Thursday, December 29, 2011

Arctic Methane, Emergencies, and Alarmism

Arctic methane has attracted increasing attention over the last several weeks based on new findings presented by a Russian research team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The principal members of this team, Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov, published a paper in the journal Science last year in which they reported previously unobserved methane venting over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS). These methane plumes were traced to so-called methane hydrates (or "clathrates") found on the seabed. The researchers estimated that 8 tons of methane per year were being released from these sedimentary structures. These findings were particularly troubling given that methane is a much more potent GHG than carbon dioxide (72 times as powerful over a 20-year period).

At this year's fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco, Shakhova and Semiletov released new observations from a 2011 expedition to the ESAS. According to Semiletov, "Earlier we found torch-like structures ... but they were only tens of meters in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 meters in diameter. It's amazing." These new data have not yet been widely released, but are scheduled for publication next spring.

In response to these developments, some members of the geoengineering community have formed an Arctic Methane Emergency Group. Members of this group tie together observations on methane venting, permafrost thaw scenarios, models of sea-ice retreat, and positive feedback hypotheses to paint a picture of an Arctic on the verge of imminent meltdown:

It is now clear that there are two critical problems confounding one another: the rapid loss of sea ice and the emergence of methane from a thawing seabed. They both call for rapid intervention: to cool the region and to capture the methane. ... There is clearly no longer any alternative to large-scale intervention (also known as "geoengineering") for reducing the risk of disaster. And this has to be done extremely quickly - possible large-scale deployment in Spring 2013 - which is an enormous challenge for the development of new technology and its deployment (see booklet here).

In short, the Group believes that super-GHG methane plumes herald the start of runaway global warming, and only an immediate Arctic geoengineering response can avert catastrophe. Group members call for some combination of SAI, marine cloud brightening, and cloud removal to be deployed a little over a year from now, a proposal which has begun to attract attention in the popular science press.

While declaring a methane emergency and calling for immediate action is rooted in good intentions, such advocacy is both premature and misguided. In scientific terms, the available evidence simply does not support assertions that a worst-case scenario is unfolding. Shakhova and Semiletov have discovered an important phenomenon in the ESAS, but there are no data to indicate that this is a new phenomenon, or that methane venting is increasing at a statistically significant rate, or that venting is tightly connected to sea-ice retreat and the ice-albedo feedback. Arctic climate expert Ed Dlugokencky has written that "There is no evidence from our atmospheric measurements that there has been a significant increase in emissions during the past 20 years from natural methane sources in the Arctic so far." Ice expert Richard Alley states "the physical understanding agrees with the paleoclimatic data that methane can be an important feedback but isn't likely to have giant rapid climate-changing belches." Even Shakhova and Semiletov urge restraint: "we have never stated that the reason for the currently observed methane emissions were due to recent climate change. ... We would urge people ... not jump to conclusions and be open to the idea that new observations may significantly change what we understand about our world."

Demands for quick deployment are also politically unwise. Given the mainstream scientific views described above, such calls will not be heeded, but instead will be attributed to "the scientific fringe," which could in turn contribute to the marginalization of the broader geoengineering community. This would be especially tragic if compelling evidence subsequently emerges that we are indeed at an Arctic tipping point: climate remediation solutions may be dismissed as the science-fiction fantasies of doomsday prognosticators, even if the underlying engineering is sound and deployment warranted by an objective reading of events. Monitoring of Arctic methane venting should be increased, and research on global and regional geoengineering schemes should be intensified, but assertions that we are on the brink of calamity and must act now should cease. There is a difference between vigilance and alarmism, and the Arctic Methane Emergency Group is rapidly drifting toward the latter.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Two New German Government Reports

The German government has released two new reports on geoengineering in recent months. The first, released by the Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt), is titled "Geoengineering: Effective Climate Protection or Megalomania?" As its name implies, this report is generally hostile toward climate engineering, recommending "that greater restraint be exercised and a moratorium imposed on the employment of such measures until there is a substantial improvement in knowledge of the interdependencies of geo-processes" (p. 4). The entire study, however, is plainly premised on the false choice between mitigation/adaptation on the one hand, and geoengineering on the other ("Geoengineering measures are for the foreseeable future no alternative to emission reduction and adaptation to climate change," p. 42), and as such, its conclusions are neither sound nor convincing.

The second report, "Large-Scale Intentional Interventions Into the Climate System?," is more systematic, more agnostic, and more useful. Written for the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), it is a scoping study that seeks to map the scientific, economic, social, and political aspects of the emerging debate on climate engineering. One of the more interesting subjects it explores is how geoengineering is likely to be received by German political culture:

According to the experts consulted, the potential for social conflict in Germany is conditioned by a variety of factors. If Germany were to take part in a CE [climate engineering] initiative, either at an operative level or as a financial backer, this would raise the potential for conflict more appreciably than if Germany were merely a passive observer of such developments. Experts agree that the potential for conflict would increase with the implementation of CE measures in close proximity to Germany. At the other end of the scale, a German refusal to participate in an international initiative would lead to less intensive conflicts, as Germany is not one of the countries affected most strongly by climate change and the urgency of adaptation measures would not be perceived as a priority by most observers. Protests expressing solidarity with others could be expected, but not on any very large scale. If CE technologies were to be deployed against the will of the United Nations and many developing countries, the resulting potential for conflict would however be severe (Ch. 8, p. 15).

Unsurprisingly, these experts also feel that Germany would be more inclined to take part in geoengineering research than in deployment. The actual politics are no doubt more complicated than what is depicted in the BMBF study, yet this report does an excellent job of sketching out the details and complexities of these issues. Clearly there is more to geoengineering than either "effective climate protection or megalomania," despite what the Federal Environment Agency suggests.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

California to Allow Forestry Offsets in AB 32

In late October, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted final rules governing the state's Assembly Bill (AB) 32 cap-and-trade system, scheduled to launch in 2013. As part of these rules, CARB has formally permitted the inclusion of forestry project offset credits in the new California carbon market, including offsets derived from reforestation projects (for details see the approved methodology). While offset allowances will be limited to eight percent of emissions from regulated entities, this decision by CARB stands in contrast to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which prohibits use of forestry credits altogether.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Post-Durban Wrap-Up

Now that the Durban climate conference has ended, it is appropriate to take a look at what its outcome means for geoengineering policy and research. Before the start of COP17, I listed four agenda items that would be particularly relevant to geoengineering (see What to Look for in Durban, 11/16). Below I assess these in light of the conference results:

1. The future of Kyoto - At the core of the final "Durban Platform" was an agreement to extend the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 into a second commitment period. However, most details of this second commitment period were left for future negotiations to resolve. Remaining Kyoto parties agreed in principle to reduce their emissions by at least 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, but hard targets were not specified. A "pledge and translate" process next year will attempt to quantify actual emission reduction commitments. Parties failed to agree on whether the new commitment period will end in 2017 or in 2020. The only major emitter bound by this extension is the EU, and it is unclear whether the bloc's previous internal target of a 20 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 is affected at all by this new agreement. In other words, the substance of the agreement remains undefined, and its practical impact is far from clear. As if to underline the fragility of the Protocol, yesterday Canada announced its intention to withdraw from Kyoto, the first country to do so. In addition to all this, the inclusive post-2020 treaty negotiation process Europe extracted in return for its Kyoto lifeline is vague and the legal status of any outcome is already contested. Although Kyoto survives, the Durban Platform hardy signals a shift in the direction of strengthened emissions mitigation.

