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Record average temperatures highlight the urgent need to agree a deal on emissions at the UN climate change talks in Lima.
Vehicles drive by a 134ft-high thermometer in Baker, California. Average land and sea surface temperatures have reached record levels in 2014. Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty Images.
Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian.
The world is on course for the hottest year ever in 2014, the United Nations weather agency said on Wednesday, heightening the sense of urgency around climate change negotiations underway in Lima.
Preliminary estimates from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) found global average land and sea surface temperatures for the first 10 months of 2014 had soared higher than ever recorded.
The findings – broadly in line with those of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) and other scientific agencies – indicate that by year-end 2014 will break all previous high temperature records.
The steady escalation of greenhouse gas emissions, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, have seen a succession of record-breaking years for temperature since the dawning of the 21st century and 2014 promises to be no exception, the WMO said.
“Fourteen of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century,” said the WMO’s secretary-general Michel Jarraud. “What we saw in 2014 is consistent with what we expect from a changing climate.
“Record-breaking heat combined with torrential rainfall and floods destroyed livelihoods and ruined lives. What is particularly unusual and alarming this year are the high temperatures of vast areas of the ocean surface, including in the northern hemisphere,” he said.
The new evidence provided by the WMO report of the gathering risks of climate change undercut the optimism expressed by negotiators from industrialised countries at the opening of the Lima talks.
Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official, said the findings drove home the urgency of reaching a deal. Negotiations have been grinding on for more than 20 years.
“Our climate is changing and every year the risks of extreme weather events and impacts on humanity rise,” she said.
Ed Davey, the UK climate secretary, said the UN climate talks were critical to stop temperatures rising to dangerous levels. “More record warm temperatures in the UK and across the world are yet more evidence that we need to act urgently to prevent dangerous climate change,” he said.
Officials from nearly 200 countries will spend the next two weeks in Lima working to agree on a plan to cut global greenhouse gas emissions fast enough and deeply enough to limit warming to 2C above pre-industrial times, the official objective of the UN talks.
But even that goal – which scientists say may not go far enough to prevent low-lying island states from drowning in rising seas – may be moving beyond reach.
“When confronted with numbers like these, the challenge to stablise global warming below dangerous levels can seem daunting indeed,” Michael Mann, the climate scientist, said. “The globe is warming, ice is melting, and our climate is changing, as a result. And the damage is being felt – in the forms of more destructive weather extremes, more devastating wildfires, and unprecedented threats to the survival of endangered animal species.”
He said the Lima climate talks – and a summit scheduled for Paris at the end of next year – were “perhaps our last real opportunity to stave off truly dangerous and irreversible world-wide changes in our climate.”
Bill McKibben, leader of the 350.org campaign group, saw the findings as a call to arms to climate activists. “If you thought 2014 was hot, wait ‘til you see 2015. This means we need to turn up the flame even higher under the fossil fuel companies that are frying our planet,” he said.
Londoners enjoying record temperatures at Halloween. Photograph: Rob Stothard / Getty Images.
The WMO report found the global average air temperature over land and sea surface for January to October was about 0.57C above the average of 14C for the 1961-1990 reference period, and 0.09C above the average for the past 10 years (2004-2013).
The most striking evidence of warming was probably in the oceans, however. Most of the excess heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gas emissions ends up in the oceans.
The WMO said global sea surface temperatures were 0.45C higher than the average over the last 50 years.
If November and December continue on the same course, then 2014 will edge out 2010, 2005 and 1998 as the hottest years ever known – but only by a few hundredths of a degree. Different data sets also show slightly different rankings, the WMO said.
In any event, the trend line is clear. The world is getting warmer, especially the oceans. Those higher temperatures were already exacting a toll, in terms of heavy rainfall and flooding in some countries, and extreme drought in others, the WMO said.
The agency dismissed outright the notion posed by some climate deniers of a pause in the warming trend.
“There is no standstill in global warming,” Jarraud said.
But scientists say even those targets are not enough to limit warming to 2C, and other big carbon polluters such as India, Russia, and Australia have yet to come on board.
Meanwhile, there were early signs of tension between the US and EU over the legal structure of the agreement that is due to be adopted in Paris next year.
Campaign groups monitoring the talks called on negotiators to take the new WMO findings to heart.
“The fact that we’re tracking towards the hottest year on record should send chills through anyone who says they care about climate change – especially negotiators at the UN climate talks here in Lima,” said Samantha Smith, who heads WWF’s climate and energy initiative. “This is more scientific evidence of the real impact climate change is having on our world. The changes will be felt the most by the most vulnerable people, whose lives and livelihoods are already being affected.”
