DeBriefed 29 September 2023: Focus on carbon offsets; UK expands oil and gas; IEA’s path to 1.5C unpacked


Welcome to Carbon Brief’s DeBriefed. 
An essential guide to the week’s key developments relating to climate change.

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Carbon Brief investigates offsets

SPECIAL WEEK: After months of interviews, research and data-crunching, Carbon Brief this week published a special series of content on the topic of carbon offsets. On the first day, Carbon Brief launched an in-depth explainer on whether carbon offsets can help to tackle climate change, a glossary laying out more than 60 of the key terms and phrases, an infographic illustrating the typical journey of a carbon offset and a timeline detailing the 60-year story of how offsets went from an idea to make polluters think about their damage to a major feature of country and business climate targets.

MAPS AND DATA: Later on in the week, Carbon Brief published an interactive map detailing the impacts of individual carbon-offset projects around the world. We also released a series of in-depth Sankey diagrams illustrating how offsets flow from the world’s most polluting companies to projects in the developing world. Separately, we published an explainer into how “biodiversity offsets” are rising in popularity, posing comparable moral questions to carbon offsets.

WEBINAR: Carbon Brief finished its special week by holding a webinar on whether carbon offsets can be reformed. It featured Dr Barbara Haya, director of the Berkeley Carbon Trading Project at the University of California, Berkeley; Kaya Axelsson, net-zero policy engagement fellow at the University of Oxford; Laura George, governance and rights coordinator of the Amerindian Peoples Association in Guyana; and Pedro Barata, associate vice president of carbon markets at the Environmental Defence Fund and co-chair of the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market’s expert panel. The webinar is now available to watch online.

UK ushers in more oil and gas

ROSEBANK APPROVED: In the latest twist in a remarkable month for UK climate policy, regulators this week granted final approval to the Rosebank oil-and-gas field, one of the largest new fossil-fuel projects in the North Sea in decades. The project has the potential to produce 300m barrels of oil and gas. When burned, this would produce the equivalent to the annual emissions of around 90 of the countries with the lowest emissions, according to analysis by Carbon Brief’s Dr Simon Evans.

TORY TURMOIL: The decision sparked more strife within the country’s ruling Conservative party. According to the Independent, Conservative peer and former minister Zac Goldsmith told BBC Radio Four’s PM programme: “It just trashes the UK’s reputation as a reliable, grown-up member of the global community, it’s done us immeasurable harm…The party that loses sight of the overall goal [of climate action and environmental protection] is not one that deserves to be given the privilege of power.” It comes after a frontpage story in the i newspaper on Monday reported that 100 of the country’s economists had written a letter arguing that prime minister Rishi Sunak’s wider climate rollbacks could “raise the cost of living and cost Britain jobs”.

  • ‘EXCEPTIONAL’: Antarctica’s sea ice maximum – reached at the height of winter – was the lowest in the 45-year satellite record by “a wide margin”, Carbon Brief reported. One expert said Antarctic conditions had been “truly exceptional”.
  • SPRING SCORCHER: Large swathes of South America have faced an intense spring heatwave, with temperatures reaching 43C in Brazil, Grist reported.
  • SOUTH AFRICA FLOODS: At least 11 people have died after heavy rain and winds struck South Africa’s Western Cape province, BBC News reported. South African newspaper Daily Maverick spoke to scientists about the links to climate change.
  • SHELL-SHOCKED: A leaked open letter posted to Shell’s internal web revealed that some employees have said they are “deeply concerned” about the company’s shift away from investing more in renewable energy, Reuters reported.
  • YOUTH CLIMATE CASE: Six young people from Portugal on Wednesday began legal proceedings against 32 European countries in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for failing to protect them against climate change in an unprecedented case, Euronews reported.
  • NZ FARMER PROTEST: Reuters explored how “rural anger” over New Zealand’s climate policies, including tree-planting on grazing land, could usher in a return of far-right parties in an October election.

The proportion by which the overall volume of Switzerland’s glaciers shrunk in the past two years, according to analysis covered by the Times.