2. Geoengineering on the fringes - Geoengineering as an explicit topic did not figure prominently at COP17, either formally or informally. The main discussion on climate engineering took place at a dedicated side event, where two documents were released: an SRMGI status report (containing no recommendations), and a short UNESCO-SCOPE-UNEP policy brief. None of this activity seemed to have any significant effect on the broader conference proceedings.

3. Market mechanisms - By extending the Kyoto Protocol, parties also preserved its market mechanisms, CDM and JI. Importantly, parties agreed to integrate CCS projects into the CDM, which gives this key CDR component technology a foothold in the carbon offset market and may eventually help qualify other carbon removal techniques for carbon credits. In general, Durban maintained key elements of the global carbon market that may one day play a substantial role in promoting large-scale carbon dioxide removal.

4. REDD+ - Little was achieved with regard to REDD+ at Durban. The central issue remains financing--how much? from whom? public or private? under what oversight? While REDD+ will probably end up incorporated into carbon markets, some civil society groups vigorously oppose this on ideological grounds. Parties agreed to continue work on REDD+ financing in the new year.

Overall, COP17 and its resulting Durban Platform underscored the weakness of global mitigation efforts. The Kyoto Protocol will live on after 2012, but it is unlikely to lead to significant emissions abatement, and prospects for its 2020 successor agreement are questionable at best. As IISD notes, "those who look first to science to measure success were the least enthusiastic about the Durban Platform, for they know that--once again--the endemic incrementalism that has haunted climate negotiations since 1992 continues to force compromise on sufficient commitments on mitigation." Our collective options continue to narrow, and climate engineering looks increasingly unavoidable.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Even Higher Cost for Direct Air Capture

Earlier this year the American Physical Society (APS) released a report estimating the cost of direct air capture (DAC) at $600 per metric ton of CO2, compared to $80 per ton for conventional, point-source CCS systems (see Bright Spots for Direct Air Capture, 6/24). Now a second study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which advances a much higher cost estimate, even relative to the APS report. Based on observed separation cost trends and energy penalty analyses, the authors estimate the cost of DAC at $1,000/tCO2. Although this estimate is generic and not specific to any particular DAC technology, and individual DAC processes could conceivably capture carbon for much less in the event of technological breakthroughs, nevertheless the overall analysis appears sound and its implications are troubling for supporters of DAC. Despite this, as David Keith notes, "To really know what it costs, someone actually has to build it."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Biochar Fund Giving Biochar a Bad Name?

Biofuelwatch is continuing its campaign against biochar with the release of a new report, "Biochar Fund Trials in Cameroon: Hype and Unfulfilled Promises." The report summarizes an investigation of a high-profile biochar project undertaken in Cameroon in 2008-2009 by Biochar Fund, a Belgian NGO, along with a local group called Key Farmers Cameroon. The project supported field trials conducted by locals and overseen by Biochar Fund, which were focused on enhancing agricultural productivity. Biochar Fund highlighted the climate benefits of biochar, and held out the prospect of future participation in the European carbon market and resulting financial benefits for local farmers.

In practice, the project was poorly managed and marred by inadequate oversight, miscommunication, flawed trials, and unrealistic expectations. The trials were discontinued amid confusion, and the project fizzled out leaving participants in the dark--"Even farmers who had described participation in the trial as a positive experience at the time, were wondering what benefits - financial or otherwise, they had actually gained from the experience" (p. 19). The report contends that Biochar Fund leveraged the initial appearance of success in Cameroon to obtain funds from the Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF) for a second biochar project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Even proponents of biochar must admit that Biochar Fund comes off looking sloppy and unprofessional at best in the wake of this report. But it is important to emphasize that a mediocre project run by Biochar Fund is not equivalent to the failure of biochar as a climate remediation technology. The report itself notes that "Verification of the actual trial results would have been impossible at this stage and was therefore not an aim of this investigation" (p. 20). Indeed, "farmers told us that they had been impressed by the quality and quantity of the maize harvested" (p. 12). From a geoengineering perspective, the carbon sequestration impacts of biochar were never even examined. Biochar Fund deserves to be admonished, but "guilt by association" should not extend to biochar as a whole.

Monday, December 5, 2011

New Spending in US and Australia

Far from Durban, new spending has been announced for geoengineering-related technologies. In the US, a "minibus" spending bill (HR 2112) for the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, and others was signed into law last month. Provision for $2 billion in spending on fossil-fuel CCS was folded into the bill, funds which are now available for new or existing plants.

In Australia, the government announced AUD$2 million in biochar research grants as part of its Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) roll-out (see Australian Carbon Farming Passes, 8/22). Grants will be made under a new Biochar Capacity Building Program (BCBP), intended to spur agricultural investment in biochar and participation in the national carbon market set to launch next year.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What to Look for in Durban

On Monday, UNFCCC COP17 gets underway in Durban, South Africa. Geoengineering will not be a focus of the proceedings, yet several agenda items will have a direct bearing on the future of SRM and CDR strategies. Here are four areas to watch, all of which impact geoengineering research and policy:

1. The future of Kyoto - The first legally-binding "commitment period" under the Kyoto Protocol will expire at the end of next year, and no successor agreement is currently in place. Parties have struggled in vain since Copenhagen to reach consensus on a second commitment period to take effect after 2012, thereby avoiding a gap in the schedule of international mandatory emissions reductions. Unfortunately, leading states are highly unlikely to strike such a deal in Durban. Failure to negotiate a new scheme will reinforce the belief that a robust global mitigation regime is not possible under present circumstances, and even more attention will shift to geoengineering as a result. Ironically, rather than creating a moral hazard that weakens efforts to reduce emissions, geoengineering is likely to gain in prominence due to the moral failure to mitigate climate change.

2. Geoengineering on the fringes - Geoengineering is not wholly absent from the conference agenda. The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI) will release a report in Durban, and UNESCO, UNEP, and the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) will issue a joint policy brief on geoengineering. Climate engineering is also certain to be the subject of informal discussions on the meeting sidelines. It will be important to gauge the reactions of conference delegates to geoengineering research proposals and policy initiatives, especially when juxtaposed against likely nonsuccess in the mitigation arena.

3. Market mechanisms - With a second commitment period in doubt, so too are the "flexible mechanisms," i.e., the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI), set up under the Kyoto Protocol to promote international emissions trading. Carbon markets will likely be an essential source of finance for CDR projects. The CDM in particular, coupled with the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), has played a critical role in marshaling carbon finance to date. In Durban, parties will debate whether the end of the first commitment period will mean the end of these market mechanisms, whether they will be extended beyond 2012, or whether CDM and JI will be replaced by restructured institutions. Discussions are likely to focus on the creation of a new "sectoral crediting mechanism," which would scale up from project-level crediting (integral to the CDM) to sectoral-level carbon credits. In addition, COP17 will consider whether to incorporate CCS into the CDM, a decision that will have significant consequences for multiple CDR technologies such as direct air capture and BECCS.

4. REDD+ - Most observers regard REDD+ as one of the few potential bright spots on the Durban agenda. Delegates will continue to work on establishing the institutional architecture of the REDD+ forest credit system, most importantly the financial arrangements that will anchor the emerging framework. Afforestation and reforestation (A/R) activities currently make up a small fraction of CDM projects, but this could change depending on the outcome of REDD+ discussions, particularly those relating to carbon stock enhancements. As usual, NGOs will be out in force to oppose plantation forestry.

Look for blog updates on these and other issues over the next two weeks as circumstances warrant ...

