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Al Gore: World is on brink of “carbon bubble”

al gore
stocklight/Shutterstock

The world is on the brink of the "largest bubble ever" in finance, because of the undisclosed value of high-carbon assets on companies' balance sheets, and investment managers who fail to take account of the risks are failing in their fiduciary duty to shareholders and investors, Al Gore and his investment partner, David Blood, have said.

"Stranded carbon assets" such as coal mines, fossil fuel power stations, and petrol-fueled vehicle plants represent at least $7 trillion on the books of publicly listed companies, and about twice as much again is owned by private companies, state governments, and sovereign wealth funds.

As the danger from climate change intensifies, and as rules on carbon and the introduction of carbon pricing in many parts of the world start to bite, these assets are expected to come under threat, from regulation and from the need to transform the economy on to a low-carbon footing. The "carbon bubble" has been identified by leading thinkers on climate change in recent years, but so far the findings have had little real effect on investor behavior.

Now Gore and Blood, the former U.S. vice-president and ex-chief executive of Goldman Sachs, who are partners in the Generation Investment Management firm, have brought forward a four-point plan that they say will protect future investors. They are calling on companies, investors, and regulators to identify the carbon risks in their portfolios; to demand of company managers and boards that the risks should be publicly disclosed; to diversify their investment portfolios to include low-carbon infrastructure such as renewable energy and electric vehicles; and finally to take their money out of fossil fuels and other high-carbon assets, or turn them into low-carbon assets -- for instance, by installing carbon capture and storage units on power stations.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Children will bear the brunt of climate change impacts, new study says

Children in Bangladesh, one of the most climate-vulnerable countries.
Amir Jina
Children in Bangladesh, one of the most climate-vulnerable countries.

Children will bear the brunt of the impact of climate change because of their increased risk of health problems, malnutrition, and migration, according to a UNICEF study published on Monday [PDF]. And food prices are likely to soar as a result of warming, undoing the progress made in combating world hunger.

The findings are published as scientists began meeting in Stockholm to produce the most comprehensive assessment yet of our knowledge of climate change. Over the next five days, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, bringing together the world's leading experts, will thrash out the final details of a message to the world's governments.

They are expected to warn that climate change is almost certainly caused by human actions, and that it will lead to a global temperature rise likely to top 2 degrees C, with related effects including the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap and glaciers, a rise in sea level by nearly one meter by the end of this century, and more extreme rainfall in parts of the globe.

UNICEF argues that although children are more vulnerable to the effects of global warming, they have been largely left out of the debate. "We are hurtling towards a future where the gains being made for the world's children are threatened and their health, well being, livelihoods and survival are compromised … despite being the least responsible for the causes," said David Bull, UNICEF's U.K. executive director. "We need to listen to them."

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Cooling Pacific has dampened global warming, research shows

View of Pacific Ocean from outer space.
MODIS/Terra/NASA
View of Pacific Ocean from outer space.

Cooling waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean appear to be a major factor in dampening global warming in recent years, scientists said on Wednesday.

Their work is a big step forward in helping to solve the greatest puzzle of current climate change research -- why global average surface temperatures, while still on an upward trend, have risen more slowly in the past 10 to 15 years than previously.

Waters in the eastern tropical regions of the Pacific have been notably cooler in recent years, owing to the effects of one of the world's biggest ocean circulatory systems, the Pacific decadal oscillation.

Many people are aware of the El Niño and La Niña weather systems, which affect the Pacific and bring hotter and stormier or cooler weather in cycles of just a few years, and can have a strong effect on global weather. But few are aware that both of these systems are just part of the much bigger Pacific decadal oscillation, which brings warmer and cooler weather over decades.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Fears for seabirds as global warming affects coastline

puffins
Shutterstock

Puffins, terns, and butterflies are among the key species in the U.K. being put at risk from global warming, which is transforming the U.K.'s coastal areas as sea levels rise and storms grow fiercer, a study by the National Trust has found.

Sea levels are predicted to rise by up to half a meter by the turn of the century, and coastal erosion is accelerating, with a fourfold increase in landslips reported.

Puffin chicks are having a particularly hard time -- their preferred meal of sand eels is disappearing, owing to overfishing and changing ocean temperatures, and in their place a new fish has moved into U.K. waters that the chicks find indigestible. The newcomer is the snake pipefish, normally found in warmer waters but moving northwards as the climate changes -- with devastating effects for puffins, as it is bony and hard for the birds to eat. Some chicks have been found dead, the trust reports, having choked trying to swallow pipefish.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Climate-change slowdown is due to warming of deep oceans, say scientists

ocean-sunset-red
Shutterstock

A recent slowdown in the upward march of global temperatures is likely to be the result of the slow warming of the deep oceans, British scientists said on Monday.

Oceans are some of the Earth's biggest absorbers of heat, which can be seen in effects such as sea-level rises, caused by the expansion of large bodies of water as they warm. The absorption goes on over long periods, as heat from the surface is gradually circulated to the lower reaches of the seas.

Temperatures around the world have been broadly static over the past five years, though they were still significantly above historic norms, and the years from 2000 to 2012 comprise most of the 14 hottest years ever recorded. The scientists said the evidence still clearly pointed to a continuation of global warming in the coming decades as greenhouse gases in the atmosphere contribute to climate change.

Temperature in the northern hemisphere since 1000 CE. Natural variation in the climate cycle does not contradict climate scientists' predictions.
IPCC
Temperature in the northern hemisphere since 1000 CE. Natural variation in the climate cycle does not contradict climate scientists' predictions.
Read more: Climate & Energy