The World of the IPCC

Professor Jim Skea

Before I became RCUK Energy Strategy Fellow, I acquired the role of “Vice-Chair” of Working III of IPCC. Working Group III covers climate change mitigation, or “reducing emissions” as we’ve learned to call it when talking with real people. The Vice-Chair role is very part-time but tends to come in short intense bursts. The latest burst took place in the first half of July when the writing team for the next Synthesis Report met for four days near Kuala Lumpur to thrash out responses to 6,600 government comments on the first draft. This was followed by a week’s outreach tour of SE Asia communicating and discussing the conclusions of the Fifth Assessment.

But a few steps back. During each assessment cycle, IPCC produces three main reports plus the “synthesis report”. The three underlying reports cover the physical basis of climate change (September 2013), impacts, adaptation and vulnerability (2014) and climate change mitigation (2014). The easiest way to describe the synthesis report is to quote directly from the IPCC procedures: “the Synthesis Report (SYR in IPCC jargon) synthesizes and integrates material contained within IPCC Assessment Reports. The SYR should be based exclusively on material contained in the three Working Group Reports. It should be written in a non-technical style suitable for policymakers and address a broad range of policy-relevant, but policy-neutral questions”. The Synthesis Report should be produced within about a year of the publication of the first Assessment report.

A writing team consisting of 50 lead authors from many countries and all three Working Groups, i.e. covering disciplines from philosophy to physics, has now had four meetings to work up the document. A first draft was sent to governments for comment in April 2014. I am one of the Review Editors which means that I act partly as a policeman checking that all comments have been dealt with properly (which can mean providing a good reason for rejecting them!) and partly as a social worker providing support for the writing team.

6,600 comments on a 120 page draft, 3,200 of them on the 25 page summary for policymakers. How to deal with this? First, courtesy of the Malaysian government, the surroundings were great. The hotel was in Malaysia’s administrative capital, Putrajaya, surrounded by lakes and pleasant parkland.

Fuelled by an endless supply of coffee and tropical fruit, the authors broke into three break-out groups covering the four main sections of the Synthesis Report: observed changes and their causes; future climate changes, risks and impacts; transformations and changes in systems; and adaptation and mitigation measures. These sections were not up for negotiation having been set in stone by Governments back in 2010.Two other groups looked at the Executive Summary and a Box on the tricky issue of Article 2 of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (the one that refers to “dangerous anthropogenic interference”).

The really good thing about this meeting was that it was conducted in a professional and constructive manner. When some of the world’s greatest authorities from a range of disciplines, each with their own perspectives get together at IPCC-type meetings, sparks can fly. Sure there were differences, but all of the debates were marked by respect for other people’s views and there was a marked sense of progress throughout the meeting. It wasn't all completed in Putrajaya though – over the last two weeks there has been a stream of emails and teleconferences to tie up some of the drafting points, especially round the very condensed text in section “headlines”.

All of this driven by anticipation of the week-long report approval session in Copenhagen at the end of October. There, IPCC member governments will pick their way through the entire report section-by-section, and the summary sentence by sentence in order to get consensus on an agreed text. No scope for scientific conspiracies in that environment!

Intense as it was, the authors’ meeting was but the first stage of a SE Asia odyssey.
Between the end of the meeting on the Thursday and a workshop the following Monday in Singapore, I had three days of R&R. This involved: a tour of KL and environs including a visit to the Batu caves with its troop of scared macaque monkey whose social dynamics very much reflected an IPCC authors meeting; a slow train to Singapore which I don't regret – though the first hour of palm oil plantations is very much like the following seven; and meeting up with former colleagues now based at the University of Singapore for a long lunch.