(Note: Minor correction made on 11/30/11.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New US Group Champions Carbon Negative Economy

A new organization known as the National Panel for a Carbon Negative Economy has convened for the first time and agreed on initial steps to promote the growth of negative emissions. The 33-member panel is led by Iowa State University and includes other universities, federal agencies, private companies, and NGOs. Its purpose is to elaborate the conceptual framework for a carbon negative economy and help popularize the idea in wider society. In one version of the carbon negative economy sketched out by the Panel, second-generation biofuels and algae would be used to capture atmospheric carbon, then converted to biocrude for use in transportation, chemicals, and power generation. The biocrude production process also creates biochar, which sequesters carbon and enhances agricultural productivity. The project has secured $500,000 in funding over the next three years.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

UNEP Campaign Reaches Twelve Billion Trees

The Billion Tree Campaign, a reforestation effort organized in 2007 by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), has announced that more than twelve billion trees have now been planted under the program. The goal of the campaign is to plant one billion trees worldwide each year. All UN member states have participated in the program, with China in the lead with 2.8 billion trees planted and India second with 2.1 billion. The Billion Tree Campaign was inspired by the late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai and her Green Belt Movement, and carbon sequestration is identified as one of its key objectives. The campaign does not organize tree plantings directly, rather it tracks, coordinates, and publicizes numerous planting schemes across the globe.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

UK Government Rejects Call to Suspend SPICE

As the debate over SPICE intensified in late September, the anti-geoengineering HOME campaign called on the UK government to suspend, if not cancel, the stratospheric aerosol research project. While the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) subsequently imposed a six-month delay on the project in order to conduct additional stakeholder consultations (see Lessons from the SPICE Delay, 10/15/11), the government has now responded to HOME's request with a firm "no." In a letter to HOME and its supporters, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has reiterated that research councils, not governments, are the appropriate bodies for making specific project funding decisions. DECC rejects every argument put forward by HOME in opposition to SPICE: SPICE does not violate the CBD; SPICE does not distract from emissions mitigation efforts; SPICE does not undermine the UK's international negotiating position on climate change. Contrary to what HOME asserts, "Geoengineering research is not a first step to deployment; rather it increases understanding of the issue and allows rational discussion and evidence-based policy to be developed." From a political perspective, the DECC letter is a good example of how to respond to attacks from HOME and ETC Group in a way that is concise, comprehensive, and persuasive, without giving these groups unwarranted and undeserved attention.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Global Endorsement of CCS, Including EOR

At a recent meeting of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) in Beijing, energy and environment ministers from 25 countries and the European Commission pledged their continuing support for CCS as a key technology to help combat climate change. In an official communique, they declared,

CCUS [carbon capture, utilization, and storage] is a necessary technology essential to enabling us to achieve our climate goals and which has been proven safe and effective in all current demonstration projects and applications around the world. We must urgently increase the number of large CCUS demonstrations to enable the deployment of CCUS commercially by the end of this decade.

Apart from repeating a general commitment to CCS, the statement appeared to serve at least three other, interrelated purposes. First, ministers sought to reassure stakeholders that public support for CCS would continue even in a turbulent world economy. Second, ministers agreed to extend the life of the CSLF indefinitely beyond its current expiration date of 2013. Third, ministers sought to expand the scope of the Forum from conventional CCS (carbon, capture, and storage) to CCUS, reflecting the additional use of captured carbon dioxide in chemical processes and especially in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) operations.

In EOR, carbon dioxide injections are used to pump otherwise inaccessible oil from depleted fields. Endorsing EOR is likely to generate some controversy, since EOR produces more oil and thus leads to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. However, any increase in emissions caused by expanded EOR will be small, both in absolute terms, given the scale of global fossil fuel consumption, and in relative terms, given the large mitigation and reduction potential that such technology development will likely make possible. On balance, support for EOR is justified based on this cost-benefit calculus, and its embrace by the CSLF should be welcomed.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

CCS Stumbles in the UK

Earlier this month, the UK government announced the cancellation of plans to fund a large-scale CCS project at the Longannet coal-fired power plant in Scotland. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) had pledged £1 billion to the effort, but project partners including Scottish Power, Royal Dutch Shell, and National Grid wanted an additional £500 million in government support. Unable to reach a deal, the government announced that "a decision has been made not to proceed with Longannet but to pursue other projects with the £1bn funding made available."

This is an unfortunate development, but the fact that £1 billion in funding will remain available is encouraging. Indications are that the financing dispute over Longannet was specific to that proposal, rather than a reflection of any more general softening of government support, even in the present context of spending cuts and budget austerity. Earlier this year, DECC submitted seven other UK CCS projects to the EU for possible funding assistance. The government remains hopeful on that score, and has reiterated its commitment to CCS at the national level.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

An End to Forest Offsets?

A group of European environmental NGOs is calling for "an end to forest offsets!" in an eponymous new manual designed to forestall the integration of REDD+ into international carbon markets. The six organizations (Amis de la Terre; Arbeitsgemeinschaft Regenwald und Artenschutz, ARA; Euronatura; Norges Naturvernforbund; Rainforest Foundation UK; and Stichting FERN) together argue that forests should be excluded from carbon markets because,

"From a scientific point of view, planting a tree to compensate for the release of fossil carbon in the atmosphere doesn't work on several levels. For example, the territorial scales are wrong - there is not enough land on the planet to plant the amount of trees it would require to soak up current fossil carbon emissions. Secondly, the timescales are wrong - oil and coal are compressed fossil carbon, whose development has taken millions of years, whereas the lifecycle of a tree represents a millennium at best after which time any stored CO2 is released back into the atmosphere" (p. 3).

This rationale is flawed in numerous ways. It is absurd to suggest that proponents of linking REDD+ to carbon markets are seeking to substitute conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks for cuts in emissions. Proposals to slow deforestation and promote reforestation/afforestation are clearly intended to complement, not replace, conventional mitigation. This is why carbon markets generally set ceilings on the use of offsets. Reforestation and afforestation would result in negative emissions, a possibility this booklet overlooks entirely. Permanence is a central principle of forest offsets, and indeed all carbon offset projects, and offset methodologies address the timescale issue in a variety of sophisticated ways.

There are plenty of problems associated with forest offsets--monoculture plantations, baseline calculations, procedural complexity--that are legitimate targets of criticism. But these problems are manageable, and are not the focus of this newly published diatribe. Instead, this manual attacks a straw man forest offset which ignores widely accepted standards of offset project design and management. Notably, this document was produced with the support of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Education and Culture, in one more sign of growing European inconsistency on the subject of climate engineering (see European Parliament Comes Out Against Geoengineering, 10/11).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Public Opinion Supports SRM Research

The results of a comprehensive international survey on public attitudes toward SRM have been published, and they show a surprising degree of support for SRM as a potential climate strategy. The survey covered 3,105 individuals in the US, UK, and Canada. Major findings include:
  • 8% of respondents correctly defined "geoengineering."

  • 45% of respondents correctly defined "climate engineering."

  • 72% of respondents approved of SRM research.

These results shed some light on the familiar debate over using "geoengineering" versus "climate engineering" to describe large-scale climate interventions, by demonstrating that the latter term has more traction among the general public. However, the term "geoengineering" cannot simply be dismissed as a confusing, less appealing label, since it is now uniquitous in climate policy discussions. The debate will go on (and I will continue to use the terms interchangeably on this blog).

More significantly, responses indicate strong support for SRM research and development, while predictably less support for actual deployment. This is encouraging news, and flies in the face of claims of widespread public opposition made by ETC Group, EcoNexus, and others. Indeed, when such assertions are confronted with the sort of empirical evidence produced by this survey, opposition to SRM and climate engineering more broadly begins to look less like the voice of the people, and more like an atavistic, Luddite agenda pursued by a handful of media-savvy fringe groups.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Does Testing Really Equal Deployment?

