Author: Alexandra Cheung

Time to Act climate march – what was missing?

by Jonathan Bosch

On Saturday, 7th March 2015, I attended the Time to Act climate march. After a winding route through the historic streets of central London, an impromptu sit-down on the Strand, and a spirit-raising day under an early spring sun, we converged on Parliament Square where a number of speakers from charities, trade unions, political parties and other activist groups launched their rallying cries for climate justice, aiming their anger squarely upon the walls of the houses of parliament: the centre of British democracy – those with the power to make change, but who perhaps far too often stand in its way.

High altitude agriculture – The challenges of adapting to the changing water supply in the Himalayas

by Bhopal Pandeya, Research Associate (ESPA Fellowship), Grantham Institute

Mountains are often referred to as ‘water towers’ as they provide fresh water to people and biodiversity. The Himalayan region is one of the few hot spots where several big rivers originate and supply water to hundreds of millions of people across the mountains and further downstream. However, higher up in the mountains especially in trans-Himalayan region, there is very little accessible water for local communities. The region receives very low rainfall and thus water supply is largely dependent on the timely occurrence of snow fall and ice melts in the upper mountains.

Hard Evidence: will climate change affect the spread of tropical diseases?

The Climate and Environment at Imperial blog has moved. View this post on our new blog 

By Dr Paul Parham, Honorary Lecturer in Infectious Disease Epidemiology

Many tropical diseases such as malaria, Chagas disease and dengue are transmitted to humans via mosquitoes and other carriers known as vectors. These vector-borne diseases continue to have a major impact on human health in the developing world: each year, more than a billion people become infected and around a million people die. In addition, around one in six cases of illness and disability worldwide arise from these diseases.

Malaria arguably continues to attract the most attention of all the vector-borne diseases by virtue of causing the greatest global disease burden.

The global health benefits of tackling climate change

The Climate and Environment at Imperial blog has moved. View this post on our new blog 

by Professor Paolo Vineis and Pauline Scheelbeek, School of Public Health

It is sometimes claimed that addressing climate change with proper policies is too expensive and could lead to a further decline in the economy. However, the co-benefits of implementation of climate change mitigation strategies for the health sector are usually overlooked. The synergy between policies for climate change mitigation in sectors such as energy use (e.g. for heating), agriculture, food production and transportation may have overall benefits that are much greater than the sum of single interventions (Haines et al, 2009).

With climate models, simpler isn’t necessarily better

Grantham Institute Co-Director Professor Joanna Haigh discusses a recent paper which argues that  existing climate models ‘run hot’ and overstate the extent of manmade climate change.

It is perplexing that some climate change sceptics, who expend much energy in decrying global circulation (computer) models of the climate, on the basis that they cannot properly represent the entire complexities of the climate system and/or that they contain too many approximations, are now resorting to an extremely simplified model to support their arguments.

The model used in the Sci. Bull. article is a very useful tool for conceptualising the factors which contribute to the relationship between increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and global average temperature – indeed, we use such models as teaching aids for students studying atmospheric physics – but it is in no way fit for purpose as an accurate predictor of climate change.  

Internship Experiences: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

The Climate and Environment at Imperial blog has moved. View this post on our new blog

by Peter Blair, Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP student

The Thames Basin is set to face many challenges in the future: climate change, a growing population and economic requirements all present developmental challenges, as well as major sources of uncertainty. Having previously worked on a voluntary project producing a vision for planning in the Great Lakes Basin over the next hundred years, Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) were interested in applying the same methodology to the Thames Basin to determine how we may best plan for the future in this area.

2014 – the warmest year on record

A summary of global temperature for 2014 from NASA and NOAA has just been published, showing that the average global temperature for 2014 was 0.69°C above the average for the 20th century. The small margin of uncertainty in calculating average global temperature means that the exact ranking of 2014 cannot be distinguished from the previous record years of 2005 and 2010, but it is nominally the warmest year on record. The ten warmest years have all occurred since 1998.

Professor Jo Haigh, Co-Director of the Grantham Institute, commented on the report saying that: “This and other indicators are all pointing in the same direction of continued global warming, reflecting the overall upward trend in average global temperatures”

A large amount of warming was seen in the oceans with globally-averaged sea surface temperature 0.57°C above the 20th century average.

Who’s responsible for tackling climate change? – COP 20 outcomes

By Dr Flora WhitmarshGrantham Institute

An agreement produced by the 20th Conference of the Parties in Lima, Peru, noted ‘with grave concern’ that countries’ current pledges on emissions reductions are insufficient to keep global temperature rise within either 2°C or 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels. This is indeed a serious concern because temperature changes of just a few degrees are enough to change the climate significantly. Rising sea levels, melting mountain glaciers and polar ice caps and increases in extreme precipitation have already been observed. These trends will continue with ongoing greenhouse gas emissions, and it is expected that we will continue to see an increase in extreme high sea levels, an increase in the intensity of the heaviest rain, and changes in the global distribution of rainfall.