  • The densely populated, low-lying delta river basins of the Ganges and Mekong in Asia will likely see fewer tropical storms in a warming world, but they will be more intense, according to new research in Geophysical Research Letters.
  • Some 17% and 18% of new wind power projects faced local opposition in the US and Canada, respectively, from 2000-2016, found a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • A new Nature study challenged the idea that climate change is behind the rapid demise of insects globally by identifying the role of complex weather patterns.

(For more, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth daily summaries of the top climate news stories on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.)


Global surface temperatures set a new record this week for the highest daily temperature anomalies (departure from the norm) ever observed. They were recorded by a Japanese climate database called the JRA-55 reanalysis product. These were approximately 1C warmer than the 1991-2020 baseline period used by the dataset and around 1.9C warmer than the pre-industrial (1850-1900) temperatures. “El Niño won’t peak until later this year and there is plenty more heat waiting in the wings,” Dr Michael McPhaden, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Washington Post, warning that we can “expect more records to be set in the coming months.”

IEA’s path to 1.5C unpacked

A 2023 update to the landmark 2021 Net Zero Roadmap from the International Energy Agency explores how recent developments have impacted the path to limit warming to 1.5C by the end of the century. Here, Carbon Brief summarises three key takeaways from the report. 

Extraordinary growth in clean energy technology over the past two years, but more work remains

The IEA’s 2023 report finds that record growth in solar power capacity, battery production and electric car sales since 2021 are in line with their required growth in a world that reaches net-zero emissions by mid-century. Industry plans to expand manufacturing capacity are also in line with what will be required to achieve necessary growth. These two technologies alone are expected to deliver approximately a third of emissions reductions between today and 2030 in the IEA’s net-zero pathway.

The IEA finds that the world is set to invest a massive $1.8tn in clean energy in 2023. But much more work remains: investments in clean energy need to climb to $4.5tn a year by the early 2030s, while global renewable capacity needs to triple by 2030. This requires stronger policies and international support, particularly in emerging markets and developing economies. The IEA also highlights the need to speed up permitting and modernising of electricity grids to better integrate variable renewable generation. 

Most of the technologies needed to limit warming to 1.5C are available today

The IEA’s statement in 2021 that technologies not yet available on the market would deliver half of future emissions reductions resulted in a lot of coverage and debate. In its new report, the IEA finds that technological development and commercialisation over the past two years mean that novel technologies are only required for 35% of future emissions reductions. This reflects significant technological development in a number of sectors, including batteries and electrolysers.

However, the IEA emphasises that more progress is needed for a number of technologies. It notes that small, modular clean technologies, such as solar and batteries, are not sufficient to deliver net-zero emissions alone. Also, new infrastructure networks, low-emissions fuels, CO2 capture technology, nuclear power and large land areas for the deployment of renewables will all be necessary. 

No room for new unabated coal plants or new ‘long-lead time’ oil and gas projects

The IEA report argues that an immediate end to new approvals of unabated coal plants is required to achieve its net-zero emissions scenario – and that there is no need for new long-lead time oil and gas projects. The rapid reduction in fossil fuel demand (down 25% by 2030 and 80% by 2050) means that current oil and gas projects are sufficient to supply all expected future demand. 

However, the IEA does note that some continued investment in existing oil and gas fields is not inconsistent with a net-zero emissions scenario. It argues that it will be important to properly sequence increased investments in clean energy with decreased investments in fossil-fuel supply over time to avoid potentially damaging price spikes or demand gluts.

IDA AFTERMATH: The 19th examined how, two years after Hurricane Ida, residents are still reeling – with women of colour disproportionately affected.

CLIMATE REFUGEES: In African Arguments, South African legal scholar Dr Cristiano d’Orsi argued that laws must be reformed to allow people fleeing from climate change to claim refugee status.

NATURE’S SECRETS: BBC Radio Four’s the Life Scientific podcast spoke to the director of London’s Kew Gardens about how lessons from nature can help the world to address climate change.

DeBriefed is written in rotation by Carbon Brief’s team and edited by Daisy Dunne. Please send any tips or feedback to [email protected]

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