Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Announcing APPCCG's new theme for meetings in 2014-15

Since 2012, the APPCCG has structured its work and meetings under three themes: 
  • International and National Legislation on Climate Change
  • Public-Private Partnership 
  • Innovation and Technology

We are happy to announce a new overarching theme to be added to this list: 
  • Infrastructure
This theme will cover a set of sub themes including: 
  • transport/mobility
  • cities
  • energy infrastructure and 
  • food /climate smart agriculture
We are currently working on the details of the meetings that will be held from October 2014 onwards. In the meantime, we welcome any suggestions from our members on meeting topics of interest to them under the new theme and sub-themes. 

To submit ideas/suggestions, contact: neha.nijhon@carbonneutral.com.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Event: Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs)

Tuesday, 15th July 2014; 2:00 – 3:30 pm; 
Room changed to: Committee Room 7 Committee Room 17, House of Commons

The TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas) system was first published in 1996 by the late Dr. David Fleming, and has since been the subject of extensive study, including a government feasibility study in 2008.  This concluded that TEQs was then "ahead of its time" due to public reluctance to accept climate policy and perceived greater costs than international abatement via the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. 

TEQs (pronounced "tex") is a concept similar to a national electronic system for rationing energy use, covering the whole economy, with individuals given a free weekly entitlement of units.  However, individuals who use less than their entitlement would be able to legally sell their surplus units at the prevailing national price, thus profiting from their energy-thrift and providing a means for above-average users to exceed their entitlement.  In the system price would be determined by national demand, and all fuels and electricity would carry a 'carbon rating', determining the number of units needed to make a purchase. 

This joint meeting by PRASEG and the APPCCG aims to explain the system and how it would work, making the case for why the UK should adopt this approach, and laying out the next steps towards implementation in the current political climate.

Chair: Dr Alan Whitehead MP

  • Shaun Chamberlin, Managing Director, Fleming Policy Centre
  • Dr Tina Fawcett, Senior Researcher, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University
  • Professor Michael Grubb, Senior Advisor, Sustainable Energy Policy, Ofgem & Professor of International and Climate Change Policy, UCL
RSVP: If you would like to attend this meeting, please contact Neha Nijhon at the APPCCG Secretariat on climatechangegroup@carbonneutral.com or tel: +44 (0) 20 7833 6035.  Please enter by Cromwell Green (visitors) entrance and allow about 15 minutes to pass through security.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

UPDATE: With the very welcome announcement by the government on 22 July 2014 that the Fourth Carbon Budget will be maintained, this letter did not need to be published. A huge thank you to all our signatories for participating.

(Post originally published on: 11 June 2014)
Call for Support: Letter to the Government to Maintain the Fourth Carbon Budget
The APPCCG is co-ordinating signatories to a letter calling on the Government to follow the advice of the Committee on Climate Change and confirm or strengthen the Fourth Carbon Budget.

There is a strong case for the government to take a decision on the budget as soon as possible so as to provide the stable policy environment critical to attracting investment in the low-carbon sector, and creating significant growth opportunities for the UK economy.

A range of cross-party MPs and Peers, including Lord Stern have already indicated their support for this letter
and we are keen to gather as many signatories as possible. We are looking to publish the letter early in the week commencing 16 June.

If you/your organisation support the view that the Government must uphold or strengthen the ambition of the Fourth Carbon Budget, then please indicate your support by emailing the APPCCG co-ordinator, Neha Nijhon (neha.nijhon@carbonneutral.com ) and your name will be added to the list of signatories.

The letter and a short background note on this issue is given below. 
Kind Regards,

Joan Walley MP


Brief background:
The fourth carbon budget, covering 2023-2027, was set in June 2011 following advice from the Committee in December 2010. It was designed to reflect the cost-effective path to the 2050 target in the Climate Change Act (i.e. to reduce emissions by at least 80% relative to 1990), taking into account the range of criteria in the Act including affordability, competitiveness and security of supply.

As part of the agreement to set the budget, the Government announced that it would be reviewed in 2014 and this review was carried out by the Committee on Climate Change the statutory body set up to advise the government on meeting long-term carbon goals. The Committee found that the UK’s 2050 target of an 80% emissions reduction remains the most appropriate and cost-effective path for emissions reduction through the 2020s, offering significant long-term savings.

With the evidence of the CCC review report, and a large section of business calling upon government to accept the Committee’s advice, there is a strong case for the government to take a decision on the budget as soon as possible, especially, as an early decision by the Government would considerably improve the conditions for investment.