In a memorable 2010 article titled "A Test for Geoengineering?," Alan Robock and others argued that, because the climate system is highly complex, interconnected, and characterized by a low signal-to-noise ratio, a convincing test of SRM must be planetary in scale, and thus "geoengineering cannot be tested without full-scale implementation" (p. 530). Now David Keith, Ken Caldeira, and two other colleagues have challenged this assertion. In "Can We Test Geoengineering?," these authors contend that smaller scale experiments, while incapable of providing definitive answers regarding the effects and effectiveness of global SRM deployment, nevertheless would generate very useful information on the likely costs and benefits of implementation. They write,

an initial test (or sub-scale deployment phase) could provide important tests of the climate's response to geoengineering within a decade, although accurate estimates could require several decades or longer. Testing cannot eliminate uncertainty about the risks posed by geoengineering, but testing by modulation could improve understanding of risks of geoengineering and might also constrain our estimate of the climate's sensitivity to CO2.

Since last year, the idea that SRM testing and SRM deployment would be identical in practice has been conventional wisdom, which in turn has had a discernible chilling effect on SAI and other climate engineering research proposals. With this conventional wisdom challenged, we may begin to see a greater willingness to consider and fund smaller scale experiments to establish a body of empirical evidence. Such observations would serve as an essential foundation on which to base future decisions about additional testing and possible deployment.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lessons from the SPICE Delay

The SPICE stratospheric aerosol testbed delay has been much discussed inside and outside the geoengineering community. To recap what is known, it appears that the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) independent panel advising SPICE expressed concern over insufficient stakeholder engagement in the run-up to the pipe-balloon engineering test, originally scheduled for October. The advisory panel recommended a six-month delay in testing, and project managers agreed. During this interlude, the SPICE project team will conduct a more thorough round of consultations with stakeholders and other interested parties. The ETC Group predictably claimed credit for the delay, although SPICE project manager Matt Watson attributes the postponement to issues raised by a broader set of actors.

There are a couple of lessons to take away from this episode. First, public engagement will be essential to the success of any large-scale geoengineering experiment. This point was made well by Jane Long, co-chair of the group responsible for the recent Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) report on climate engineering research (see BPC Report, 10/6):

Public engagement may be slow, time-consuming, and even frustrating, but the alternative is greater controversy and a more energized opposition.

Second, whether or not ETC Group was actually responsible for the testbed delay, once again we see a loud, organized opposition to climate engineering, but no countervailing voice of reason to make the case for a robust research program. The geoengineering community is essentially networked. While this structure is advantageous for generating ideas and discussion, it is disadvantageous when it comes to promoting concrete action in the political arena. The SPICE delay just reinforces the need for more organization among advocates of climate engineering research. Fortunately, an effort is currently underway (involving myself and others) to bring a greater level of coherence and institutionalization to geoengineering research advocacy. With more organization in place, future debates and controversies related to climate engineering should be more balanced and informative, with outcomes that are more responsive to the planetary emergency we face.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

European Parliament Comes Out Against Geoengineering

At least one European institution is taking a stand against climate engineering. In a recent resolution passed in advance of next year's Rio+20 summit, the European Parliament (EP) announced that it "Expresses its opposition to proposals for large scale geo-engineering" (paragraph 90). While other European authorities are supporting a growing list of important research projects (see Now Comes EuroChar, 10/8), the EP is declaring itself hostile to climate intervention. Fortunately, the EP is the least significant of the central EU bodies--many observers regard it as little more than a talking shop with minimal influence over EU legislation and policy. Nevertheless, it will be important to watch how this affects other EU organs as they attempt to formulate common positions prior to Rio+20.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Now Comes EuroChar

Europe is again pushing the frontiers of climate engineering research, this time with "EuroChar," a comprehensive, continent-wide assessment of biochar as a carbon sequestration technology. The EuroChar project will, inter alia, demonstrate different biochar production methods, conduct a full Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA), perform laboratory experiments on physical and chemical properties of biochar, and carry out three large-scale field trials in Italy, France, and the UK. The project, coordinated by the Italian Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), will cost a total 3.7 million, 2.5 million of which will be provided by the EU. EuroChar will run through the end of 2013.

With the SPICE aerosol injection and CarbFix CCS/enhanced weathering projects also underway (albeit with some growing pains), the existence of another high-profile European project signals that Europe is serious about research and development of climate engineering technologies. This contrasts unfavorably with the meager support currently offered by the US government, a point driven home this week by the release of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) report calling for a robust federal research program (see BPC Report, 10/6). It is high time for the US government to take a lead in global climate engineering research.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

BPC Report

On Tuesday, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) released its long-awaited report on climate engineering, titled "Geoengineering: A National Strategic Plan for Research on the Potential Effectiveness, Feasibility, and Consequences of Climate Remediation Technologies." As its subtitle indicates, the idea behind this report is to provide a blueprint for initiating a systematic federal research program on climate engineering technologies. The report recommends a multi-agency research and development effort centrally coordinated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP--incidentally, headed by John Holdren), with budgetary and program support from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and expert opinion and advice from a new advisory commission. This research program should support both SRM and CDR approaches, and should be tightly linked to international research efforts. No funding target is specified.

This plan is balanced and sensible, and aligns with previous proposals for federal climate engineering research programs. However, the authors of this plan stake out new ground both in presenting their recommendations as centrist and founded on broad political consensus, and in intending their report to jump start the creation of a federal research program. The key question is how the BPC and those who contributed to the report will follow up to implement its recommendations. The plan urges that "OSTP and OMB should begin working immediately to put together a coordinated program for SRM and CDR research that should be proposed as part of the president's fiscal year 2013 budget" (p. 17). How will this be achieved? Who will lead the way?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

IEA Promotes Industrial CCS, With Market Mechanisms

At a 2008 meeting in Japan, G8 ministers asked the International Energy Agency (IEA) to prepare a series of "technology roadmaps" that would facilitate the global transition to a green, clean energy economy. IEA subsequently produced the report "Technology Roadmap: Carbon Capture and Storage," which sketched out a detailed pathway for CCS to help achieve a 50 percent reduction in global emissions by 2050. This CCS roadmap, centered on applications in the power sector, has proven influential in government and industry circles.

Now IEA has released a second CCS roadmap, the "Technology Roadmap: Carbon Capture and Storage in Industrial Applications," focused on utilization of CCS in iron and steel, cement manufacturing, etc. One of the key findings is that "CCS could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 4.0 gigatonnes (Gt) annually by 2050 in industrial applications, accounting for about 9% of the reductions needed to halve energy-related CO2 emissions by 2050. To achieve this target, 20% to 40% of all facilities need to be equipped with CCS by 2050" (p. 5). As in the previous report, the roadmap presents a sequence of steps designed to reach this ambitious goal.

Of particular note, the roadmap observes that "Governments and financiers need to ensure funding mechanisms are in place to support demonstration and deployment of CCS in developing countries, where the largest opportunities exist for CO2 capture in industrial applications" (p. 5). Furthermore, "If CCS can be implemented through the ... Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) or other new global climate mechanisms, the cost barrier could be partly overcome" (p.5). The UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) is currently grappling with a number of issues relating to inclusion of CCS in the CDM. Hopefully the publication of this latest roadmap will spur SBSTA members to finalize mechanisms for incorporating CCS, applied in multiple sectors, into the CDM and hence provide an important incentive for the accelerated adoption of this key carbon reduction technology.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

As SPICE Goes Up, CarbFix Goes Down

While the SPICE aerosol injection project continues to attract media attention, another important research effort is getting underway in Iceland. The experiment, known as CarbFix, seeks to test a novel carbon reduction method combining features of CCS and enhanced weathering. Specifically, the CarbFix project will separate CO2 from a geothermal power plant, add water to make "seltzer," and inject the carbonated water into an underground basalt formation. At depth, high pressure will convert the liquid to carbonic acid, which will then combine with the surrounding basalt to form limestone, "fixing" carbon into the rock on an essentially permanent basis. Reykjavik Energy and several partners will conduct this test over a six- to twelve-month period to assess the potential of CarbFix as a CDR strategy.

