Thursday, February 13, 2014

Who Should Pay for Solar Geoengineering Liability?

I have been conducting research on the problem of liability and compensation in the context of solar geoengineering, that is, how would the international community address damages resulting from large-scale testing or deployment of SRM?  This is a multifaceted problem, and one of its most difficult aspects would be determining who should pay for such damages.  One solution that has suggested itself is to set up an international compensation fund financed by the fossil fuel industry.  Since any damages caused by SRM would essentially be the negative side effects of a response measure intended to remediate harms caused by excessive fossil fuel use, and fossil fuel companies have been the primary direct beneficiaries of this activity, it stands to reason that they should be the ones to pay for its cleanup.  This is precisely how the international oil spill liability regime works--the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Funds, financed exclusively by oil companies, have paid out more than $700 million in compensation since 1978, while the frequency and severity of oil spills have fallen dramatically.

A recent report by Richard Heede titled Carbon Majors identifies precisely who these fossil fuel companies are and how much climate damage they have contributed.  Here is a table from the report listing the top twenty worst offenders:
This is hardly a definitive assessment of the carbon legacy of coal, oil, and gas producers, but it is a good start, and provides a valuable quantitative estimate of contributions to cumulative carbon and methane emissions.  Such estimates could conceivably form the basis of formulas to determine "carbon major" contributions to a solar geoengineering liability compensation fund.

Friday, January 17, 2014

IPCC Acknowledges Likely Need for CDR, Al Gore Unloads

Reuters and the New York Times have both obtained a draft version of the IPCC's third and final AR5 summary report on mitigation.  According to news accounts, the draft summary recognizes the possible necessity of CDR in the future, noting that if the world breaches the 2C threshold, governments will probably need to "deploy CDR technologies to an extent that net global carbon dioxide emissions become negative" this century.

In a conference call with reports, Al Gore responded to the news by unleashing a torrent of invective at geoengineering and those who support research into it.  Here are some notable quotes:

  • Geoengineering would be "insane, utterly mad and delusional in the extreme."
  • "The fact that some scientists who should know better are actually engaged in serious discussion of those alternatives is a mark of how desperate some of them are feeling due to the paralysis in the global political system."
  • "The most discussed so-called geoengineering proposals - like putting sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere to reflect incoming sunlight - that's just insane.  Let's just describe that clearly - it is utterly mad."
  • "We are already engaged in a planet-wide experiment with consequences we can already tell are unpleasant for the future of humanity.  So the hubris involved in thinking we can come up with a second planet-wide experiment that would exactly counteract the first experiment is delusional in the extreme."
This is disappointing.  In the first place, Gore has the basic facts wrong--SRM would not "exactly counteract" global warming.  No researchers argue this, in fact they emphasize that this is not possible and trade-offs would be inevitable.  His statement that researchers "should know better" comes across as patronizing and insulting to the many excellent scientists working in this field.  And using words like "insane," "mad," and "delusional" drags the debate into the gutter.  Those searching for solutions to the climate crisis deserve better than this.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Quick Recap of COP19 from a Geoengineering Perspective

COP19 in Warsaw has come to its merciful conclusion, with little of significance to report from a geoengineering perspective.  CCS was entirely absent from the agenda.  While there was some progress on finalizing financial and institutional aspects of REDD, nothing substantial regarding afforestation or reforestation was achieved.  The most meaningful outcome of the COP was an agreement among parties to "initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions" prior to COP21 in Paris in 2015, where a legal accord governing mitigation for the post-2020 period is scheduled to be adopted.  These "contributions" (weaker than the "commitments" previously agreed at COP17 in Durban) will be determined solely on a national basis, freeing developed and developing countries alike from any binding emissions reduction targets negotiated at the international level.  The general weakening of ambition represented by COP19 unfortunately makes an eventual turn to SRM more likely.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Carbon Credits Awarded to Moldova Afforestation Project

