By the numbers: the measures of climate, energy and policy

By the numbers: the measures of climate, energy and policy

From Cosmos (18/1/24), some serious background on the facts and figures of climate change. It’s a bit complicated but well  worth reading…

By the numbers: the measures of climate, energy and policy

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, 2023 was 1.45°C hotter than preindustrial levels. It’s a number that’s been plastered across headlines for a week – but what does it actually mean?

When studying science, I was trained to love numbers and to treat them as more objective and reliable than words. Numbers, I was told, don’t lie.

But stripped of context, numbers aren’t useful. How often do we hear claims like, ‘Our company has stopped 100 tonnes of CO2 from getting into the atmosphere’?

Is that a lot of carbon dioxide? How much CO2 was being emitted in the first place?

What about energy? How big does renewable infrastructure need to be to replace fossil fuels? And why do batteries always seem to have two numbers next to them to indicate size – like 100 MW/400 MWh?

What is a megawatt or a megawatt-hour, anyway?

To make it easier to understand all the climate news you’re reading, I’ve compiled a user’s guide to the numbers of climate and energy, what each one means and how each measure stacks up – what’s a lot, what’s not very much, where it might be used dishonestly.

So, put on your 1kW kettle and burn a couple of joules pouring yourself a cup of tea, here are the climate numbers you need to know.

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