CarbFix represents something of a second try by Iceland to remake itself as a climate and energy technology pioneer. Prior to the country's 2008 economic collapse, Icelandic political and business leaders sought to position the island as a world leader in clean energy (particularly geothermal), with the goal of eliminating the nation's carbon footprint in the near future. Financial turmoil brought this to a halt. Now, with 90 percent of its subsurface composed of volcanic basalt, Iceland is returning to the energy frontier, this time with a climate engineering twist.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

EPA Moves to Reduce Barriers to CCS

Earlier this month, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took regulatory action to promote greater investment in CCS technology. Specifically, EPA proposed that CO2 injections be excluded from strict controls on hazardous materials mandated by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). So long as CO2 streams are delivered via special "Class VI" wells (defined in a complementary new final rule under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or SDWA), project developers would be exempt from otherwise stringent RCRA requirements for handling hazardous waste. The idea behind the proposed change is to reduce regulatory burdens and enhance business certainty in order to spur more spending on CCS deployment. The proposed rule will soon be open for public comment.

Friday, August 26, 2011

New GAO Report Offers Familiar Conclusions

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a final report stemming from the House Science and Technology Committee's inquiry on climate engineering begun in 2009 (for more, see More Momentum for Geoengineering, 11/1/10). The new GAO Technology Assessment delivers hopeful but familiar findings:
  • Climate engineering is not currently an option for addressing climate change.
  • Most climate experts support a major research effort.
  • The public is open to climate engineering research, but with reservations.
These conclusions are hardly groundbreaking, but they do indicate growing establishment support for a federal role in climate engineering research. Indeed, there is already evidence that this report is having salutary effects in wider circles. The next major report on climate engineering research is due to arrive this fall from the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Interesting Results from SPICE Stratospheric Aerosol Public Workshops

With the SPICE stratospheric aerosol research project now underway in the UK (see Research Moving Ahead in the UK, 7/3), a series of public workshops has been held to inform future funding decisions about the proposed 1 km pipe-balloon testbed delivery system. Initial results from these workshops have been released, and include some interesting findings. Perhaps most importantly, researchers concluded that "almost all of our participants were willing to entertain the notion that the test-bed as an engineering test – a research opportunity – should be pursued. Equally very few were fully comfortable with the notion of stratospheric aerosols as a response to climate change" (p. 24). Such views are to be expected, reflecting a tension between public support for scientific research in general, and popular unease with "exotic" technologies such as stratospheric aerosol injections. For the SPICE project, this signals a minimum level of public acquiescence to the pipe-balloon test concept.

One particularly intriguing result pertains to citizen views on governance of climate engineering. Among workshop participants,

A key concern was that international governance and regulatory structures be under development now, and not only in the event of full scale deployment, to help govern and co-ordinate research such as the test-bed and SPICE. Whilst not dismissing the importance of developing technical knowledge and proving efficacy in relation to geoengineering methods and stratospheric aerosols in particular, it was clear that our participants felt that funding decisions for both the test-bed and research stemming from the test-bed should be based as much on issues of governance and ethics, as on the science, engineering and technical knowledge (p. 24).

In other words, governance, policy, and politics figure just as prominently as science in the minds of informed publics. When it comes to climate engineering such as stratospheric aerosols, people want to know that policies, specifically international policies, exist to regulate research and development activities that might eventually lead to deployment. While this perspective conflicts with the bottom-up, norms-based approach to research favored by many in the climate engineering community, the capacity of top-down governance to reassure the public and anchor support for experimentation should not be overlooked.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Australian Carbon Farming Passes

After moving through the House of Representatives earlier this summer (see Carbon Farming Moves Through Australian Parliament, 6/27), Australia's Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI), designed to promote agroforestry offset projects, has been passed by the Australian Senate. Approved with minor amendments, the bill must now be rubber-stamped by the House before it becomes law. Importantly, the CFI is unlikely to make a significant impact until Parliament passes a more comprehensive carbon package which would introduce a limited carbon tax in July 2012. Analysts expect most CFI investments to flow toward reforestation projects--an offset methodology for "environmental plantings" is currently under review. Soil carbon storage and biochar are also likely to be eligible under the CFI, although necessary methodologies have yet to be considered. The CFI will be the world's first national agroforestry carbon credit system.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

FCPF Launches Carbon Fund

Last month, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), part of the World Bank Group, officially launched its Carbon Fund to support REDD+ projects. In the REDD+ universe, the FCPF is envisioned as a primary vehicle for delivering funds to developing countries for forest conservation activities (including reforestation and afforestation). The Facility has been supporting national preparations for REDD+ participation through its Readiness Fund, which has financial commitments totaling $232 million, and now the FCPF will be able to distribute payments for REDD+ program implementation through the $215 million Carbon Fund. However, these figures represent money pledged and committed, rather than delivered, to the FCPF. Furthermore, REDD+ still lacks the core institutional machinery to enable payments in return for emissions reductions. As is often the case with REDD+, there is less here than meets the eye.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Another Important BECCS Report

The IEA has released a major study on the potential of BECCS technologies to achieve negative emissions, the second such report published this year (see New Report on BECCS, 4/17). As with the earlier report, this study is strongly supportive of greater investments in BECCS research and possible deployment. The IEA study considers six different BECCS technologies based on technical (physical), realizable (capital), and economic (market) potentials. Based on these assessments, the study concludes that BECCS used in combination with gasification electricity production, and BECCS combined with biodiesel production, offer the greatest CDR potential: by 2050, each of these technology pathways could generate more than 3 Gt CO2 eq. per year in negative emissions. Unsurprisingly, the IEA views the price of carbon as "the key driver" for widespread adoption of BECCS systems. (In line with this, the IEA is currently pushing for inclusion of BECCS under the CDM.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bill Clinton Champions White Roofs

Former President Bill Clinton has declared white roofs "the single best idea to jumpstart job creation." Interestingly, he frames the issue solely in terms of job creation and energy savings, with no mention (or awareness?) of its potential for albedo modification. This is smart politics, since appealing to economic self-interest in a time of sclerotic growth is a much surer way to garner support for white roofs than trumpeting their global climate benefits. Recall that Energy Secretary Steven Chu tried this latter tack in 2009, and was rewarded with ridicule for his efforts.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Climate Change, Security, and Small Island States

On July 20, the UN Security Council held an open debate on the subject of climate change and risks to international security. The topic was introduced by Germany, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council. Following on from earlier efforts to raise the issue of climate security within the Council, Germany sought to begin an ongoing dialogue on the security risks posed by climate change, in particular the threat of sea-level rise and dangers to food supplies. Discussion also focused on the possible future need for UN "green helmets" for deployment to violent conflicts around the world caused or exacerbated ("threat-multiplied") by climate change.