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Climate Solutions Series – Event Summaries

(Post originally published on: 13 March 2014)

The APPCCG and Carbon Connect partnered for an event series in 2013-14 called Climate Solutions, which explores the landscape of national and international climate change policy and its impact on economic competitiveness.

The first meeting in the series was held on 27 Nov 2013 – ‘Climate policies: global trends and challenges’ –  with Lord Deben as the keynote speaker and a high level supporting panel. The meeting summary can be accessed here.

The second meeting was held on 28 Jan 2014, titled ‘Tools for decarbonisation: taxes, markets and regulation’ and the summary can be accessed here.

The third and final event of the series focused on the impact of climate policy on business competitiveness. The summary for this meeting –  ‘Competitiveness and climate policy: friends or foes?’ –  can be downloaded here.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Nine Lessons and Carols in Communicating Climate Uncertainty

A huge thank you to Tamsin Edwards , climate scientist at the Cabot Institute, University of Bristol for the excellent summary of the APPCCG meeting  “Communicating Risk and Uncertainty around Climate Change” held on 29 October 2013.

Nine Lessons and Carols in Communicating Climate Uncertainty

About a month ago I was invited to represent the Cabot Institute at the All Parliamentary Party Climate Change Group (APPCCG) meeting on “Communicating Risk and Uncertainty around Climate Change”. All Party Groups are groups of MPs and Lords with a common interest they wish to discuss, who meet regularly but fairly informally. Here are the APPCCG registerblogTwitter and list of events.

The speakers were James Painter (University of Oxford), Chris Rapley (UCL) and Fiona Harvey (The Guardian), and the chair was (Lord) Julian Hunt (UCL). Rather than write up my meeting notes, I’ll focus on the key points.

[Disclaimer: All quotes and attributions are based on my recollections and note-taking, and may not be exact.]

1. People have a finite pool of worry

I'll start with this useful phrase, mentioned (I think by Chris) in the discussion. Elke Weber describes this:

"As worry increases about one type of risk, concern about other risks has been shown to go down, as if people had only so much capacity for worry or a finite pool of worry. Increased concern about global warming may result in decreased concern about other risks...the recent financial crisis reduced concern about climate change and environmental degradation." -- “What shapes perceptions of climate change?”; pdf currently here)

Lessons: We cannot expect or ask people to worry about everything: concern about other issues can reduce concern about climate change, while evoking strong emotions about climate change can reduce concern about other issues. So Chris encouraged talking about opportunities, rather than threats, wherever possible.

2. People interpret uncertainty as ignorance

People often interpret the word "uncertainty" as complete ignorance, rather than, for example, partial ignorance(..!) or a well-defined range of possible outcomes. This may be due to language: "I'm not certain" is close to "I don't know".

Just as important is exposure to research science. Science is often presented as a book of facts, when in fact it is a messy process of reducing our uncertainty about the world. At a school this year the head teacher told us about an Ofsted inspection during which they had a fantastic science workshop, where groups of students solved challenging problems using real data. At the end of the day, the inspector said: "Fine, but wouldn't it have been quicker to have told them the answer first?"

Lessons: Revolutionise the education system.

3. People are uncomfortable with uncertainty

Even when people do understand uncertainty, it can become a convenient rug under which to brush difficult decisions. Chris said that over-emphasising uncertainty leads to decision-making paralysis. When a decision invokes fear or anxiety (or, I would add, political disagreement), uncertainty can be used to dismiss the decision entirely.

"The Higgs boson", Chris said, "was not a ball bearing found down the back of sofa, but a statistical result". It was just possible it hadn't been discovered. But it wasn't reported this way. The Higgs, of course, does not invoke fear, anxiety or political disagreement (though please leave comments below if you disagree).

Lessons: Decision paralysis might be reduced by talking in terms of confidence rather than uncertainty. But perhaps more importantly...

4. People do accept the existence of risk

Finite worry and the problems of talking about uncertainty need not mean deadlock, James and Chris argued, because people do understand the concept of risk.  They accept there are irreducible uncertainties when making decisions. Businesses are particularly familiar with risk, of course. James mentioned that Harvard Business School is actively viewing climate change in this way:

"It's striking that anyone frames this question in terms of 'belief,' saying things like, 'I don't believe in climate change,'… I think it's better seen as a classic managerial question about decision-making under uncertainty." -- Forest L. Reinhardt, Business and Environment Institute faculty co-chair, HBS