Thereafter it was a bit of a blur. From the basic comforts of Jetstar (Asian Easyjet rather than Ryanair) to the relative luxury of Singapore Airlines I spent a lot of time in airport world. The workshops in Singapore and Manila were in ballroom environments which had no doubt seen many wedding receptions. The Jakarta meeting, by way of contrast, was in a splendid conference room at BKMG, the Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysical Agency.  A Philippine Minister offered the best excuse I’ve heard yet for being late for a meeting – she could easily have blamed the traffic but confessed to having stayed up most of the night to watch Germany beat Brazil, offering the insight that, for a Brazilian, this was possibly even more painful than a Brazilian wax.  Would a British minister have said this?

How did the IPCC reports go down? Two topics attracted a lot of attention: first impacts, adaptation and vulnerability – between typhoons, volcanoes and earthquakes the Philippines for example spends 2.5% of its GDP on disaster management and clearing up, money which would be far better spent on basic development needs. Manila was manifestly the least developed of the major cities I visited. Second, forestry management, especially in Indonesia for obvious reasons but also in Malaysia and to some extent in Singapore whose air quality is adversely affected by fires on the other side of the Malacca straits.

Final factoid. Singapore has joined the Arctic Council as a permanent observer. Why? Concern about its role as a trading hub as the Arctic Ocean opens up for shipping. That’s the kind of thing that makes you believe climate change is for real.

The State of Energy Innovation

Dr Aidan Rhodes

Energy innovation is the name of our game here in the Energy Strategy Fellowship, and a great deal of our time over the past few months as we move into the research phase of our project has been spent looking at the trends over the past decade (and beyond) affecting the pace and scope of energy RD&D efforts, in the public as well as the private sector. Jim published an opinion piece in Energy and Environmental Science a few months back on this area and we’ve recently been working on a paper for the journal Energies which investigates the trends in RD&D efforts in greater depth.

The energy ‘trilemma’, comprising of energy security, affordability and sustainability, is something I’m sure most of you have heard about, and is a simple and useful way of representing the stresses from differing priorities on the energy system. During the past decade, sustainable energy sources have become an important political priority as concerns about the effects of climate change have increased. As well as that, the rising price of crude oil and ongoing political instability in the Middle East has meant policymakers have become increasingly worried about energy supply and security issues. These two concerns have dovetailed to create a surge in energy innovation resource as public bodies invest in order to drive the deployment of mor e secure, low er-carbon energy sources forward. Indeed, this can be handily represented by a graph from Jim’s opinion piece (see below) showing the public investment in energy RD&D in IEA countries against crude oil prices.

While you shouldn’t take this as a direct causation, the correlation between high oil prices and increased spend on RD&D is a very interesting one, and implies at least some connection. Of interest also on this graph is the dramatic spike in 2009 caused by the US stimulus package in response to the financial crisis, the only point at which oil prices and RD&D values diverge from each other. 

On the whole, the last decade has seen a considerable rise in energy innovation, following a slump in resource following the resolution of the 1970’s energy crises. The makeup of this innovation has also changed, with renewables and energy efficiency increasing their share dramatically and nuclear power seeing a large fall in resource globally since the 1970s. The data here for public spend profiles suggests a desire to diversify research and move towards newer low-carbon technologies, in effect attempting to shift the energy system paradigm away from conventional fossil-fuel sources and towards low-carbon generation.

However, private RD&D investment has not followed the same path.  We analysed data over the last decade from the EU R&D Scoreboard of the top performing research-intensive companies, normalising the data to allow for year-to-year comparisons.  This shows a heavily-increasing spend profile for energy companies, more than doubling over the decade and heavily dominated by oil and gas research. Initial conclusions would suggest that, while public R&D is attempting to diversify away from oil and gas, private R&D is reinforce the existing paradigm of a fossil-fuel dominated world by investing heavily in new and unconventional sources of fossil fuels.  

This is work-in-progress at the moment, and you can delve in-depth into our thoughts in the forthcoming Energies paper – just send us an email if you’re interested. I think there’s certainly some interesting times ahead for us in the project though, based on what we’ve seen so far!