Germany was strongly supported by the Pacific Small Island Developing States grouping. The chairman of this organization, President Marcus Stephen of Nauru, urged in a July 18 op-ed in the New York Times that "the Security Council should join the General Assembly in recognizing climate change as a threat to international peace and security. It is a threat as great as nuclear proliferation or global terrorism." Yet he went on to write that "Negotiations to reduce emissions should remain the primary forum for reaching an international agreement." Climate engineering was not mentioned as a potential strategy.

The existential threat faced by small island states as a result of global warming and rising seas is more than sufficient reason to explore geoengineering as an additional climate policy option. Emissions mitigation, even if deep cuts were somehow achieved over the next decades, will not be enough to prevent the demise of low-lying island states such as Nauru, the Marshall Islands, and the Maldives. In the absence of climate intervention, such countries will cease to exist in any meaningful sense. When rising sea levels are treated as a matter of war and peace before the UN Security Council, national leaders compare their climate predicaments to nuclear proliferation and terrorism, and the future existence of entire nation-states is in doubt, surely it is appropriate to consider all possible solutions. Small island developing states, and representative organizations such as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), ought to be at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to jump-start research into geoengineering.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Russian Government Sponsoring Scientific Conference on Geoengineering

This year's Problems of Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC-2011) conference, scheduled for November in Moscow, will focus heavily on geoengineering as a response to the climate crisis. One of its main sections is titled "Research of Opportunities for Climate Stabilization Using New Technologies," and is co-chaired by Yuri Izrael (SRM researcher and associate of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin). PACC-2011 is being organized by the Russian government through its Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring. Official support for this scientific conference runs counter to recent economic (see BP Expands in Russian Arctic, 1/16) and military moves to exploit the warming Russian Arctic, and thus represents a continuation of Russia's de facto policy of ambivalence toward geoengineering (see Where Do the Major Powers Stand?, 12/5/10).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Research Moving Ahead in the UK

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a British government funding agency, has released initial funding for two geoengineering research projects. The first is a stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) project known as SPICE, or Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering. EPSRC has provided £1.6m to support particle research, construction of a 1 km pipe-balloon testbed delivery system, climate intervention computer modeling, and design of a deployable 20-25 km pipe-balloon system. SPICE is managed jointly by scientists at Bristol, Cambridge, and Reading Universities. The second project is the Integrated Assessment of Geoengineering Proposals (IAGP), a public education and outreach effort overseen by researchers from Leeds University. EPSRC has provided £1.7m to the IAGP project, results of which will inform the testbed component of SPICE. Once again, the British government is leading the way in public funding of geoengineering research.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Carbon Farming Moves Through Australian Parliament

The Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI), a scheme designed to generate carbon credits for offset projects undertaken in forestry and agriculture, has been passed by the Australian House of Representatives and is now headed for the Senate. The CFI is notable for the fact that it would grant credits for both reforestation and biochar projects, two key CDR strategies. The CFI is tied to carbon price (tax) legislation currently under development (not to be confused with the failed Emissions Trading Scheme which helped bring down the previous Labor government of Kevin Rudd). The current Labor government, led by Julia Gillard, intends to hold a Senate vote on the CFI by the end of this month, although a national carbon tax is not proposed until 2012. In the absence of an effective price on carbon, it is difficult to see how a market in agroforestry offset credits will take off.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bright Spots for Direct Air Capture

Proponents of direct air capture (DAC) technology have been back on their heels in the wake of a recent report by the American Physical Society (APS), which estimated the cost of DAC at approximately $600 per metric ton of CO2 (compared to $80/tCO2 for conventional CCS). Two new developments offer glimmers of hope. First, the prestigious Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), based in the UK, has released a policy statement in support of air capture. In contrast to the APS, IMechE considers that, "In the context of the margins of uncertainty of both, the costs of air capture and CCS emissions capture appear to be potentially of broadly similar magnitude." IMechE calls for more research on DAC and the development of facilitative policy mechanisms.

Second, in the US, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has signed off on the Barrasso bill, which would set up federal prizes to reward breakthroughs in DAC technology (see Additional Information on Barrasso Direct Air Capture Bill, 4/15). The CBO determined that, if enacted, the Barrasso bill would have no net budget impact. This is an important step as the bill moves forward through the Senate. To be sure, DAC faces serious obstacles in becoming an effective tool for achieving negative emissions, with high cost arguably its biggest hurdle. But support from governments and scientific establishments would help make the challenge a bit less daunting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ocean Scientists Warn of Mass Extinction, Call for CDR

The International Program on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), a group of marine scientists and other ocean experts, has released a report warning that climate change and other stressors are driving the oceans to the brink of disaster. Echoing another recent study (see Hurtling Toward the Sixth Mass Extinction, 3/6), the IPSO authors conclude that "Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean" (p. 7). One action they reportedly recommend is to move forward with research on CDR geoengineering, although they rule out iron fertilization on grounds that this technique would exacerbate ocean acidification (in the available summary report, IPSO calls only for "significantly increased measures for mitigation of atmospheric CO2" (p. 8), but a full report with more specific recommendations is due shortly).

The release of this report is timed to coincide with an UNCLOS meeting currently taking place in New York. It also happens to coincide with the IPCC geoengineering meeting now underway in Peru, as well as a CBD geoengineering meeting scheduled for next week in London. Hopefully these IPSO findings will influence deliberations at these gatherings by underscoring the urgent need for research on possible geoengineering strategies.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Minimal Progress on REDD in Bonn

There is little to show from consultations on REDD held at the Bonn Climate Change Conference. Deliberations centered on methodological issues discussed in meetings of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), but the only agreement reached was to continue discussions in preparation for the next UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) in Durban, South Africa, later this year. Baselines, measuring, reporting, and verification (MRV), and programmatic safeguards remain primary concerns.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Guardian Against Geoengineering?

The Guardian newspaper is adopting an increasingly negative tone toward geoengineering as a climate change strategy. Yesterday, the Guardian published a critical piece on the upcoming IPCC Expert Meeting in Peru. The article charges that "the scientific steering group of the meeting, which will assess the technologies, includes many well-known geo-engineering advocates who have called for public funds to conduct large-scale experiments as well as scientists who have patents on geo-engineering technologies or financial interests in the technologies." Keynote abstracts obtained from an IPCC source are referred to as "leaks." Considerable attention is devoted to the recent HOME/ETC Group letter to the IPCC (see HOME Sends Warning to IPCC, 6/15).

Today, the paper published a scathing opinion piece authored by Pat Mooney, Executive Director of ETC Group. This op-ed concludes with remarkable self-righteousness: "The likelihood that geo-engineering could bring a safe, lasting, democratic and peaceful solution to the climate crisis is miniscule. The potential for unilateralism, private profiteering and disastrous, irreversible, unintended effects is great. Geo-engineering does not deserve serious consideration within climate policy circles. It should be banned." While the Guardian also published a note sympathetic to geoengineering earlier in the week, this took the form of a short letter that was subsequently attacked in the paper's IPCC article. If nothing else, this recent run gives readers an improved understanding of where the Guardian comes down on the issue of geoengineering.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

HOME Sends Warning to IPCC

The Hands Off Mother Earth (HOME) campaign, led by ETC Group, has warned the IPCC not to embrace geoengineering at its upcoming Expert Meeting in Lima, Peru, scheduled for June 20-22 (see IPCC Expert Meeting on Geoengineering Set for June, 1/3). In a letter to Rajendra Pachauri, HOME declares that:

The IPCC aims to be “policy relevant” and “policy neutral,” and must take great care not to squander its credibility on geoengineering ... The IPCC’s announcement of the expert meeting already suggests that geoengineering has a place in the portfolio of legitimate responses to climate change (a highly contestable claim), and that the role of the IPCC is to define what that role is. Permit us to stress that this is not primarily a scientific question; it is a political one.