Viewed in this way, the problem is not whether to make a decision based on uncertain or incomplete information, which is nearly always the case in other spheres (Chris: “Why should climate change be a special case required to have absolute certainty?”). The problem is whether the decision made is to bet against mainstream climate science:

"It seems clear that no one can know exactly what's going to happen--the climate is a hugely complex system, and there's a lot going on"....[The vast majority of the world's scientists] may be wrong. But it seems to me foolish to bet that they are certainly wrong." -- Rebecca Henderson, Business and Environment Institute faculty co-chair, HBS

Chris pointed out that the Technical Summary of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment of climate science uses the word "uncertainty" a thousand times and the word “risk” not at all, so it is not surprising the media focus on uncertainty. And how well humans understand risk is a matter worthy of much discussion. But as James writes:

“There is... a growing body of literature suggesting that risk language may be a good, or at least a less bad, way of communicating climate change to the general public”. -- "Climate Change in the Media: Reporting Risk and Uncertainty", (Executive Summary, page viii)

Lessons: Where possible, talk in terms of risk not uncertainty; see for example the IPCC report on extreme weather and, naturally, our book Risk and Uncertainty Assessment for Natural Hazards.

5. Scientists have little training

Most of us are not well trained - perhaps hardly at all - in science communication. But we must consider how the way we present numbers affects their interpretation. In 2007, the IPCC said the likelihood that most of global warming since the mid-20th century was caused by greenhouse gas emissions was assessed to be greater than 90%. This year they made a similar statement but the likelihood was 95% or greater. Chris said that if a journalist asked, "What does it mean to increase from 90% confident to 95% confident?", a scientist could make this clearer with "[We think] the chance climate change is natural is now half as likely as before."

He also pointed out that we don't have training in how to deal with the "street fight" of the climate debate. In my experience, this is one of the two main reasons why most of my colleagues do not do public engagement (the other being time commitment).

Lessons: For communicating uncertainty and risk, I recommend UnderstandingUncertainty.org. For dealing with the street fight, my advice is first to start with a lot of listening, not talking, to get a feel for the landscape. And to talk to climate scientists already engaging on how to avoid and deal with conflict (if, indeed, they are avoiding or dealing with conflict...).

6. Journalists have little (statistical) training

The IPCC assessment reports use a "language" of uncertainty, where phrases such as "extremely likely" are given a specific meaning (in this case, 95% or greater likelihood). But James said that only 15% of media articles about this year's report explained the meaning of this uncertainty language.

And in the discussion someone quoted a journalist as saying "The IPCC report says it has 95% confidence – what do the other 5% of the scientists think?" In other words, confusing the idea of a consensus and a confidence interval. There was a laugh at this in the room. But I think this is easily done by people who do not spend all day thinking about statistics. That would be: the majority of the human race.

Lessons: Er, many journalists could benefit from more statistical training. Here is what that might look like.

7. "Newspaper editors are extremely shallow, generally"

Fiona, her tongue only slightly in cheek, gave us this memorably-made and disappointing (if predictable) point.

Just because something is important it doesn't mean it will get into a news outlet. An editor might go to a cocktail party, talk to their glamorous celebrity friends, hear some current opinion, and then the next day their paper says...

In other words, the social diary - including meetings with high profile climate sceptics - can have a substantial influence on the viewpoint taken. (Of course, she noted, the editor of The Guardian is a profound man, not influenced by such superficiality). To counter this we would need to go to influential people and whisper in their ears too. We would need to launch a prawn cocktail offensive - or more appropriately, as one wit suggested, a goats cheese offensive. You heard it here first. And last.

Lessons: Go to more cocktail parties hosted by influential people.

8. There are many types of climate sceptic

There was generally support of scepticism by the speakers. Chris said it was perfectly valid for the public to ask scientists "Can we see your working?"; in other words, to ask for more details, code and data. All the speakers said they don't use the word "denier".

James said we should not generalise, and described four types of sceptic: trend, attribution, impacts, and policy. A trend sceptic would not be convinced there is global warming; an attribution sceptic about how much is man-made; an impacts sceptic might say we don't know enough about when and how severe the impacts will be; and a policy sceptic would take issue with how to tackle the problem. (Personally, I believe there are as many types of sceptic as there are sceptics, but that would be a longer list to write down). Fiona pointed out that one person can be all these types of sceptic, moving from one argument to another as a discussion progresses. Some thought this would be incoherent (i.e. kettle logic, contradictory arguments) but others thought it could be coherent to be sceptical for more than one of those reasons.

Lessons: Treat each sceptic as an individual (flower); don't assume they are one type of sceptic when they may be another, or more than one.

