Tuesday, April 22, 2014

IPCC Gives Major Boost to CDR, BECCS

IPCC Working Group III released its AR5 report on mitigation last week, and one effect was to give a considerable boost to the visibility and credibility of CDR, in particular BECCS.  It has been less than five years since the Royal Society report was released, and until recently CDR and BECCS were generally unknown acronyms.  Yet now CDR methods have been incorporated into IPCC mitigation scenarios so deeply that, in the view of WGIII, achieving the 2C target (let alone 1.5C) is very difficult without reliance on negative emissions technologies (similar assumptions are now built into UK government scenarios.)  It is worth quoting the Summary for Policymakers discussion of CDR at some length:

Mitigation scenarios reaching about 450 ppm CO2eq in 2100 [i.e., 2C] typically involve temporary overshoot of atmospheric concentrations, as do many scenarios reaching about 500 ppm to 550 ppm CO2eq in 2100.  Depending on the level of the overshoot, overshoot scenarios typically rely on the availability and widespread deployment of BECCS and afforestation in the second half of the century.  The availability and scale of these and other Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies and methods are, to varying degrees, associated with challenges and risks … CDR is also prevalent in many scenarios without overshoot to compensate for residual emissions from sectors where mitigation is more expensive (p. 15).

As the summary notes, there are real risks associated with BECCS and other NETs, such as potential land-use and food security issues related to biomass cultivation.  But there are serious risks associated with surpassing 450 ppm, arguably bigger risks than those connected to most CDR techniques.  In the end, climate policy involves risk trade-offs, whether those trade-offs apply to mitigation, adaptation, geoengineering, or all three.  The IPCC has done policy-makers a great service by emphasizing the significant risks entailed in not taking BECCS and other forms of CDR seriously.

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.