On this last point, the HOME campaign is indeed correct, but to suggest that ETC Group and its partner organizations represent the politics of social justice in this regard is arrogant and self-serving.

Interestingly, both Friends of the Earth (FOE) International and FOE US have signed this letter in support of the HOME position. This is curious, given that FOE (England, Wales & Northern Ireland) recently stated that geoengineering may be necessary to avert a climate catastrophe (see Friends of the Earth Steps Up, 12/18/10). This apparent disagreement may signal splintering within the FOE federation, and may presage additional fracturing within the global environmental community on the question of climate change and geoengineering.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

CDR Raised at Bonn Climate Talks

At the opening of climate talks in Bonn, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres has raised the possibility of CDR as a supplement to emissions mitigation. In an interview with the Guardian, Figueres stated that "We are putting ourselves in a scenario where we will have to develop more powerful technologies to capture emissions out of the atmosphere ... We are getting into very risky territory." This statement adds to a recent string of remarks by prominent international climate officials signaling potential openness to geoengineering (for example, see More Pachauri, 10/18/10).

Monday, June 6, 2011

More Tools Available for CCS Policymakers

As interest in CCS continues to grow, and funding levels increase, the CCS community is producing a number of tools designed to help CCS regulators and planners. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released a Carbon Capture and Storage Model Regulatory Framework intended to support national governments that are developing CCS regulatory systems. The "Model Framework" suggests key principles for organizing regulatory frameworks, and explores key issues such as CO2 storage that make CCS a particularly challenging policy field.

For established frameworks, the Global CCS Institute has assembled a Carbon Capture and Storage Regulatory Test Toolkit, to assist government evaluations of CCS legal and regulatory structures. The toolkit lays out a test exercise procedure for assessing the adequacy and effectiveness of permit processes and other regulatory aspects of the entire CCS chain, from capture to decommissioning. This package also aids in the creation of policy instruments including stakeholder maps, regulatory tables, and sample applications.

These sorts of tools will be increasingly useful as jurisdictions around the world look to accelerate CCS pilots, demonstrations, and other activities, as exemplified by a new Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) regulatory initiative.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Latest on CBD

When the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted its moratorium on geoengineering last year (see The Meaning of the Moratorium, 10/31/10), it also called for further research into the possible impacts of geoengineering on biodiversity and human systems, as well as existing international governance mechanisms. This follow-up track is now underway. The CBD Secretariat has assembled a Liaison Group on Climate-Related Geo-Engineering as it Relates to the Convention on Biological Diversity. This Liaison Group will include two separate panels, a larger group focused on the science of geoengineering and biodiversity, and a smaller group working on the regulatory framework and related gaps (full disclosure: I am serving on this second, regulatory panel). Members of the Liaison Group are scheduled to convene at a side meeting planned for UNFCCC climate talks in Bonn later this month. Following this "mini-workshop," the Liaison Group will prepare a report for the CBD Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA). This report is scheduled for delivery in the fall. The SBSTTA will then revisit the issue of geoengineering, governance, and the need for a moratorium.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Biochar Community Pledges Sustainability

The US Biochar Initiative, in association with Pacific Northwest Biochar, has begun work on a set of "Biochar Sustainability Protocols" designed to ensure that the fledgling biochar industry develops along a sustainable environmental and social trajectory. The first product of this effort is a draft "Declaration of Sustainability for Biochar Production," which sets out a number of guiding principles and accompanying sustainable "baseline practices." These principles are wide-ranging, encompassing issues as varied as intergenerational justice and long-term soil quality, and this heterogeneity is manifested in a long, expansive list of recommended practices. This particular protocol is focused on biochar production, and the US Biochar Initiative plans to develop additional codes to govern biochar energy, carbon sequestration, and biochar soil amendments.

This project can be read, at least in part, as a reaction to accusations made by NGOs last year that biochar represents an unjust and unsustainable carbon reduction option (see Attack on Biochar, 9/1/10). It is ironic that proponents of a technology widely regarded as epitomizing sustainability feel pressed to shore up their green credentials. Past experience, unfortunately, suggests that no amount of effort will be adequate to meet the concerns of those most vocal in their opposition to biochar and geoengineering more generally.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Uphill Battle in the Arctic

Despite the recent release of an Arctic Council report on climate change and regional collapse (see Alarming New Study from the Arctic Council, 5/5), the past week has witnessed discouraging developments on the Arctic front. On Thursday, the Arctic Council held its seventh Ministerial Meeting in Greenland, with attendees including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The focus of the meeting was not regional deterioration and possible mitigation, but rather the accelerating scramble for Arctic resources made possible by global warming. The main purpose of the gathering was to sign a new Search and Rescue (SAR) Agreement, necessitated by increasing traffic resulting from intensified oil and gas exploration and regional shipping.

Prior to the conference, WikiLeaks released a series of US diplomatic cables detailing the quickening rush to carve up newly accessible Arctic mineral resources. In one cable, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller is quoted as saying (with reference to US failure to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and consequent difficulty establishing claims in the Arctic), "if you stay out, then the rest of us will have more to carve up in the Arctic." Another cable quotes the Russian Ambassador to NATO remarking that "The twenty-first century will see a fight for resources, and Russia should not be defeated in this fight ... NATO has sensed where the wind comes from. It comes from the North."

The Arctic is in a grave state, but the reality is that many national and corporate interests stand to gain considerably from a thawing Arctic. Mineral resources, fisheries, superior shipping lanes--climate change is creating a resource bonanza for extractive and other industries. The irony, of course, is that the region most sensitive to global warming, and therefore most likely to benefit from expeditious geoengineering, is the same region giving rise to some of the most powerful incentives to acquiesce in, or even hasten, climate change.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Bolivia Fights On

After hosting the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Nature and helping engineer the CBD moratorium last year (see Update on CBD COP10, 10/21/10), the Bolivian government stepped back into the geoengineering debate in April on the occasion of the UN General Assembly Interactive Dialogue on Harmony with Nature in New York. During a speech deploring capitalism and advocating for the rights of nature, the Bolivian ambassador declared "It is time to stop and reaffirm the precautionary principle in the face of geo-engineering and all artificial manipulation of the climate. All new technologies should be evaluated to gauge their environmental, social and economic impacts. The answer for the future lies not in scientific inventions but in our capacity to listen to nature."

There is, of course, ample evidence that nature is asking for help (see, for example, Alarming New Study from the Arctic Council, 5/5/11). There is also a strong case to be made that the precautionary principle requires geoengineering rather than precludes it. In any case, Bolivia has clearly established itself as a leading critic of geoengineering on the international scene. The geoengineering community is wise to follow its next steps closely.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Enter the Vatican

Last month, the Vatican convened a working group under the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to examine the retreat of mountain glaciers driven by climate change. The results of that meeting have now been released, and include a surprising recommendation:

"It may be prudent to consider geo-engineering if irreversible and catastrophic climate impacts cannot be managed with mitigation and adaptation. A governance system for balancing the risks and benefits of geoengineering, and a transparent, broadly consultative consensus decision-making process to determine what risks are acceptable must be developed before any action can be taken" (p. 14).