9. Trust is important 

What determines people's views on climate change? As James pointed out, there is evidence that what drives opinions is not science, or even the media (they determine only the topics of discussion), but political, cultural and social values. Fiona had said earlier in the meeting, "Climate change is more politicised than ever before in my lifetime: it is becoming a matter of right or left. This is very, very scary. If you allow this, you lose any hope of doing anything sensible about it."

All this is true. But I'll end with a slightly more optimistic quote, which I think was from Chris: "The sea change in the battle with tobacco companies was when the message got across that the adverts were not trustworthy." I quote this not because I believe it is the same as the climate debate, and not because sceptics are untrustworthy (though some may be), but because I (some might say, choose to) interpret it to mean that trust is important. When people trust the messenger, the message is more likely believed.

Lessons: Other things are important, but sometimes communication is a matter of trust. I emphasise this point because it's what I already believe; others may disagree (politely, please...).


I would have liked to add more references supporting the points made by the speakers, but ran out of time. Some are in James' book mentioned above. Do please add them in the comments if you have them.

The title of this blogpost came from realising I had nine points to make and thinking of this set of shows curated by Robin Ince celebrating science, skepticism, and rationalism. If you're in the UK this December, do go.


Corrections (9th Dec):

- Chris actually said the word ‘risk’ is used in the IPCC physical science group Technical Summary fewer than 100 times, rather than not at all.

- James said only 15% of media articles about the IPCC 2007 report explained the meaning of the uncertainty language, not this year’s.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

IBT's 'The Environment on TV. Are Broadcasters MeetIng the Challenge?': Report Launch by the APPCCG

In Brief: Jointly hosted by the APPCCG and International Broadcasting Trust (IBT), this report examines television coverage of the environment in UK. IBT has a track record of publishing research about media coverage of global issues. This is IBT’s first report on TV coverage of the environment and aimed to look at the role that television plays in engaging the public with some of the most challenging issues of the day, such as climate change. As the main source of information on climate change for the UK public, how does television cover the environment matters?

This report is based on two elements: a quantitative analysis of all the factual, drama and comedy on the main UK TV channels over a 12 month period and a series of interviews with broadcasters, producers, scientists and environmentalists. The research does not look at news – that’s already been well documented in other research. The aim of the research was to find out how effective television is at engaging mainstream audiences with environmental issues. What works and what doesn’t? Is there room for improvement and, if there is, what steps should be taken?

The research does offer concrete evidence of what works on television, but also highlights some important gaps. A key strength is coverage of the natural world. Broadcasters are good at using storytelling and campaigns to reach big audiences and at ‘smuggling in’ environmental stories so they feature regularly in popular factual entertainment shows. But they are much less effective at finding ways of tackling some of the more controversial environmental issues, such as climate change, in prime time, so that viewers can understand the wider context and makes sense of these complex subjects. Broadcasters are also not using the potential of drama to reach different audiences and engage them emotionally. 

Download the report here.

Meeting Notes for "Climate Science: the Fifth IPCC Assessment Report" - A joint event by ROYAL Society, POST and APPCCG. Tue 15 October 2013, 5.00-7.00 pm, Portcullis House, Westminster.

Link to recordings and presentations: http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/bicameral/post/post-events/climate-science-the-fifth-ipcc-assessment-report/

And thank you to Daniel Kieve, Friends of the Earth for the following notes for the Royal Society, POST and APPCCG meeting held on 15 October 2013.

The joint Royal Society/ All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change/Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology event was an opportunity for Members, Peers and parliamentary staff to debate the Working Group 1 report, the Physical Science Basis, with key experts.

The discussion was chaired by Lord Oxburgh and introduced by Professor John Pethica from the Royal Society. The first presentation was given by Professor John Mitchell (FRS), who talked of the recent unprecedented rate of increase and high atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases. He pointed out that over the last 800,000 years (the period over which ice core data is available from the Antarctic) the level of CO2 had never exceeded 300 parts per million (ppm) until in the last 100 years the level has shot up to 400ppm and continues to rise.

He pointed out that despite natural variations in the climate system due to solar and volcanic activity as well as EL Nino and other periodic climate system variations, the unprecedented level of greenhouse gases, particularly from the anthropogenic increase in CO2 levels is now the predominant driver of climate change.

Professor Keith Shine explained the concept of climate sensitivity – defined by the IPCC as the global mean temperature increase in response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 levels. The IPCC AR5 report gives a ‘likely’ range of between 1.5oC and 4.5oC, stating that it is ‘extremely unlikely’ to be less than 1oC or more than 6oC. Professor Shine then mentioned the need to include climate feedback, due to water vapour for example.. He mentioned that clouds and their response to climate change, are a particularly complex factor to model and a major source of uncertainty.

