Category: Research

A New York take on Sustainable Development: Is it feasible?  

By Clea Kolster, PhD student, Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet

The term ‘sustainable development’ was first coined in 1987 in the UN’s World Commission on Environment and Development report, Our Common Future. Almost 30 years later, the concept of sustainable development is more relevant than ever.

The definition given in the report is, to this date, the most widely accepted modern definition of the term: ‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ Climate and society, energy, water, ecosystem health and monitoring, global health, poverty, urbanization, natural disasters, food, ecology and nutrition – these are some of the main problems that need to be tackled when discussing the possibility of sustainable development.

Towards a Global Energy Internet

Professor Jo Haigh, Co-director of the Grantham Institute reports back from the Climate Parliament meeting in Lucerne, 12 June 2015.

I have just found a seat on the train from Lucerne to Zurich airport. It is absolutely packed, I suppose, with people going away for the weekend.  Staring through the window at the snow-capped mountains, and having spent the day at an inspirational conference set by the beautiful lake, I am wondering quite why anyone would want to leave.

I have been at a meeting of the Climate Parliament. I only learned of this organisation recently but it is rather splendid – a group of legislators from across the world who are concerned about climate change and looking to influence governments to act.  

How do marine renewable devices affect marine life?

by Roan du Feu, PhD student, Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet

The marine renewable energy sector is poised and ready, waiting to harness the power of tides and waves with underwater tidal turbines and floating wave energy converters. A shift to renewable energy sources is essential to reducing global carbon emissions, but what are the consequences of these new technologies? Are we prepared for the effects of filling our already fragile oceans with rows of large, moving structures? Will we cause irreparable damage? Or might there even be some positive effects?

These are all questions relevant to my thesis and so, for two weeks, I attended a course on Marine Renewables and the Environment held at SAMS (the Scottish Association of Marine Science).

China Energy Outlook 2015

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

by Neil Hirst, Senior Policy Fellow, Grantham Institute

China’s Energy Research Institute (ERI) releases an interesting analysis of the prospects for China’s energy production and consumption and CO2 emissions to 2050

Last November’s joint announcement of national climate targets by President Barack Obama and President of China Xi Jinping has framed the preparations for this December’s crucial Paris summit.  The US is aiming to reduce its emissions by 26-28% below the 2005 level in 2025. China intends that its CO2 emissions will peak around 2030 and will use best efforts to bring that date forward.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Collaboration with Stanford University and Biofuels Research at the Joint BioEnergy Institute

By C. Chambon, Research Postgraduate, Department of Chemistry

As part of a group of six Imperial students who visited California, I travelled to San Francisco to work on two projects: the New Climate Economy project, and a research collaboration with the Joint BioEnergy Institute.

The New Climate Economy project is a government-commissioned project looking at how economic goals can be achieved in a way that also addresses climate change. The Innovation stream, led by Stanford University and the Grantham Institute at Imperial, is focused on the potential economic and environmental impact of disruptive technologies. Beginning in January, a group of six Imperial students each focused on a different technology for the project, researching and preparing case studies for our weekly teleconferences.

The challenge of seasonal weather prediction

By Hannah Nissan, Research Assistant in Regional Climate Modelling, Physics

In April 2009 the UK Met Office issued their now infamous forecast: “odds-on for a BBQ summer”. By the end of August, total precipitation since June had climbed to 42% above average levels for 1971-2000 (UKMO, 2014). Why is it so challenging to provide seasonal forecasts several months ahead?

A question which arises often in conversations about climate change is “how can we predict the climate in 50 years when we can’t even get the weather right next week?” While we have no skill in forecasting the weather on a particular day in 2060, we can make much more confident projections about the average conditions at that time.