Welcome to the Climate Radio archive! 2014 promises to be a pivotal and exciting year in the transition to our low carbon future. This year our contribution is likely to be predominantly in the form of print media. We will be posting developments here at the Climate Radio archive, so stayed tuned! In the meantime, Climate Radio’s monthly shows for 2013 can be found here. As can our additional special programmes including new economics foundation fellow Andrew Simm’s keynote speech “Seeking Goodland”, coverage of the Reclaim The Power protest camp against fracking in Balcombe and an audio document of the Two Degrees festival of climate arts-activism. Thanks to Artists Project Earth, Resonance FM and New Internationalist for their support in 2013.
Press release * 18th April 2014 * For immediate release
Fourth Anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Explosion marked with Refreshed Tate Modern Audio Tour
It was four years ago this Sunday (20th April) that the Deepwater Horizon exploded killing eleven workers. The subsequent spill and clean up operation devastated ecosystems, wrecked the health and livelihoods of communities and brought the company within days of bankruptcy.
To mark the anniversary and honour the victims Platform is releasing an updated version of the Tate Modern alternative audio guide which takes issue with BP’s controversial sponsorship of Tate galleries.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls for an Apartheid-style boycott movement against fossil fuel companies and their funders in order to tackle climate change, Tate’s relationship with BP is becoming increasingly untenable.
The work, Drilling the Dirt (A Temporary Difficulty), was originally produced in 2012 by Phil England and Jim Welton and has been updated by the artists to incorporate recent changes in the gallery displays.
Phil England said, “Tate director Nicolas Serota belittled the impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill when he described it as ‘a temporary difficulty’. Our piece gives voice to some of those who have been affected, not just by this disaster but also by BP’s activities across the decades. Our aim was to show that the problem with BP is not temporary, but deep, structural and ongoing.”
Kevin Smith of Platform said, “Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s comments earlier this month give a huge moral legitimacy to our ongoing campaign to bring an end to fossil fuel sponsorship of the arts. It’s time Tate started listening to the concerns of moral leaders, campaigners, artists and its own members.”
The work is part of a triptych of pieces collectively know as Tate à Tate. The other pieces are Panaudicon by Ansuman Biswas (designed to be played in situ at the Tate) and This is Not an Oil Tanker by Isa Suarez designed to be played in the on the Tate Boat that runs on the Thames and transports people between the two galleries. All three pieces were commissioned by Platform, Liberate Tate and Art Not Oil.
The piece is designed to be downloaded onto your mobile phone so that you can listen on headphones or earbuds as you are directed through the gallery. You can also listen to the work online in a setting of your choosing.
The tour can be downloaded from http://tateatate.org/
1. Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in The Guardian on 10 April: “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.” (“We need an Apartheid-style boycott to save the planet”)
2. Nicholas Serota told the Jewish Chronicle in July 2010: “You don’t abandon your friends because they have what we consider to be a temporary difficulty.” (“Interview: Nicholas Serota”)
3. More information about the audio tours and artists can be found at http://tateatate.org/
By Phil England for The Independent, 31 March 2014
The publication today of the latest IPCC report on the projected impacts of a warming world is the latest in a long line of wake-up calls. Last November’s report on the physical science of climate change made clear that we are currently following the scenario with the highest risk – and we need to make a break with business as usual if we are to avoid the worst impacts. So what would it look like if we took climate change seriously and acted to keep global warming below 2C?
Professor Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre – the UK’s leading climate policy research unit involving the collaboration of eight different universities – says that if we followed the science through and honoured the commitments we’ve made internationally, the EU would need to double its projected emissions cuts by 2030 – from 40 per cent to 80 per cent. This would mean revising the targets in the UK’s Climate Change Act and starting to make at least 10 per cent annual cuts in our greenhouse gas emissions immediately.
“The window for action is extremely tight. We need to radically reduce our energy consumption from now out to 2025 and at the same time very rapidly roll out a Marshall Plan for a low carbon energy supply. Those two things have to go hand in hand.” Instead of tinkering around with policies that make small changes, we would need bold action in key areas such as buildings and transport, requiring courage on the part of politicians and changes to how we live our lives.
“We’re on the cusp of having to take note of what is evidently happening around us but we’re still very reluctant to leave a political mindset that says we can deliver the changes using a bit of a carbon price, a few adverts trying to incentivise people to do things, and some carbon labelling. We still expect those types of piecemeal, ad-hoc mechanisms to deliver the sort of changes that are necessary and yet we know now in 2014 that they simply won’t work.”
