Author: Emma Critchley

A slow start to a global climate treaty

By Gabriele Messori, Stockholm University (former Imperial PhD student)

The United Nations’ climate negotiations usually gain the press spotlight once a year, when the big Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting takes place. The most recent COP, which took place in Warsaw last November, was discussed on this blog here. However, the efforts to design a global climate treaty under the umbrella of the United Nations are ongoing, and additional negotiations take place throughout the year. These are particularly important in preparing the ground for the COPs, and provide the occasion to iron out the contrasts which might hamper later work.

2014 – A pivotal year for CCS?

By Dr Niall Mac Dowell, Centre for Environmental Policy

For centuries, all of the world’s economies have been underpinned by fossil fuels.  Historically, this has primarily been oil and coal, but since the mid-1980s natural gas has become increasingly important. Over the course of the last decades, there has been an increasing focus on electricity generation from renewable sources, and since about 1990 carbon capture and storage (CCS) has become an important part of the conversation around the mitigation of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The role of CCS in addressing our GHG mitigation targets is clear and unambiguous – see for example the IEA CCS technology roadmaps which show that by 2050, almost 8 GtCO2/yr needs to be sequestered via CCS; a cumulative of 120 GtCO2 in the period from 2015 to 2050.

Moving from tactics to strategy: extreme weather, climate risks and the policy response

 By Dr Flora MacTavish and Dr Simon Buckle

In the press coverage of the recent floods, there has been a lot of discussion about whether the authorities could have been better prepared or responded more effectively. The National Farmers Union has called for the reintroduction of river dredging, although experts argue that dredging may be limited in its effectiveness. Local authorities have been criticised by experts for distributing sand bags rather than encouraging the use of more effective alternatives such as wooden or metal boards.

These are essentially tactical issues, however. It is the government and local authorities that have the vital strategic responsibility for fully embedding weather and climate risks into decisions on the level and focus of investment into flood defences and planning regulations about what can be built and where.

Workshop on climate science needed to support robust adaptation decisions

By Dr Simon Buckle

I just wanted to highlight the great event we held last week with Judy Curry at Georgia Tech on how we can use climate science to help us make better decisions – in business, government, health and development.  Do have a look at the presentations from the really diverse group we managed to assemble in Atlanta, from international organisations, business, development agencies, NGOs and research.

A few  points strike me as worth (re)emphasising:

  • Climate models are extremely valuable tools for assessing climate change over the rest of this century, but even the most advanced climate models are not yet able to provide detailed information with sufficient confidence on the variability and change of regional climate in the next few decades.

Climate change and health risks – new commission launched

By Siân Williams, Research postgraduate, Department of Physics and Grantham Institute for Climate Change

In 2009 a joint report between University College London and The Lancet stated, “Climate change is the biggest risk to global health of the 21st century”. The work highlighted extreme weather events, changing patterns of disease and food and water insecurity.

Now a second UCL-Lancet commission is underway. Last month, UCL’s Institute of Global Health hosted a launch event for the report entitled ‘Climate crisis: emergency actions to protect human health’.

The event was chaired by UCL’s Anthony Costello, head of the first Lancet commission.

The TROPICS research cruise from Tenerife to Trinidad: Tracing oceanic processes using corals and sediments

 By Torben Struve, Research Postgraduate, Department of Earth Science & Engineering  and Grantham Institute for Climate Change

How to start a retrospective on two amazing months at sea? Probably at the beginning! In the beginning there was…an idea! The idea was to reconstruct abrupt changes in chemistry and ocean circulation in the Equatorial Atlantic Ocean to learn about global climate and deep-water habitats. The plan was to do so by collecting sediments, seawater and deep sea corals and analysing all of these for their geochemical composition.

Developing this idea into our actual scientific cruise, JC094, took several years of planning and preparation, led by principal investigator and chief scientist Dr.

Beyond adaptation: loss and damage negotiation at the United Nations

By Gabriele Messori, Research postgraduate in the Department of Physics

The 19th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took place last month in Warsaw, Poland. These conferences are at the core of the international negotiations on climate change, and set the scene for future climate policies around the world. By most accounts, the Warsaw meeting had mixed results – it marked progress in some areas and stagnation in others. One of the most contentious negotiation streams, and one where some measure of progress was made, was loss and damage.

The current approach to climate change is based on two pillars: mitigation and adaptation.

