Top climate and energy developments of 2014 – year in review

Extreme weather events across the planet became one of the dominating news stories of 2014. Photo credit: Reuters / China Daily. 

2014 literally started with a storm. ‘Dreadful’, ‘heartbreaking’ and ‘devastating’ were some of the words used by the people of the Somerset region in South West England to describe the force of nature which had unleashed on their region. A powerful series of storms had started in late December 2013 continued into early 2014, causing misery for homeowners, farmers, businesses and those dependent on local tourism. The events prompted outspoken environmentalist George Monbiot to call the Somerset floods a ‘view of the future’.

2014 was indeed a year in which extreme weather events dominated the global news, as demonstrated by our 2014 environmental picture series. It was also the year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their ‘Assessment 5 Report’ (AR5), highlighting that for the first time, the whole planet is suffering from human induced climate change, encouraging world leaders to put in place policies that fast-track the clean energy revolution.

We cannot mention the IPCC without mentioning the UN climate negotiations that took place in Lima, Peru. At the eleventh hour, as the summit had run into overtime, countries signed the ‘Lima Call for Climate Action’. This deal encourages countries to propose their own climate targets and has been described by environmental NGOs and some developing nations as too weak. All eyes will be on Paris next year where the global deal is set to be signed.

In the US, Obama made climate one of his main priorities and directed the newly appointed Secretary of State, climate hawk John Kerry, to make it the country’s most important issue. Obama mentioned climate in his State of the Union address and introduced The Clean Power Plan which aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 30% by 2030 from 2005 levels. The US also forged a historic climate agreement with China, committing the worlds largest CO2 emitter to an absolute CO2 peak by 2030. At the G20 summit in Australia, Obama forced Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott to place climate change on to the agenda; he had previously refused include it. And at home, Obama also gave the strongest indication that he would reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, saying the environmentally risky project would create barely any US jobs or in any other way benefit the US economy.

Australian environmentalists were arguably dismayed by 2014; the government continued an anti environmental agenda and approved controversial dredging of the Great Barrier Reef to create a port for the world’s largest coal mine. The government also repealed the carbon tax scheme put in place by the previous government; a scheme which had been fairly effective and was beginning to reduce Australia’s enormous emissions.

In the entertainment world, the US produced climate change documentary series Years of Living Dangerously aired on the prime network Showtime. The eight episode TV-series featured prominent names, such as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Hollywood stars Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Ian Somerhalder and more, discussing their concern. High profile individuals and celebrities, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, are becoming increasingly engaged with climate change, as are media outlets such as the Hollywood Reporter and the New York Times.

Probably the most significant development of 2014 was the falling oil price. This development is already having profound impacts on fossil fuels and renewables; the oil price, which currently stands at around $60 per barrel is expected to continue its decline in 2015, has already put many oil projects into jeopardy and raises big question marks about the economic viability of controversial projects such as fracking, Arctic drilling and tar sands. It could also deal a blow to renewables, drive away investment and drive up fossil fuel consumption.

Several new temperature records were set in 2014; June was the hottest June ever recorded and October was the hottest October ever recorded, and overall 2014 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded.

And finally, 2014 was a great year for renewable energy in many parts of the world, including Denmark, the UK, Germany and even Australia who all registered new renewable energy generation records. Additionally, new countries such as Guatemala, entered the wind power market and Danish Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, registered growth and profit for this first time in years, conveniently just before their eight megawatt (MW) groundbreaking offshore wind turbine hits markets this year. In the US the solar and wind industries grew significantly and the Rockefeller foundation pledged to invest in renewables. Renewable energy markets in Latin America also grew significantly; a growth which clean energy analysts Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) predict is set to continue. South Africa constructed Africa’s largest wind farm and Kenya announced they would build the continents largest wind farm. India’s new Prime Minister Narinder Mohdi is promising a solar revolution. The Norwegian investor Storebrand excluded further fossil fuel companies from their investor portfolio. The UK opened new offshore wind farms and Denmark moved forward their pledge to phase out coal by 2027.

These are just a few of the significant environmental stories of 2014; if you feel we missed anything significant please feel free to tell us in the comment section.  

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