An almost dried up reservoir in Pingdingshan, central China’s Henan province, where severe drought damaged vast areas of farmland. Photograph: STR / AFP / Getty Images.
The WMO found western North America, Europe, eastern Eurasia, much of Africa, large areas of South America and southern and western Australia were especially warm. South Africa, Australia, and Argentina started the year with blistering heat waves.
However, the US and Canada ushered in 2014 with the chill Arctic winds of the polar vortex. Central Russia also recorded cooler than average conditions for the year.
Europe also experienced extreme weather, with the UK buffeted by storms. A separate temperature data set, the world’s longest continuous record, showed England was on track for the hottest year in over three centuries. Higher temperatures cause more evaporation and more rain, and 2014 began with England’s wettest winter in over 250 years, leading to widespread flooding.
In Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, more than two million people were caught up in severe flooding. Parts of Turkey saw five times the normal amount of rain, and France experienced its wettest summer since 1959.
South Asia also experienced heavy rains, with severe flooding in northern Bangladesh, northern Pakistan and India, affecting millions of people in August and September.
For other parts of the world, however, 2014 brought drought. Rainfall in parts of the Yellow River basin in China were less than half of the summer average. A large swathe of the western US continued under drought. New South Wales and southeast Queensland in Australia also went without rain.
£2.3bn for flood defences in England is not new money, and spending has gone backwards under this Tory-led government despite its claims to the contrary.
‘The government … is having to rely on councils to meet three-quarters of the costs as the private sector sit on their hands. It is difficult to see how cash-strapped local authorities will be able to raise anything like £600m for flood defences in the next six years.’ Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/Alamy
Maria Eagle MP, shadow environment secretary for the Labour party.
Climate change is a serious threat to national security and last year’s winter storms highlighted the cost, damages and disruption that extreme weather can cause. Yet within the first six months of the coalition, David Cameron cut the flood protection budget by over £100m, leaving many communities, including the South West, overly exposed.
Ever since then the government has been playing catch up and that’s what today’s promise of £2.3billion for flood defence schemes is all about.
Communities at risk of flooding won’t buy this spin from David Cameron. The £2.3bn is not new money, instead it is another re-announcement of capital funding confirmed a year ago. As a result the Committee on Climate Change claims that the government’s plans will leave 80,000 additional properties at significant risk of flooding in the next five years alone. There were even reports over the weekend that these plans contain a £500m black hole.
There are some heroic assumptions underlying these plans. The government has assumed it can raise £600m of the £2.3bn from its ‘partnership funding programme’, four times more than at present. The programme includes contributions from both the public and private sectors. Yet this has been a disaster.
Not only has the government failed to raise even the original target of £140m in this Parliament, it is having to rely on councils to meet three-quarters of the costs as the private sector sit on their hands. It is difficult to see how cash-strapped local authorities will be able to raise anything like £600m for flood defences in the next six years.
The reality is that flood risk management has gone backwards under this Tory-led government. Despite repeatedly telling us that they’re spending ‘more than ever’ and promising that “money is no object” they have been found out time and time again. Just last month the National Audit Office confirmed that David Cameron has cut flood defence spending by 10% in real terms since 2010.
This same short-term approach has been applied to the ongoing maintenance of flood defences which were cut by 20% in 2010. As a result the Committee on Climate Change has said that three-quarters of existing flood defences are not being maintained to their identified need. This will end up costing the taxpayer more in the long-term because maintaining existing flood defence systems can be among the most cost-effective use of resources.
This replaces The Guardian’s video which was not available to share.
Communities at risk of flooding deserve a proper long-term plan for infrastructure investment, including flooding. That is why Labour has called for an Independent National Infrastructure Commission to set out its flood defence spending in the context of a 25-30 year infrastructure plan.
Taking climate change seriously is not something only to be done a few months before an election. Voters won’t be fooled by the prime minister who pledged to lead the “greenest government ever” and then instructed his aides to “cut the green crap”.
Maria Eagle MP is Labour’s shadow environment secretary.
Ineos has made no secret of its interest in shale gas
Chemicals giant Ineos has announced plans to invest up to £640m in shale gas exploration in the UK.
The company plans to use the gas as a raw material for its chemicals plants, including Grangemouth in Stirlingshire.
Grangemouth is currently running at a loss, but Ineos believes shale gas will transform the economics of the plant.
Shale gas extraction is promoted as an important potential energy source, but has sparked opposition from environmental groups.
Shale gas is extracted through a technique known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in which water and chemicals are pumped into shale rock at high pressure.
Numerous anti-fracking groups have formed and protests have been staged at several sites over fears of earthquakes, water pollution and environmental damage.