Two weeks ago, the Moldova Community Forestry Development Project, an afforestation project supported by the World Bank's BioCarbon Fund, was awarded 328,809 temporary Certified Emission Credits (tCERs).  (tCERs are carbon credits issued by the CDM for afforestation and reforestation projects.)  This Moldova A/R project, implemented by the National Forest Agency of Moldova (Moldsilva), has planted trees on 10,000 hectares of previously degraded land.  In addition to carbon storage, project benefits include landscape restoration, soil conservation, and economic opportunities through sustainable forestry.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Cool Planet Launches Biochar Product for Commercial Trials

Cool Planet Energy Systems, the pioneering biofuel/biochar startup, has officially launched its patented Cool Terra biochar product for use in commercial agricultural trials.  Field trials have already been conducted in California, and the company now intends to undertake a wider set of commercial trials in anticipation of a full market release sometime next year.  Cool Planet envisions a nationwide network of local pyrolysis stations utilizing cellulosic biomass to produce carbon-negative gasoline and biochar soil amendments.  The Cool Terra rollout was announced at the 2013 North American Biochar Symposium held earlier this month in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

London Protocol Adopts Amendments to Regulate All Marine Geoengineering

Last Friday, parties to the London Convention/London Protocol (LC/LP) on ocean dumping formally adopted amendments which would establish a new "positive list" of marine geoengineering techniques that could be permitted under the Protocol, subject to a test of scientific legitimacy using tailored "Assessment Frameworks."  The amendments are a slightly modified version of a proposal originally put forward by Australia, Nigeria, and South Korea in May (see New London Protocol Proposal to Regulate Marine Geoengineering, 5/18).  Like that earlier proposal, the amendments as adopted include only ocean fertilization on the initial positive list, with provision for the addition of other marine geoengineering methods.

The amendments represent an expansion of scope for the LC/LP beyond its current sole focus on ocean fertilization to possibly encompass other techniques such as enhanced weathering or microbubbles.  Furthermore, as amendments rather than resolutions (the official status of all previous ocean fertilization provisions), these new rules, if they enter into force, would be legally binding on consenting parties rather than strictly voluntary.  The amendments will enter into force 60 days after two-thirds of the Contracting Parties deliver an "instrument of acceptance."  The amendments were adopted at the 35th meeting of the LC and the 8th meeting of the LP, held jointly in London.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

First Evidence Indicates Minimal Political Fallout from EPA CCS Standard

Two weeks after the EPA released a proposed emissions performance standard that would require CCS for all new coal-fired power plants (see EPA Releases Revised Performance Standard Requiring CCS, 9/23), initial evidence suggests that the political fallout for Democrats is minimal.  The new standard and the supposed "war on coal" being waged by the Obama Administration have become a flashpoint in the Virginia governor's race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton confidante, and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, the state's Attorney General.  Southwest Virginia is coal country, leading McAuliffe to evade questions about the standard in the days following EPA's announcement.  When he finally expressed support, Cuccinelli went on the attack and accused McAuliffe of hostility toward Virginia's coal industry.

A new poll of 1,150 likely voters commissioned by Politico shows that the issue has failed to catch fire among the state electorate.  In response to the question, "Do you support or oppose new Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, regulations on coal-fired power plants aimed at curtailing climate change?," 45% of respondents expressed support, 33% were opposed, and 22% were unsure.  Predictably, support was high among Democrats (67%) and low among Republicans (21%), while independents were 44% in favor, 36% opposed, and 19% unsure.  These results are largely mirrored in overall voter preferences, with 44% of respondents supporting McAuliffe, 35% supporting Cuccinelli, and 12% supporting Libertarian Robert Sarvis (in a hypothetical two-man match-up 52% of respondents prefer McAuliffe compared to 42% for Cuccinelli).  Cuccinelli is demonstrably suffering from voter dissatisfaction with the Republican-led shutdown of the federal government, which affects Virginia disproportionately given the state's high number of government employees and large federal presence.