Professor Corinne Le Quere explained the methodological approach taken by the IPCC in their climate modelling and showed that only when anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are included in models in addition to natural forcings (such as solar radiation and volcanic eruptions) is a close match achieved to the observed historic global average temperature trends from 1910-2010. Corinne said that the IPCCs ‘best assessment’ is that all warming since the mid-20th century is due to humans.

Sir Brian Hoskins spoke next. He noted that, although there has been a slow down in global average temperature rise since 1998, (in part due to 1998 being a particular strong El Nino year) this short term global average warming rate decrease was mainly due to 90% of the energy being absorbed into the oceans. He pointed out that just the top 2.5 metres of the world’s seas store as much heat as the entire atmosphere; therefore the climate system has continued to warm significantly.
Sir Brian Hoskins also discussed sea level rise, currently at the rate of about 3mm per year, or 30 cm per century, one third of which is now due to melting of polar ice. He then showed  a graph illustrating the downward trend in September Arctic Ice area (September is when the Arctic sea ice is at its minimum extent), with September 2012 being 50% below the 30 year average. Finally, Sir Brian commented on the different scenarios used in IPCC global temperature projections to the end of the century, with a marked divergence between the lowest emission scenario and the high emission (business as usual) scenario becoming apparent around 2050. However, a reasonable chance of keeping under 2oC rise in mean global temperature is shown only to be achievable with a strong mitigation strategy and greatly reduced emissions.

Professor Tim Palmer then discussed the fact that climate modelling is based on the laws of physics, such as Planck’s Law and therefore that the argument espoused by climate sceptics that the models are fundamentally flawed is therefore not valid. However, Professor Palmer does point out that modelling is highly complex and that there is room for improvement and that larger computers are needed to model clouds for instance. Therefore IPCC projections are inherently probabilistic.

Professor Stephen Belcher, the final panellist to speak before the Q&A session talked specifically about the IPCCs projections for the UK and the EU. The UK is already experiencing extreme weather events, such as the exceptionally wet summer of 2012, which impacted on food production, reducing wheat yields by 15%.  Severe heatwaves across Europe, such as that of 2003, the hottest summer since 1540, which killed over 20,000 people, are likely to become the norm by 2050 and be regarded as cooler than average by 2080 if strong mitigation measures are not implemented.

The Q& A session
Sir Oxburgh and Paul Dickinson from CDP, expressed frustration that, despite the overwhelming evidence and repeated message from the vast majority of scientists, including the IPCC, that climate change is a real and serious problem that requires urgent mitigation action, society does not seem to be responding quickly enough. Sir Oxburgh attributed some of the blame to climate deniers whose message is highly publicised, simple and understandable, though unscientific, whereas climate scientists have maybe focused too much on uncertainties, not emphasising clearly that the key elements of climate change science are undisputable. This issue was further raised in the discussion by Craig Bennett from Friends of the Earth who asked the panel for their reaction to the recent comments by our own Environment Secretary implying that climate change is not a serious issue and that it could actually be beneficial. Professor Palmer said he was ‘slightly surprised’ by the Minister’s attitude.

David King, the Foreign Secretary’s new Special Representative for Climate change, asked why Arctic sea ice area is chosen for inclusion in the IPCC’s modelling, rather than sea ice volume, which has shown a much steeper decline in recent decades. Sir Brian Hoskins commented that it is easier to model area than volume as there is less variability.  However, very different timescales for Arctic sea ice decline are obtained, depending on which of these variables are modelled, so this would significantly affect projections for temperature and carbon budget.

I asked why there is no inclusion of carbon feedback from Northern Hemisphere permafrost in IPCC temperature projections, despite a 2012 UNEP report highlighting the need for a special assessment of this potentially large source of CO2 and methane.  Corinne Le Quere responded that although this issue had been assessed by the IPCC, there was currently a lack of literature evidencing the likely scale of emissions from warming permafrost.

All in all, this event made clear that although the IPCC assessment is not all encompassing and has many omissions and uncertainties, the overall trend and key message from this AR5 assessment shows the need for mitigation, including greatly reduced CO2 emissions and international action to avert the dangerous temperature rises projected in the IPCC’s high emission scenario on which we are currently heading. However, there seems to be low confidence that the message is currently getting across with great enough impact to steer policy in the right direction and with enough speed.