Friday, 10 June 2016

Climate change: another record-breaking year, increases in emissions ... and investing in renewable technologies

The New Economic Foundation posts a fortnightly look at the energy sector. The last looked at fracking and carbon capture:
Futures Forum: The future of fracking in the UK
Futures Forum: Climate change: Will Carbon Capture and Storage be the techno-fix to 'unlock' unburnable fossil fuels?

The latest post looks at oil, renewables, investments, electric vehicles, emissions and global warming - a lot to consider, but all in the context of trying to predict where we're going:

Energy round-up: 2016 so far

Photo credit:   Paulo Valdivieso

At the beginning of the year I made six energy and climate change predictions for 2016 – halfway through, how am I doing?:

Prediction 1: The showdown on oil prices between Saudi Arabia and the US will intensify, and the Saudis will eventually break.

This was always going to be a tough prediction, but so far as we can seeSaudi Arabia isn’t lowering its production volumes. It’s the US that’s showing all the signs of strain with the oil rig count taking a nosedive, though it may level out now that oil prices are above $50 a barrel. We’ll see how the year plays out, but the Saudis are still holding strong.
Verdict: Don’t underestimate the Saudi’s commitment to oil

Prediction 2: Renewables will set new records.

All recent trends and reports look good for the continued rollout of renewables and likely capacity and generation records in 2016. One headline-grabbing example was Portugal running its electricity grid on renewables for four consecutive days.
Verdict: On track

Prediction 3: More investment in renewables will come from developing countries than developed countries.

When I made this prediction it would have been a record first, but we’ve just received the data for 2015 and for the first time more investment in renewables has come from the developing world than the developed world. There is no little doubt it will also be the case for 2016.
Verdict: Very likely

Prediction 4: Hybrid sales will fall; electric vehicle sales will boom and become the hot energy news item of 2016.

I was expecting big things from the launch of a couple high profile electric vehicle models but the Tesla Model X has exceeded all expectations – like watching a business school case study in real time.
The vehicle won’t be delivered until 2018 but the first two weeks of pre-orders tallied almost 400,000 – that’s more than three times the number of vehicles Tesla has produced since forming in 2003. Norway, the Netherlands and other sizable economies now plan a dramatic phase-out of combustion vehicles all together.
Verdict: Dead cert

Prediction 5: Despite the recent stall in global emissions, expect increases in emissions to continue.

We’ll have to wait until the end of the year and beyond for the data to fully assess this pessimistic prediction.
On one hand it’s encouraging that China’s peak in coal use is real and that they are hitting their climate targets years ahead of schedule (partly due to an economic slowdown). But on the other, measurements of carbon in the atmosphere show that acceleration is still taking place, meaning increases in emissions are coming from somewhere.
Whether the yearly flow of emissions is accelerating or slowing, the stock of emissions now stored in the atmosphere is certainly increasing – and it’s the latter that causes climate change.
Verdict: I’d like to be proved wrong yet

Prediction 6: 2016 will be the hottest year on record and sceptics will abandon the “global warming pause”.

The first part of this is sadly almost certainly true: 2016 is blistering hot and is already 99% likely to be the hottest year on record.
The second part is sadly not. Writing in the Spectator in February, David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF) claimed there had been a pause in global warming, citing an article in Nature as proof.
But this is not what the article showed: in fact there was no global warming pause, but a slowdown (a very important difference), and the period of the slowdown has ended with consecutive record-breaking years for warming. The point of the research was to show the internal variability (the length of the “wiggles”) in climate models.
In response, the study’s authors harshly criticised the Spectator article and the Global Warming Policy Foundation for confusing climate science.
So despite another record-breaking year and more concrete evidence, climate sceptics haven’t abandoned the global warming pause just yet.
Verdict: How much more evidence do sceptics need?

Energy round-up: 2016 so far | New Economics Foundation

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