Ineos is currently building Europe’s largest shale gas import facility to feed its petrochemicals plant at Grangemouth – but it wants to produce home-grown shale gas as well.
In recent months it has been buying up rights to explore across hundreds of square miles of the Midland Valley around the Stirlingshire site.
Ineos is also thought to have applied for further licences as part of the government’s ongoing onshore licensing round.
The company outlined plans on Thursday to invest hundreds of millions pounds in UK exploration.
“I believe shale gas could revolutionise UK manufacturing and I know Ineos has the resources to make it happen, the skills to extract the gas safely and the vision to realise that everyone must share in the rewards,” said Ineos boss Jim Ratcliffe.
The firm added that “substantial further investment would follow if the company moved to development and production”.
BBC industry correspondent John Moylan said the move will be seen as a significant vote of confidence in the sector, and will position Ineos as one of the major players in the emerging industry.
But, he added, it will also put Ineos in the sights of protesters who believe shale gas and fracking are dangerous and harmful to the environment.
A spokesman for Greenpeace UK characterised Ineos’ investment as “giant speculative bets on unproven and risky resources”.
“It seems that Ineos have based their business plan on breathless PR brochures rather than scientific reports,” he added.
Shale gas sites in UK.
Earlier this year, Ineos announced plans to hand over up to £2.5bn of shale gas revenues to communities close to its wells.
The company has bought the licence for shale gas exploration and development across a 329sq km area around its Grangemouth power plant.
It will give away 6% of revenues to local homeowners and landowners.
However, Friends of the Earth Scotland criticised the move as “a transparent attempt to bribe communities”.
The British Geological Survey has estimated there are “modest” shale gas and oil resources in the area.
Fracking is used extensively in the US where it has revolutionised the energy industry.
The Scottish government has called for devolved powers on fracking after the UK government decided to press ahead with plans to let companies drill at depths of 300m below private land without consent.
Analysis: John Moylan, BBC Industries Correspondent
This sounds like a huge investment by Ineos.
But any firm wanting to bring shale gas from the exploration stage through to full production will have to spend hundreds of millions of pounds.
An industry report earlier this year suggested that a single shale gas production site with 10 wells might cost as much as £350m. So firms intending to have multiple gas production sites will have to spend eye-watering sums.
But the timing of this announcement is key. The government is currently assessing applications made by operators for new onshore licences to explore for shale gas.
Firms have to demonstrate that they have the cash and know-how to exploit a license area. If this has been a competitive license round – and there’s a suggestion that this is the case – then firms like Ineos will have to lobby hard to ensure they get the areas that they want.
There could be more announcements like this from other industry players in the weeks and months ahead.
- Ministers’ shale gas ‘hype’ attacked
- Fracking regulations ‘too strict’
- Fund proposed for shale gas revenues
Recent changes to the law, enabling companies to frack beneath landowners’ properties without their permission, have fuelled resistance to fracking in Britain, says author and activist.
Naomi Klein speaking to Owen Jones about her most recent book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate at a Guardian Live event. Photograph: Guardian talks
Adam Vaughan reporting,
Ministers’ rewriting of the law to allow fracking to happen beneath people’s homes without their permission flouts basic democratic rights, according to Naomi Klein.
The author and activist said that the UK government’s changes to trespass laws, to speed up the ability for shale gas companies to frack beneath landowners’ property, was energising resistance to fracking in Britain.
“What is animating the anti-fracking movement? Yes, it’s water. It’s also a defence of democracy. The fact the government is colluding with energy companies to force the right to frack underneath people’s homes without their permission flies in the face of the most common-sense definition of democracy and self-definition,” she told an audience at a Guardian event in London on Monday.
A consultation over the summer on the trespass law found that 99% of the 40,000 people who responded objected to the changes. But government officials said they would go ahead with the law change, as “no issues have been identified that would mean that our overall policy approach is not the best available solution.”
Naomi Klein discusses her most provocative book yet, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate.
Klein, whose new book addresses how capitalism is holding back efforts to tackle climate change quickly enough, said that shale gas and oil companies were being met by a global movement whose growth was incredible.
“The movement against fracking has been heroic. We are starting to see the kind of resistance where people have those stakes you’re talking about,” she told the event’s chair, Guardian columnist Owen Jones. “People get involved in fighting fracking not because of climate change but because they’re worried about their water. Water is what unites so many of these movements, whether it’s against tar sands, pipelines or fracking, coal mining, it’s water and love of place.”
Klein highlighted the series of climate marches around the world in September, which saw more than a reported 400,000 people out in New York and tens of thousands in cities including London, Paris and Melbourne, as a cause for hope. “I was tremendously gratified by what just happened in New York.”
