Climate News of the Week Roundup: No Stall: 2001-10 Was Warmest Decade on Record, and Warming Rate Is Accelerating

This week’s roundup features another debunking of claims that global warming has “stalled”, the Wuppertal Institute’s proposals for the 2015 climate agreement, a study claiming that more investment into the German energy turnaround would be good for the economy, a study claiming that coal pollution leads to tens of thousands of premature deaths in Europe, a study on the renewables and electricity system costs in Germany, the German grid ticking along nicely despite the nuclear phaseout, backloading in the EU emission trading system, breakdowns of where the recent emission reductions in Australia and the USA are coming from, a study claiming that a Chinese emission peak by 2025 is possible, and more.

The World Meteorological Organization has called 2001-2010 a “decade of climate extremes”, noting that the world experienced unprecedented high-impact climate extremes. In addition, it was the warmest decade since the start of measurements and the decadal rate of global temperature increase is accelerating. The average 2001-2010 decadal temperature was 0.21°C warmer than 1991–2000, which in turn was +0.14°C warmer than 1981-1990. Which once again debunks a popular claim that warming has “stalled”. Skeptics like to cherry-pick individual years, while the WMO notes that, “A decade is the minimum possible timeframe for meaningful assessments of climate change”.

Dana Nuccitelli claims that Earth is building up heat at a rate of 4 Hiroshima bomb detonations worth of heat every second.

A little self-promotion, the Wuppertal Institute participated in the European Commission’s stakeholder consultation on the 2015 climate agreement. In essence we recommend to take a more multi-dimensional approach than has so far been done in the climate regime, suggesting that countries should adopt multiple commitments, such as the EU’s internal 20-20-20 targets on emissions, renewables and efficiency. But please more ambitiously than the EU’s 20% emission target. We also suggest that Parties should reassess the widely shared assumption that there is a trade-off between climate protection and economic well-being. While at the micro level there will of course be losers (for example everyone who is running a business model on the basis of using fossil fuels and refuses to change), the picture at the macro level will probably be rather different.

The German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) concluded (German press release here and interview with Claudia Kemfert here) that more investment into the German energy turnaround would be good for the economy, leading to more jobs and higher GDP.

And this isn’t even counting other benefits of getting rid of fossil fuels. A new study by Stuttgart University claims that coal pollution is causing about 22,000 premature deaths in Europe each year, as well as costs of billions of euros for disease treatment and lost working days.

A new study by the Öko-Institute concludes that the feed-in surcharge will once again increase next year, by about 0.8 eurocents. The reason is that wholesale power prices have dropped dramatically due to the renewables scale-up, and as the feed-in surcharge is to compensate for the difference between wholesale prices and the fixed tariff paid to renewable energy installations, this paradoxically leads to an increase of the surcharge. However, this also means that one should rather look at wholesale prices plus the surcharge rather than only the surcharge to see the impact of renewables on system costs. The Öko-Institute projects that total system costs in 2014 will be lower than in 2013. The question, which policy has so far ignored, is therefore how to pass falling system costs on to consumers. Reducing the exemptions for industry and higher CO2 pricing would also help.

As Craig Morris notes, the lower wholesale prices are quite the boon for industry. And while there is a gap in natural gas prices between the US and Europe, that gap seems to be closing. “Indeed, the only way that I can imagine the Energiewende is scaring off energy-intensive industry is if the grid were to become unreliable.”

Grid unreliability is indeed one of the predictions critics of the nuclear phaseout made. Current news is that last winter fewer critical situations occurred in the German grids than in the previous year, even though the winter was pretty long.

And speaking of higher carbon prices, on its second try, the European Parliament this week managed to vote in favour of a proposal to “backload” some the EU emission trading scheme’s surplus allowances. The proposal now has to be discussed with the Council of Ministers. However, if not followed by structural reform, the impact of backloading will be low – and low is probably the adequate word for describing most EU member states’ current appetite for structural reform.

Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the British-based Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, noted that the EU is missing a chance to jump-start investment in a low-carbon economy. Achieving 2030 emission reduction targets requires substantial investment decisions to be made before 2020, but this can only happen when a post-2020 climate and energy framework is in place.

The German government seems keen to totally destroy Germany’s image of being a climate leader. In addition to holding up ETS reform and the strengthening of the EU’s emission target, it’s also set to cut future appropriations for international climate finance, Jan Kowalzig reports (article in German).

On the occasion of the first anniversary of carbon pricing in Australia, “The Conversation” website and the Climate Institute take a look at the results here and here. Contrary to what opponents predicted, the Australian economy is still ticking along nicely and the impact on living costs is barely discernible. Electricity sector emissions are down by 7%, but according to the articles, the underlying efficiency gains and renewables scale-up of no less than 23% were mostly driven by other factors. But they also conclude that the market is clearly responding to long-term signals towards lower emissions.

CleanTechnica has a similar breakdown of where the US emission reductions of 12% compared to 2005 levels have come from. As others have done, they conclude that it’s a myth that it has mostly been shale gas. While the greatest drop did occur in the electricity sector, the declines in transport, industry and residential sectors were also significant. And the US economy was larger in 2012 than in 2005, so the recession can’t have been a big factor for the 2012 emission levels.

Speaking of the US, Harald Winkler takes a look at how the US went from “yes we can” to “here’s the best we can” on ‎climate change.

A study by Jiang Kejun and other Chinese experts says that a Chinese emission peak by 2025 is possible, which would keep 2°C within reach. RTCC has a summary and discussion of the political context here.

CleanTechnica reports on a totally unsubsidized solar power project totaling 250 MW going up in Spain. PV magazine reports that Chile is on track for 6 GW of solar projects.

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