Uncovering the context in which energy innovation unfolds: A cross-country statistical comparison

Dr Matthew Hannon

In order to understand the factors responsible for making one country’s energy innovation system more effective than another’s, we need to develop a detailed picture of these innovation systems and the wider context in which they sit. The aim has been to uncover distinctive characteristics and overarching trends that are likely to be shaping the energy innovation process in different countries. To achieve this, the Fellowship team have recently been undertaking a cross-country statistical analysis of different contextual indicators that fall into the following categories: economy, education, energy, environment, science and technology, geography and climate. Besides the UK we have been examining the US, China, Japan, South Korea, Finland, Sweden and Germany, as well as the EU more broadly. To do so we have relied on existing data sets collected and curated by the likes of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED), the International Energy Agency (IEA), the World Bank, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This exercise has already uncovered a number of surprising insights that have challenged some of our pre-conceptions. We briefly highlight some examples of these. In terms of environment we were surprised to find that the UK ranked so highly in terms of deaths attributable to air pollution, sitting at 37 out of 191 countries for 2008. Sticking with air pollution, we were also surprised to find that all our case study countries recorded an absolute reduction in particulate (PM10) air pollution emissions between 1990 and 2011 despite much of the furore surrounding air pollution levels at present. There was a similar trend for gaseous (SO2, NOx, CO and NMVOC) emissions, however  we couldn't get complete data for China and Korea. In terms of water stress we were also surprised to learn that Korea’s proportion of annual freshwater withdrawals of its total renewable internal freshwater resources stood at nearly 40%, almost 10% higher than Germany, our next highest ranking case study country, and four times higher than the UK.

Education threw up some interesting results too. Although this data is notoriously hard to compare for higher education institutions across nations, we were surprised to find that the UK produced more science and engineering graduates than Germany and almost as many as Japan, a nation with double the population. This was doubly surprising as these two countries have a strong record of science and engineering professions, often regarded as better than the UK. We in the UK also attract some of the highest percentages of international students in the world, making up 18% of our student population. This is spread unevenly throughout courses, with 32% of engineering students, for example, being international. This could well help to explain our high graduate rates in this area!

Focusing more specifically on innovation inputs we were surprised to find that Finland topped the total energy RD&D spend as % of GDP out of the 25 IEA members and also ranked first for total R&D personnel per thousand total employment out of 35 OECD countries for 2011. With respect to innovation outputs we were also interested to learn that Denmark submitted 19 ‘green technology’ patent application per billion $ of Gross Expenditure of Research and Development (GERD), almost double the number of our next best performing case study country Germany and approximately quadruple the UK’s. Additionally, whilst we were aware that the UK had a strong publication record in top ranking journals, we were surprised to find that per unit of GERD that it was almost three times higher than the US in 2009.

Whilst this exercise has already provided us with some useful insights to help guide our research project, there are some important and at times frustrating weaknesses relating to this type of work. The first is uncovering exactly what the data means. Whilst the curating organisations often go to great efforts to explain exactly how the data has been defined and collected, much is often left to the interpretation of the person using the data. The second major issue is that when attempting to draw time series trends we have found that often random years will be missing from data sets for different countries. Even worse, our case study countries, especially China, are often omitted from important datasets entirely, making cross-comparison difficult. Finally, we are often left asking questions about what appears to be irregular and counterintuitive results, meaning that we are unsure whether this an issue of the quality of data reported by the country to the curating organisation (e.g. OECD) or an issue relating to how this data has been aggregated. In some cases explanatory notes are placed on the counterintuitive entries but too often we are left wondering whether the data actually reflects reality or not. 

In summary, our scoping work has already uncovered some invaluable insights into the types of trends that might be driving energy innovation, as well as how different countries’ innovation performance differs. However, this type of statistical scoping exercise is only as strong as the data it is examining and whilst the datasets from the OECD, World Bank and IEA have been invaluable, they are insufficient alone for us to answer our research questions. This means that we’re currently in the process of gathering more qualitative data to help build a more complete picture of developments in these countries before we go out into the field and collect some ourselves.