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The Guardian: Climate Change FAQ

Someone at the Guardian has put together a nice ‘Ultimate FAQ’ on climate change issues.  I’ve copied the questions below- links take you straight to the relevant Guardian article.  They’re not hugely detailed statistical analyses, but a useful primer for each area.

Big picture
• What exactly is the climate?
• What is climate change?
• Is the world really getting warmer?
• Are humans definitely causing global warming?
• Does a small temperature rise actually matter?
• How much warmer will the planet get?
• Is there a scientific consensus on man-made climate change?

Science
• What is the greenhouse effect?
• What is the carbon cycle?
• When did we discover man-made climate change?
• Are hurricanes getting worse because of global warming?
• Haven’t we had ‘global cooling’ lately?
• If water vapour is the key greenhouse gas, why are man-made emissions important?
• How do trees and forests relate to climate change?
• How do volcanoes affect the climate?
• Is the sun causing global warming?
• What was the Little Ice Age?
• What’s the IPCC?
• If it’s getting warmer, how come the 2010 winter was so cold?
• Can we rely on computer models to predict future climate change?

Emissions and footprints
• What is carbon?
• Which industries and activities emit the most carbon?
• What’s the target for solving climate change?
• What are CO2e and global warming potential (GWP)?
• What are ‘outsourced emissions’?
• What are the main man-made greenhouse gases?
• Can ‘peak oil’ help slow climate change?
• How long do greenhouse gases stay in the air?

Politics & society
• If global warming was such a big deal wouldn’t governments have sorted it out?
• What is the Kyoto protocol and has it made any difference?
• Which nations are most responsible for climate change?
• What is the economic cost of climate change?
• What is the Stern review?
• What is emissions trading?
• What is the emissions trading scheme and does it work?
• What is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)?
• Why does climate change get described as a ‘stock-flow’ problem?
• What is climate change adaptation?
• What are the options for financing climate change adaptation?

Technology
• Why do we need low-carbon energy – and how much is currently produced?
• What is carbon capture and storage?
• What are the main types of carbon capture and storage technology?
• What is geo-engineering?
• What are biofuels and are they a good idea?
• What is thorium and how does it generate power?

Impacts
• What are climate change feedback loops?
• Will rising seas put cities such as New York and London under water?
• Will the Gulf Stream slow down, freezing the UK and northern Europe?
• Are tornadoes affected by climate change
• Could climate change be a good thing?
• Will climate change cause wars?
• How will climate change affect rainfall?

Energy Jargon Explained

The previously posted Committee on Climate Change Report on Household Energy Bills has a useful box with a quick explanation of different commonly used energy policy terms.  I’ve found energy policy to contain some of the most unjustifiably inscrutable jargon, so I thought it was worth reproducing this box in full.  This is on page 5 of the report.

Health warning: the descriptions for ECO, the Carbon Floor Price and for Electricity Market Reform are probably a little optimistic.

Impact of green measures on household energy bills

The independent Committee on Climate Change has a report showing what % of household energy bills can be attributed to “green” measures.

Looking at the impact of green measures between 2004-2010 (p12), the report says:

(c) Current total energy bills
Combining our analysis of electricity and gas bills for the typical dual-fuel household indicates that the average combined bill increased from £605 per household in 2004 to £1,060 in 2010. Of this £455 increase (75%, compared to general inflation of 16% over the same period):

  • Around £380 was unrelated to low-carbon measures, with £290 due to increases in wholesale costs reflecting increases in the price of gas and supplier costs and £70 due to increasing transmission and distribution costs, and £20 due to VAT.
  • Around £75 was due to low-carbon policy costs, within which it is important to distinguish between costs of £30 towards decarbonising the energy mix through support for investments in low-carbon power generation including renewables, and costs of £45 for funding of energy efficiency measures, without which bills could have increased further over this period.

Our analysis therefore clearly shows that it is not the case that energy bills are currently high due to costs of low-carbon measures. From 2004 to 2010 bills increased by £455 to £1,060, primarily in response to increased wholesale gas costs, with only £30 (7% of the increase and 3% of the bill) due to the costs of decarbonising the generation mix, and £45 (10% of the increase and 5% of the bill) due to funding improvements to the energy efficiency of homes.

Here’s the full report:

Household Energy Bills – impacts of meeting carbon budgets

And here’s some illustrative graphs:

The Science of Climate Change: Hockey Sticks

The gold standard for evidence-based arguments for tackling climate change remains the Stern Review, published by the UK Government in 2006.  It’s an independent report that looks at the costs associated with tackling climate change, and the costs of not tackling climate change.

Chapter 1 is devoted to the science of climate change, and is a useful resource for rebutting popular climate change denier myths.

I particularly like this bit (p6):

Box 1.1 The “Hockey Stick” Debate.

Much discussion has focused on whether the current trend in rising global temperatures is unprecedented or within the range expected from natural variations. This is commonly referred to as the “Hockey Stick” debate as it discusses the validity of figures that show sustained temperatures for around 1000 years and then a sharp increase since around 1800 (for example, Mann et al. 1999, shown as a purple line in the figure below).

Some have interpreted the “Hockey Stick” as definitive proof of the human influence on climate. However, others have suggested that the data and methodologies used to produce this type of figure are questionable (e.g. von Storch et al. 2004), because widespread, accurate temperature records are only available for the past 150 years. Much of the temperature record is recreated from a range of ‘proxy’ sources such as tree rings, historical records, ice cores, lake sediments and corals.

Climate change arguments do not rest on “proving” that the warming trend is unprecedented over the past Millennium. Whether or not this debate is now settled, this is only one in a number of lines of evidence for human induced climate change. The key conclusion, that the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will lead to several degrees of warming, rests on the laws of physics and chemistry and a broad range of evidence beyond one particular graph.