re genuine about 1.5C, then tell them this is the price needed to address 1.5C. This table…it shows you only the opportunities. It doesn’t show you the price.

Anyway, this is a good example. Perhaps the author of this figure may not agree with me, but I had this debate with them and, as I said, they split the land and ocean, which tells you, for the scientist to put ocean and land together, and try to address 1.5C, it’s a mix of apple and orange. Then when asked why is it there, he said: “OK, I’ll remove ocean and I’ll put land.” It made me really in a very uncomfortable position to question really the scientific value of this figure, when just with comments from me, the figure has changed. Just from me.

Anyway, we’re really appreciative of the effort done by the IPCC and we always welcome their work. But sometimes we, as politicians, when imposing ourselves in special reports, this is the result of what would come out of it, because we asked them, at the time when we’re just less than one year [after] they produce their AR5, we told him, “no, that’s not good enough. Go and give us [one on] 1.5C.”

I would ask the question: if the IPCC was able to address 1.5C, would you think that they would not have done it themselves? They would wait for us to give them the mandate? That is not the IPCC we know.

IPCC is a very reputable, highly regarded organisation that takes initiatives on their own, and they are the ones who created this, not us, the ones whose mandated them on what to do and not to do. My message to all of us here at the UNFCCC is to stay away from the IPCC. Let the IPCC do its work and let them go about their scientific assessment. And we will receive…We should be at the receiving end, not at the initiation end of it, when we tell them to do this, do that for us. Otherwise, we will impact the integrity and the scientific reputation.

CB: In a decision text that comes out of this COP, what wording will you support around this?

AS: I had a proposal to the presidency to say: “we ‘note’ the IPCC special report, acknowledging the scientific and knowledge gaps in the report”. Just to be factual. Just to be factual, nothing else. I’m not putting anything from our side. The report acknowledges the scientific gap and knowledge gaps. Let’s just put that into the decision – that we “note” the report, while acknowledging the scientific and knowledge gaps. That will be mindful of the fact that, because of us, governments here have asked the IPCC to produce something out of nothing. This is the kind of product we get. [Points at report.]

I’ll just leave it there. Leo, thank you very much.

CB: OK. Thank you.

AS: Thank you very much.

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Categories: I. Climate Science