So what do we need to do to make such radical cuts? Last December the Tyndall Centre organised a conference at the Royal Society looking at precisely this question and researchers at the Centre for Alternative Technology have been refining a plan for a Zero Carbon Britain by 2030 for some years. It takes time to put low carbon energy infrastructure in place. If we need to start making substantial cuts straightaway we have to cut energy consumption. Two of our biggest sources of emissions are the energy we use at home and the transport we use.
We know how to build new homes – known as “passive houses” – that require very little heating, but our main focus needs to be on the millions of homes already in existence. “We have a low demolition rate,” Anderson explains, “so what’s important is to retrofit these existing properties to very high standards, to make them low energy consumption and also resilient to a changing climate.”
“It will be expensive,” Anderson admits, “but it will eliminate fuel poverty, improve health, provide a huge amount of low and semi-skilled labour, improve our energy security and put a huge amount of money back into the economy.”
About a quarter of our emissions come from transport. “Private cars represent a very high proportion of UK emissions,” continues Anderson. “The average car in the UK will be emitting about 168 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. Yet we are selling 322 models at the forecourt that are below 100 g/km. The natural retirement rate of cars will deliver a 30-50 per cent reduction in emissions within ten years if we put a standard of 100 g/km in place. And we can do that using existing cars sold at no price premium.” More efficient cars will mean cleaner air and a healthier population, as will encouraging a shift to public transport, cycling, walking and avoiding unnecessary journeys.
As with cars, there are big efficiency gains waiting to be had in our electrical appliances. “An A++ fridge uses 85 per cent less energy than an A rated fridge. So why are we selling A rated fridges? Why are we selling Bs, Cs and Ds? We should not be using a labelling scheme we should simply be using a minimum efficiency standard. And we can do this for all the major appliances.”
Energy efficiency is subject to the “rebound effect” meaning you can end up using some of the money you save on energy on other goods that use energy. To deal with this problem, Anderson says we will need to seriously consider policies that curb energy demand overall.
Cutting the carbon will impact on rich and poor differently. While super-insulating old homes will help the millions of people who are in fuel poverty, it’s the wealthier amongst us who have the biggest scope for reducing our carbon footprints and who will need to make the biggest adjustments suggests Anderson. “People like myself would fly much less, we would be driving smaller, less powerful cars, and driving less distance. Some of us would see that as a reduction in our quality of life, but a lot of things we really value in our lives – time with our friends and our families, living a good life – are not innately high-carbon consuming activities.”
The American Association for the Advancement of Science launched a great piece of clear communication around climate change this week entitled What we Know. The website, report and collection of short films highlight the risks of climate change and how we can minimise them by taking action. Their key messages are:
1. Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now.
2. We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.
3. The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do.
By making informed choices now, we can reduce risks for future generations and ourselves, and help communities adapt to climate change.
“We are in danger of losing sight of some glaringly obvious truths about this exceptionally wet and stormy winter.” - Phil Rothwell, Head of Flood Risk Policy at the UK Environment Agency until December 2013
In the last post we looked at the clear link between climate change and the UK flooding. Here we discuss what we know and what we don’t know about the extent to which you can blame (or attribute) the exceptional run of storms that led to the widespread flooding, on (or to) climate change.
All weather events have a climate contribution
As Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research argues in Climatic Change, asking whether a particular weather event was “caused” by climate change is the wrong question:
All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be (…) no events are ’caused by climate change’ or global warming, but all events have a contribution.
Discerning the size of this contribution is the task of the science of attribution, a science which is still young and can’t tell us very much with certainty. The challenge is discerning how much is natural variability and how much is due to manmade climate change. As the World Meteorological Association’s report 2001-2010: A Decade of Climate Extremes puts it:
Owing to the naturally high internal variability of the climate system, however, it is still difficult to assess in a systematic way the degree and amount of climate-change influence on a single observed event.
Methodologically, the science is complicated and time consuming. The approach that many attribution studies take is to compare a long data sample of real world weather events against the results you get when you run a computer climate model without any human-induced climate change.
Attribution of trends is easier than for events
It’s easier to link climate change to trends than it is to specific events lying outside what is expected. Take for example this extract from an interview with the lead editor on a 2012 collection of studies of extreme events, concerning the record low summer Arctic sea ice in 2012.
Rebecca Lindsey: Of all the events that scientists chose to analyze, the ones that look for a human fingerprint in the record low Arctic sea ice extent in September 2012 might puzzle people. Is there still uncertainty that human-caused warming is the primary cause of Arctic sea ice loss?
Thomas Peterson: There’s still uncertainty about the speed with which Arctic sea ice will be melting in the future and when we will have an ice-free Arctic Ocean during the summer. We can see the long-term trends, and that’s obviously related to climate change. But we also see some major dips, like in 2012, when you have record low event. So what they’re trying to figure out is, even with the long-term trend, what caused that particular year to be extremely low. That’s relevant if you are looking at projections in the future. If this record-low year was due solely to global warming, that would alter one’s expectations of how quickly one should expect an ice-free Arctic Ocean.
