Blog posts

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.

2°C or not 2°C – should we ditch the below 2°C target for global warming?

By Professor Joanna Haigh, Co-Director, Grantham Institute

A commentary published in Nature this week has opened up a discussion about the value of using the goal of keeping global warming to below 2°C.

David Victor and Charles Kennel are concerned that the below 2°C target for global warming is not useful, partly because they consider it is no longer achievable and partly because global mean surface temperature does not present a full picture of climate change.  The problem comes, of course, in identifying an alternative approach to establishing what is required from attempts to mitigate global warming.

The 2 degree target is in a sense nominal, in that it there is no precise threshold at which everything goes from bearable to unbearable, but it does have the advantage of being easy to understand, for both policy makers and the wider public .

Reflections on the UN Climate Summit in New York

By Dr Simon Buckle,  Grantham Institute

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”

Climate change was not, so far as I know, one of the issues that Shakespeare wrote about, despite plays like “The Tempest” or (for the sceptically minded) “Much Ado about Nothing”.  But King Henry V’s lines in Act III of the play of that name could have been written for the UN Secretary General to deliver at the Climate Summit in New York on 23 September where, with the help of a VIP cast, he in effect also urged us to “stiffen the sinews” to address one of the defining issues of our age.  

Feasibility and affordability of reducing greenhouse gas emissions

By Ajay Gambhir, Research fellow on mitigation policy at the Grantham Institute

The United Nations Climate Summit 2014, to be held in New York on 23rd September, comes at an important point in the calendar for discussions on how to address climate change. Next year will see nations submit pledges on their future greenhouse gas emissions levels, as part of the United Nations process culminating in the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) in Paris at the end of 2015, the ambition of which is to secure a global agreement to tackle climate change.

There is now a rich body of evidence on the implications of mitigation at the global, regional and national levels.

Ocean heat uptake – checking the facts

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

By Dr Flora Whitmarsh, Grantham Institute

The recent slowdown in global temperature rise has led to suggestions that global warming has stopped. In fact, the Earth system is still gaining heat, and the slowdown was likely caused by a series of small volcanic eruptions, a downward trend in the solar cycle, and increased heat uptake of the ocean. Writing in the Telegraph, Christopher Booker claims that a new paper by Professor Carl Wunsch (Wunsch, 2014) shows that ocean warming cannot explain the slowdown because the deeper ocean is in fact cooling rather than warming.

Ocean warming in the media

A recent paper on ocean warming has been reported on in a number of newspaper articles, most recently by Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph.

The author of the paper, Professor Carl Wunsch of MIT, wrote a letter to the editor of the Sunday Telegraph in response to Christopher Booker’s article. As the letter has yet to be published in the Sunday Telegraph, with the permission of Professor Wunsch we have decided to post it here.

Dear Editor,

In the Sunday Telegraph of 27 July 2014, Christopher Booker pretends to understand a highly technical paper on ocean warming to such a degree that he can explain it to his lay-audience.

Grantham Institute welcomes results of Energy and Climate Change Committee review of IPCC WG1 report

The House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee report on the Working Group 1 contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, which is published today, has found the IPCC process to be robust. The committee launched an inquiry into the IPCC WG1 report in October 2013, following criticism by some commentators of the IPCC review process and its conclusions.

The Grantham Institute submitted written evidence to the committee (you can read our evidence here) and our Chair Professor Sir Brian Hoskins was called before the committee to give oral evidence.

The committee found that “the IPCC has responded extremely well to constructive criticism in the last few years and has tightened its review processes to make its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) the most exhaustive and heavily scrutinised Assessment Report to-date.

Sticking to the budget

Following on from Simon Buckle’s post this morning another piece of good news on emissions reductions, the UK government has announced that they will not amend the fourth carbon budget, after reviewing their commitments in light of progress within the EU.

Therefore the carbon budget for 2023-27 remains at 1,950 MtCO2e, keeping the UK on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 by 80% relative to 1990 levels.

This decision is in line with advice from the Committee on Climate Change given in December 2013, that there was no basis to change the fourth carbon budget.

You can read more about the review in our background note on the fourth carbon budget.

Merkel raises the level of ambition

By Dr Simon BuckleGrantham Institute

There was some good news last week from the annual Petersberg Climate Dialogues held on 14-15 July in Berlin.  The Petersberg meetings were instituted after the perceived failure of the Copenhagen summit in 2009 in order to support the UNFCCC talks. They are co-chaired by Germany and the country hosting the next Conference of the Parties meeting, in this case Peru.

Chancellor Merkel took the opportunity in her address to signal renewed ambition for climate action, perhaps disappointing some of those who had been hoping (or even working) for a reversal of Germany’s commitment to decarbonisation. 

Fact checking a recent Telegraph article by Christopher Booker

by Dr Flora WhitmarshGrantham Institute

In an article for the Telegraph, Christopher Booker gave his views on Professor Sir Brian Hoskins’ appearance on the Today programme earlier this year. In the article, Booker made several claims about climate science relating to rainfall, atmospheric humidity, polar sea ice extent, global temperatures and sea level rise. In this blog I will assess his claims against the findings of the latest report of Working Group 1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a hugely comprehensive assessment of the scientific literature.

  Rainfall and floods

Booker’s comment: “Not even the latest technical report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) could find any evidence that rainfall and floods were increasing.”

 Scientific Evidence:

The IPCC report found a significant climate influence on global scale changes in precipitation patterns (with medium confidence), including increases in precipitation in northern hemisphere mid to high latitudes.

7 Frightening Findings from the IPCC Report

By Helena Wright, Research Postgraduate, Centre for Environmental Policy

Helena Wright, an Imperial PhD student, looks at worst possible scenarios from the IPCC Working Group II report.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its latest report, featuring the most up-to-date science on global climate change.

As a researcher, I had an opportunity to contribute to a table in one of the chapters and have read through each of the 30 chapters of the Working Group II report (on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability).  Here is my personal take on seven of the most frightening findings from the WG2 report:

  1. CO2 levels of 1000ppm could impact on mental performance

The health chapter explains how climate change will affect global health, including direct impacts of heat stress, drought and extreme events, as well as indirect impacts on nutrition and mental health.