She said it was not just the scale of the march in New York that had impressed her but the diversity, made up of local communities who had been hit by superstorm Sandy, indigenous people fighting tar sands developments, anti-fracking campaigners and what she described as the first time the Labor movement was out in force, calling for job creation in response to climate change.
“To me, it was not just the size of it, this march had a quality to it that I’d never seen at a mass environmental demonstration,” she said, adding to applause: “I think we need to be very clear about this – the only way you can win against forces with a huge amount to lose is to build a movement of people, many more people, with a huge amount to gain.”
The author also argued that rallying around action on climate change would be one of the most powerful ways to tackle austerity, by creating a case for investment in low carbon infrastructure from public money and taking energy ownership away from the ‘Big Six’ energy companies who she said had failed the UK. “This is our chance to liberate ourselves from the brutalising logic of austerity,” she said.
“Climate is the big tent we’ve been waiting for, and why wouldn’t it be, the atmosphere is the biggest tent of all, we’re all under it and we need to start acting like it.”
Ministers reject 40,000 objections to allow fracking below homes without owners’ permission.
by Damian Carrington.
Prime minister David Cameron during a guided tour of the IGas shale drilling plant near Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/PA
Fracking will take place below Britons’ homes without their permission after ministers rejected 40,000 objections to controversial changes to trespass laws.
The UK government argued that the current ability for people to block shale gas development under their property would lead to significant delays and that the legal process by which companies can force fracking plans through was costly, time-consuming and disproportionate.
There were a total of 40,647 responses to a consultation on the move to give oil and gas companies underground access without needing to seek landowners’ permission, with 99% opposing the legal changes. Setting aside the 28,821 responses submitted via two NGO campaigns, 92% of the remaining responses objected to the proposals.
The government response to the consultation, published online on the eve of the parliamentary vote on military strikes against Islamic militants in Iraq, concluded: “Having carefully considered the consultation responses, we believe that the proposed policy remains the right approach to underground access and that no issues have been identified that would mean that our overall policy approach is not the best available solution.”
New laws will now be passed giving automatic access for gas and oil development below 300m and a notification and compensation scheme will be run by the industry on a voluntary basis.
Should fracking trespass laws be changed?
“It is essential that we make the most of home-sourced energy and start exploring the natural energy supplies beneath our feet. As the cleanest fossil fuel shale gas provides a bridge to a much greener future,” said a statement from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. “By removing barriers to deep underground drilling access, we are speeding up oil and gas and deep geothermal energy exploration. ”
The Conservative energy minister, Matt Hancock, said: “These new rules will help Britain to explore the great potential of our national shale gas and geothermal resources, as we work towards a greener future – and open up thousands of new jobs in doing so.”
“This is an important day for the future of energy supply in the UK,” said Ken Cronin, chief executive of the industry’s trade body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG). “Landowners on the surface will not notice this underground activity [usually a mile deep] and it will have no impact on their day-to-day lives.”
But Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “This sham consultation exposes the government’s disregard for the growing public concern about the major environmental and health risks of fracking. The decision to deny people the right to say no to fracking under their own homes is outrageous. It shows that ministers are putting the greed of oil and gas companies above the public interest in tackling climate change.”
Simon Clydesdale, from Greenpeace, said: “The roar of opposition to this arrogant policy is deafening, yet ministers are determined to blithely ignore what the overwhelming majority of the British public thinks and wants. There will be a hefty political price to pay for this massive sell-out to the narrow interests of the shale lobby.”
Friends of the Earth’s Jane Thomas said: “This government seems hell-bent on fracking irrespective of widespread opposition. You’d think with a general election approaching politicians would listen to public opinion and get behind the popular energy solutions of cutting waste and backing renewables.”
The changes to the trespass laws were also criticised by Scotland’s energy minister Fergus Ewing: “UK government proposals to remove the right of Scottish householders to object to drilling under their homes, without so much as debate in the Scottish parliament, flies in the face of Scotland’s cautious, considered and evidence based approach on this issue. It is also fundamentally an issue affecting land ownership rights.”
In January, another controversial pro-fracking legal change was passed in the face of overwhelming public opposition. The change, which ditched the requirement to notify homes individually of future shale gas operations, was criticised by a Lords committee as having been rushed through without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Fracking companies will still need to obtain regulatory permissions, such as planning and environmental permits.
Earlier in September, the planning committee of the South Downs National Park Authority voted unanimously to reject an application by Celtique Energie to undertake exploratory drilling as a precursor to fracking at Fernhurst in West Sussex.