Seasonal chill

By Professor Sir Brian Hoskins

The US has been suffering from icy weather and snow storms in recent days.  This image from NOAA shows the surface air temperature anomaly for the week 2-8 December – that is the difference from the mean temperature for this time of the year.

It was very cold over North America (where we get lots of news from!) but very warm in Eurasia and parts of the Arctic (where we don’t!). This is the sort of thing the atmosphere can do on short timescales through having a particular pattern of weather.

China’s carbon intensity reductions continue

By Ajay Gambhir

A fortnight ago a journalist at New Scientist asked me if I’d seen the latest report by the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency (PBL) and Joint Research Centre (JRC) on last year’s global CO2 emissions figures. He wanted some quick reactions on analysis that showed China’s emissions per unit of economic output (its “emissions intensity”) had declined by over 4% in 2012, compared to 2011 levels. The following analysis is based on my response.

In absolute terms, China’s emissions actually increased by about 3% in 2012, according to the PBL/JRC analysis. But its GDP increased by almost 8% over the course of 2012, so a 3% increase in emissions means between a 4 and 5% decrease in CO2 emissions intensity.

A different viewpoint on sustainability and development

By Professor Sir Brian Hoskins

Last week the sustainability group of my village and a neighbouring one organised a workshop for local schools. A few of us gave talks, but much of the morning was given to the young people themselves. Each school shared with the group what it is doing on sustainability. The other major activity for them was a debate on whether sustainability and development are compatible. Each school was given two countries that they had to represent in this debate.

Through a contact in Ethiopia and the amazing commitment of a university teacher there, we also had a video to show the young people of a debate on this subject in a class in the University of Mekelle.

International Energy Agency announces closer cooperation with developing nations

By Neil Hirst

On Wednesday six major developing nations plus Russia  agreed to pursue closer cooperation, or “Association” with the International Energy Agency. The announcement is superficially modest, but it’s of major strategic importance. It’s the first crack in the “Berlin wall” that has separated energy policy making in the rich OECD countries from that in the developing world. The announcement itself concentrates on making energy markets more efficient but “energy technologies, energy efficiency, and renewable energy” are also on the agenda. These are early days, and there is long way to go to make this initiative effective. But this statement of intention, at Ministerial level, is a new and crucial step.

Question Time and what the IPCC really said about tropical storms

By Dr Simon Buckle

BBC’s Question Time on 14 November saw Lord Lawson citing the IPCC findings to support one of his arguments.  Did I dream that? Then I realised that, of course, the reference to the IPCC was incomplete and misleading so I knew I was awake and back in the strange media-distorted world of the UK debate on climate change.

According to the Daily Express, Lord Lawson said that “If you look at the inter-governmental panel on climate change they say there is absolutely no connection between climate change and tropical storms.” Wrong, but convenient for someone who argues we probably don’t need to do anything much about climate change.

Updates to the IPCC WG1 Summary for Policy Makers

By Dr Flora MacTavish

The IPCC has released corrected figures for past carbon dioxide emissions and future emissions trajectories quoted in the Summary for Policy Makers of the Working Group 1 report, “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis”.  The original numbers were published in the report released on 27th September, which was subject to copy edit and final layout changes.

In total, six values from the summary have been changed. As noted by Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute, these corrections are minor adjustments to historical greenhouse gas emissions and to the cumulative emissions consistent with achieving a 2 degree warming target with different levels of probability. 

The future of our planet is far too important to be left just to our politicians

By Dr Simon Buckle

Two years to go and counting down. That’s the real significance of COP19, the Warsaw Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which runs from 11-22 November. A new universal climate agreement effective from 2020 is what is at stake, and Warsaw is a step on the path.

The COP21 meeting in Paris at the end of 2015 will hopefully be the successful culmination of many years’ of hard work by the UNFCCC Secretariat, government climate negotiators and many, many others. It’s time for governments to act on the words they agreed in the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers launched on 27 September – namely that substantial and sustained reductions in emissions are required to limit climate risks. 

Transient Climate Response: an incomplete measure of climate change

By Dr Simon Buckle

It may help to clarify some of the facts related to the lively exchange between Bob Ward and Lord Ridley about the Transient Climate Response (TCR). The TCR is defined by the IPCC as “the change in the global mean surface temperature, averaged over a 20-year period, centred at the time of atmospheric carbon dioxide doubling, in a climate model simulation in which CO2 increases at 1% yr – 1.”

Lord Ridley is right that the IPCC in its recently published AR5 Working Group I report gave an estimated likely (66–100% probability) range for TCR of 1 – 2.5°C.