RL: So you’re talking about the difference between the influence of human-caused climate change on a long-term trend versus its influence on a specific event?
TP: Yes, there’s attribution of change and attribution of events.
What does attribution science have to say about the UK floods and manmade climate change?
The head of the Met Office’s Climate Monitoring and Attribution team, Peter Stott, has written about what attribution studies are able to say about the link between climate change and the recent UK flooding and the answer is: ‘nothing – there have been no formal attribution studies, but we’ve got some great new models so maybe we’ll have something to tell you in the future.’
As Stott explains, the complicating factors are our lack of understanding about how and why the jet stream is changing and what caused the run of storms to be unusually persistent:
The current exceptionally wet and stormy British winter provides a particularly challenging test case for attribution science. A disturbed and stronger than usual jet stream has brought a sequence of intense storms on a more southerly track than usual.
(…) But an unusual feature of the weather this winter has been the persistence of weather patterns, with storms lining up across the Atlantic to batter the country one after the other.
At present we don’t know how different drivers within the global circulation have affected this sequence of storms, nor do we know for sure if our current generation of climate models are able to calculate the relevant processes reliably enough to make an accurate calculation of the changed risk of such events.
Something that may clear up the issue around the unusual persistence of the storms is research by Jennifer Francis and Stephen Vavrus which has suggested a link between the changes we are seeing in the Arctic (something we explored in this edition of Climate Radio) and an apparent recent pattern of prolonged weather events. This is new science over which there is still some debate. Listen to this conversation between Jennifer Francis and Kevin Trenberth to get an idea of the current state of the debate:
Climate deniers like to pounce on scientific uncertainty as support for their position. Listen to anti-climate action campaigner Nigel Lawson doing precisely this in the context of the UK floods on the agenda-setting BBC Radio 4 Today programme. However, a lack of understanding around a new and emerging situation is simply that. It does nothing to undermine what we already know from modelling, basic physics and observation.
What we know already: “the scale of the impacts will have been exacerbated by climate change”
For now, scientists have made clear statements on how manmade climate change has made the UK flooding worse due to both sea level rise and a greater risk of intense rainfall from increased moisture in the air:
We know that the sea level rise that has already gone on because the oceans have warmed, and we know therefore that some of the impact of Sandy in New York or some of the impacts in Haiyan [in the Philippines], or the impacts we’re seeing now [in the UK] are partly due to the increased sea level rise. So it makes the situation worse even if the overall event is not a climate change event.
and here’s Peter Stott again:
It is clear that global warming has led to an increase in moisture in the atmosphere – with about four per cent more moisture over the oceans than in the 1970s – which means that when conditions are favourable to the formation of storms there is a greater risk of intense rainfall.
Is there a link?
A week ago most newspaper reports on the exceptional run of storms in the UK made no mention of climate change. A week later, a new analysis by Carbon Brief shows that the proportion of flooding stories that include a mention of climate change doubled from 7% to 15%. The researchers also found that stories discussing the link between the two were getting greater prominence – including front page leads in The Guardian, The Observer, New Statesman and The Spectator.
While it’s good that a link is being made more frequently, there are still those (including many MPs and professional deniers and dismissers) who continue to exploit apparent equivocation in scientific statements in order to argue against the need for taking action.
This is the first in a series of two posts which aim to clear the fog. Here we present evidence for the clear link between the flooding and climate change. The second post will explore the extent to which extreme weather events can be attributed to climate change.
Flooding is a long-predicted climate change impact for the UK
- winter precipitation increases
- winter precipitation intensity increases
- sea level rises
- extremes of sea level become more frequent
“The biggest challenge to the British Isles from climate change is flooding”
In 2004 the government Chief Scientist (2000-2008), Sir David King, presented a report he had commissioned to government on how best to manage the increased risk of flooding and coastal erosion over the coming decades. The report used the UKCIP 2002 findings as its starting point and confirmed (alongside its other recommendations):
- “Under every scenario considered, flooding would increase substantially by the 2080s”
- “Reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions would substantially help to manage future risks”
Speaking on BBC Newsnight on 12th February, King explained that “the biggest challenge to the British Isles from climate change is flooding.” The only thing that surprised him about the scale of the recent flooding in the UK was that such dramatic impacts were happening so soon:
Jeremy Paxman: Are you surprised by these floods?
Sir David King: I am surprised. I think it’s all happened a bit earlier than I would have expected. In the sense that we put in a report to government back in 2004 on flood and coastal defences and in that report we used the best that climate science could produce for us to anticipate what the challenges would be for the British Isles. The biggest challenge to the British Isles from climate change is flooding. So we set it out in some detail. It was an enormous piece of work. And the net result was that we were saying within in 20 years this sort of thing would be happening. So yes, it’s happening a bit more quickly than we expected.