Climate change: positive messages on the international scene

By Dr Flora WhitmarshGrantham Institute

This blog forms part of a series addressing some of the criticisms often levelled against efforts to mitigate climate change.

The Twentieth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) – the latest in a series of meetings of the decision making body of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change –began in Lima this week. Many in the media are quick to point to the difficulty of obtaining international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and to denounce COP 15, which took place in Copenhagen in 2009, as a failure.

Why subsidise renewable energy?

by Ajay Gambhir, Grantham Institute

This blog forms part of a series addressing some of the criticisms often levelled against efforts to mitigate climate change.

It is often claimed that intermittent renewable sources of electricity (mainly wind and solar photovoltaics), are too expensive, inefficient and unreliable and that we shouldn’t subsidise them.

What are the facts?

Last year, governments spent about $550 billion of public money on subsidies for fossil fuels, almost twice as much as in 2009 and about five times as much as they spent subsidising renewables (IEA, World Energy Outlook 2014). This despite a G20 pledge in 2009 to “phase out and rationalize over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” that “encourage wasteful consumption, reduce our energy security, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with the threat of climate change”.

How will Antartica’s ice-sheet contribute to 21st century sea level rise?

by Professor Martin Siegert, Co-director, Grantham Institute

On 27th October I convened a meeting at the Royal Society of London to discuss the results of a recent 20-year research horizon scanning exercise for Antarctic Science (Kennicutt et al. 2014). Part of the discussion focused on the research needed to better quantify Antarctica’s likely contribution to sea level rise in the coming decades and beyond, as published in the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Synthesis Report.

The report states that, ‘Global mean sea level rise will continue during the 21st century, very likely at a faster rate than observed from 1971 to 2010, and will likely be in the ranges of 0.26 to 0.55 m [in the lowest emissions scenario] … and … 0.45 to 0.82 m [in the highest emissions scenario – the closest to “business as usual”]’.

The costs of decarbonising the UK

By Dr Flora WhitmarshGrantham Institute

The costs associated with reducing emissions in the UK have been discussed recently in the press. In an article in the Mail on Sunday, David Rose made the claim that energy policies shaped by the so-called “Green Blob” –  a term coined by Owen Paterson for what he called “the mutually supportive network of environmental pressure groups, renewable energy companies and some public officials” – will cost the UK up to £400 billion by 2030, and that bills will rise by at least a third.

How much will action on climate change actually cost?

In defence of biomass energy

By Professor Colin Prentice, AXA Chair in Biosphere and Climate Impacts

Further to previous posts on this blog regarding Owen Paterson’s recent speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, I would like to take this opportunity to correct his dismissive statement about biomass energy as a potential contribution to decarbonized energy production in the UK. This is what the former Environment Secretary said:

Biomass is not zero carbon. It generates more CO2 per unit of energy even than coal. Even DECC admits that importing wood pellets from North America to turn into hugely expensive electricity here makes no sense if only because a good proportion of those pellets are coming from whole trees.

Has climate change been exaggerated? Fact-checking Owen Paterson’s comments

By Dr Flora WhitmarshGrantham Institute

In a lecture to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the former UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has criticised the current government’s climate and energy policies, suggesting there is too much emphasis on renewables and that the consequences of climate change have been exaggerated. A discussion of Mr Paterson’s comments on UK energy policy appears in another Grantham blog by Dr Simon Buckle. Here I will discuss one of the reasons for Paterson’s position, the belief that climate change has been exaggerated.

Paterson suggested that the Earth has not warmed as much as had been predicted, “ … I also accept the unambiguous failure of the atmosphere to warm anything like as fast as predicted by the vast majority of climate models over the past 35 years, when measured by both satellites and surface thermometers.

Paterson misses the point

By Dr Simon Buckle,  Grantham Institute

Owen Paterson’s remarks on the UK response to climate change miss the point.  I do not disagree with him that the UK decarbonisation strategy should be improved.  In particular, there is a need for a more effective strategy on energy demand.  However, my preferred policy and technology mix would be very different to his and include the acceleration and expansion of the CCS commercial demonstration programme in order to reduce the energy penalty and overall costs of CCS. And without CCS, there is no way responsibly to use the shale gas he wants the UK to produce in the coming decades for electricity generation or in industrial processes, or any other fossil fuels.