JP: So you predicted it but the timescale has collapsed.
This month the Met Office issued a briefing on the UK’s recent floods and storms which concluded (p.3): “There is an increasing body of evidence that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, and that the rate of increase is consistent with what is expected from fundamental physics. There is no evidence to counter the basic premise that a warmer world will lead to more intense daily and hourly heavy rain events.”
As James Hansen puts it in his book Storms of My Grandchildren: “Global warming does increase the intensity of droughts and heat waves, and thus the area of forest fires. However, because a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapour, global warming must also increase the intensity of the other extreme of the hydrologic cycle – meaning heavier rains, more extreme floods, and more intense storms driven by latent heat, including thunderstorms, tornadoes, and tropical storms.”
The world has warmed by 0.8C since pre-industrial times. The observed changes we have seen over this period include: a sea level rise of about about 20 cm; extreme rainfall events in the UK becoming more common (events that were considered to be 1 in 125 day events during the 1960s and 1970s appear to be occurring about once in 85 days now on average - Met Office p.22); and a significant increase in the intensity of the very strong winter cyclones over the mid-latitude North Atlantic – i.e. the path of the recent storms (Met Office, p.21).
The picture is complicated by the Arctic which is warming twice as fast as the global average. The reduced temperature differential between the polar North and the mid-latitudes appears to be destabilising weather patterns by changing the course and strength of the jet stream and the position of the polar vortex.
The unprecedented feature of the UK floods was the number of storms and the prolonged duration of the storm cluster that led to the wettest January-December since at least records began (248 years). Research by Jennifer Francis and Stephen Vavrus suggests a link between the changes we are seeing in the Arctic and such prolonged weather events.
The future forecast
- higher average temperatures in both summer and winter
- changes in seasonal rainfall patterns
- rising sea levels
- more very hot days and heat waves
- more intense downpours of rain and
- higher intensity storms
The severity of these impacts depends on whether or not we start taking urgent action to mitigate climate change as an international community – as explained in my interview with IPPC lead author Pierre Friedlingstein.
Here’s Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre on BBC Newsnight last night (17 February 2014):
Victoria Derbyshire: Kevin Anderson, you believe global temperatures will rise by, what? Three, four, five degrees centigrade by the end of the century?
Kevin Anderson: Oh, certainly if we do not reduce our emissions.
VD: Right. What will Britain look like then?
KA: If you talk about 4C rise then we’re talking about at least a metre of sea level rise before the end of the century. And if you put on top of that the increased severity of storms and possibly increased frequency of storms as well…
VD: What will Britain be like if that happens?
KA: It will be a very different shape. It doesn’t matter how much dredging you do in the Somerset Levels you will not be able to keep that part of the country…
VD: The Somerset Levels wouldn’t exist?
KA: They simply wouldn’t exist, but nor would probably large parts around the Thames indeed as well. So the shape of the UK map… A lot of East Anglia would go, many of the islands would have gone off the north of Scotland, Humberside. Many parts of the UK would suffer and we would see major problems with trying to rehouse people. At the same time, remember this is a global problem, we’d be having problems with the imports of our food from elsewhere in the world. Our energy infrastructure is not designed for this, we still have an infrastructure that is very Victorian…
Finally, Carbon Brief today extract some key messages from the leaked forthcoming IPCC Working Group II report – on the future impacts of climate change – that relate to the likely impact on the UK from flooding under various emissions scenarios.
Update: A day after we published this post, the the Committee on Climate Change published its view on the link between UK floods and climate change which squares very closely with our own.
Now published at Ceasefire Magazine.
In 2011 Anjali Appadurai gave a powerful speech at the UN climate talks on behalf of the youth of the world. She hounded negotiators for their lack of ambition, broken pledges and betrayal of future generations. In an exclusive interview with Ceasefire, she reflects on the incremental progress made in Warsaw in December, why a colonial attitude and corporate interests are holding us back, and on the solutions and strategies that can take us forward. Appadurai continues to track the negotiations with Third World Network and Earth in Brackets. You can view her 2013 TEDx talk and follow her on Twitter.
Phil England (PE): What’s at stake at the UN climate talks?
Anjali Appadurai (AA): With climate change I think we’ve really underestimated the gravity of the issue. The continued reports coming out from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are slowly helping to cement the idea that this has more consequences for the global community than any other problem we’ve tried to solve at the UN. What’s at stake is a global agreement which would not solve climate change in itself but would provide a legal framework within which solutions could be created and implemented.
PE: What is your overall sense of the progress made at the latest round of talks in Warsaw in December?