This is based on an acceptance of climate science, acknowledgment of our Anthropocene epoch, an ethic of environmental stewardship, and concern for the poor who are most vulnerable to global warming. While this report does not represent the official policy of the Holy See, it was organized and produced under Vatican auspices, and its authors include some unexpected names (Rajendra Pachauri, Alan Robock). The report and its recommendations may have a small effect on geoengineering debates in predominantly Roman Catholic areas (parts of Europe, Latin America, the Philippines, etc.), and may also influence evolving views on climate intervention within other religious traditions and institutions.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Alarming New Study from the Arctic Council

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) of the Arctic Council has released a troubling new assessment titled "Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic" (SWIPA), the Executive Summary of which is available here. The report depicts a regional ecosystem in rapid decline due to global warming: "The observed changes in sea ice on the Arctic Ocean and in the mass of the Greenland Ice Sheet and Arctic ice caps and glaciers over the past ten years are dramatic and represent an obvious departure from the long-term patterns" (p. i). "Key findings" include record warm temperatures, accelerating feedback mechanisms, decreasing snow cover and sea ice, thawing permafrost, melting glaciers and ice caps, a retreating Greenland Ice Sheet, and widespread economic and social disruptions across the region.

These changes are attributed unequivocally to climate change, and AMAP expects worse to come, for instance, "Average Arctic autumn-winter temperatures are projected to increase by between 3 and 6 degrees C by 2080, even using scenarios in which greenhouse gas emissions are projected to be lower than they have been for the past ten years" (p. v). Despite this outlook, the study's authors call for nothing more than mitigation and adaptation, evidently resigning themselves to the collapse of the Arctic cryosphere. The potential of geoengineering to halt this collapse is ignored, without explanation or even acknowledgement.

Over the years, many observers have pointed to the Arctic Council as an ideal forum for organizing and conducting geoengineering research, in particular SRM. The Arctic is already suffering disproportionately from climate change, and member states all experience the negative effects of global warming in similar ways. Arctic Council membership is restricted and small, which simplifies bargaining and negotiation among governments. All members are developed countries, which avoids the familiar specter of North-South climate conflict. And the Council incorporates indigenous peoples of the region as "Permanent Participants," representing the interests of those most vulnerable to Arctic decline. So far the Arctic Council has ignored repeated entreaties to consider the possible benefits of climate engineering. Perhaps the results of its own research will now spur the Council to alter its position.

Friday, April 29, 2011

New RAND Study

The RAND Corporation has released a new study titled Governing Geoengineering Research, in which the authors combine a "vulnerability-and-response-option analysis framework" with a robust decisionmaking (RDM) model to explore possible consequences of different US policies on geoengineering research. While this quantitative, decision-analytic methodology is a welcome addition to the literature on geoengineering policy, employing this approach leads to fairly mundane results:

"This analysis offers the following preliminary results for policymakers. If U.S. policymakers believe that some type of SRM technology is possible, they ought to prefer the Strong Norms policy [i.e., promote research]. ... If they believe that successful SRM technology is unlikely, U.S. policymakers might prefer the Ban [i.e., oppose research] or No Norms [i.e., laissez faire] option to Strong Norms" (pp. 39-40).

In other words, if geoengineering works, support geoengineering research, and if geoengineering fails, forget about it. These conclusions are unremarkable, but the study is significant in signalling continuing interest in geoengineering on the part of the US defense establishment. The effects of this interest are, of course, open to debate.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Panda Standard

The "Panda Standard" is a new voluntary carbon offset standard being developed for the Chinese market. What makes it noteworthy is that the Standard is expressly designed to support both emissions reduction and emissions removal projects in China, which offers a significant opportunity to advance CDR in the world's second-largest economy. Importantly, the Panda Standard has official state backing from both the China Beijing Environment Exchange (CBEEX) and the China Forestry Exchange (CFEX). In functional terms, the Panda Standard resembles other voluntary offset standards and closely adheres to CDM practices and procedures. One unusual feature of the Panda Standard is the requirement that projects demonstrate "ancillary benefits": "The project shall generate net positive impacts on the environment as well as on the social and economic wellbeing of communities and shall mitigate potential on-site and off-site negative effects caused by the project activity" (p. 7).

So far, work on the Standard has focused on land use management. The first sector-specific protocol, Panda Standard Sectoral Specification for Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (PS-AFOLU), was released for public comment late last year (the comment period ended in January). This draft protocol explicitly recognizes both reforestation/afforestation ("Forestation and Vegetation Increase") and biochar ("Cropland Management") as eligible project types. Needless to say, the elaboration and adoption of PS-AFOLU and other protocols warrants close attention going forward.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

New Report on BECCS

A new report on bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) makes a compelling case for accelerated development of this CDR technology. The report, released by the Global CCS Institute, underlines the cost-effectiveness of BECCS as a means of achieving negative emissions, and emphasizes the flexibility of this technology in terms of feedstocks, storage options, and potential co-firing with fossil fuels. Particular attention is paid to the use of BECCS in the pulp and ethanol industries, which is especially promising due to their generation of high purity CO2 streams as part of the production process. However, as with other CDR technologies, market and policy barriers pose obstacles to further expansion: "There is an urgent need to expand the number of BECCS projects in all phases. ... Barriers to deployment need [to] be removed and directed funding will need to be instituted in order to provide equal terms for the BECCS technology relative to other mitigation options" (p. 41).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Additional Information on Barrasso Direct Air Capture Bill

The Barrasso/Bingaman CDR bill (S. 757) is now available for review here. The proposed text provides additional information and clarification on the bill (for original post, see "CDR Bill Reintroduced in US Senate," 4/9). Most importantly, this bill is focused specifically on direct air capture technology, not on other forms of CDR. Initial discussions of the bill in the press referred to CCS, but S. 757 does not address carbon storage either. (CCS is a more common term, and commentators may have equated point-source post-combustion "carbon capture" with ambient "air capture.") Lastly, the Barrasso bill envisions prizes, not grants, which is significant in that prizes reward technology that has already been developed while grants support the development process itself (the bill does not specify award amounts).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Greenpeace Goes After McKinsey on REDD+

Greenpeace has released a new report titled "Bad Influence: How McKinsey-Inspired Plans Lead to Rainforest Destruction," in which the group attacks international consulting firm McKinsey for its perceived pernicious influence on the emerging REDD+ system. The focus of the criticism is the "McKinsey curve," a proprietary marginal abatement cost curve (MAC) developed by McKinsey that has become a preeminent policy tool for guiding REDD analysis and prescriptions. In essence, the McKinsey curve, like any MAC, presents the relative cost-effectiveness of different options for reducing emissions, based on certain assumptions and projections. In the view of Greenpeace, the McKinsey curve as applied to the forestry sector in developing countries suffers from a number of serious flaws and underlying biases:

  • McKinsey asserts proprietary rights over the curve, and does not disclose the assumptions, baselines, and calculations on which its model is built. As a result, it is not clear how McKinsey derives its calculations of forest carbon stocks, carbon flows, and abatement option potentials. This lack of transparency is particularly problematic in a field such as REDD where open measurement and verification is critical to maintaining the integrity of monitoring and payments mechanisms.

  • In many cases, the data that populate the McKinsey model are inaccurate, speculative, or even nonexistent.

  • Forest sector baseline scenarios (which help determine compensation for emissions reductions) tend to exaggerate the growth potential of extractive industries, leading to overcompensation for logging and agribusiness interests.

  • The McKinsey curve contains systematic biases in favor of large-scale commercial operations at the expense of subsistence farming, for example, by failing to account for the considerable implementation costs associated with REDD projects that would target subsistence agriculture.

  • The McKinsey model is built on several heroic assumptions regarding REDD state institutional capacity that overestimate the abatement potential of large, centralized forest emissions reduction projects.

The net result of these defects is, according to Greenpeace, "that when rainforest countries employ McKinsey to apply its methodologies to their REDD+ prospects, they are in danger of wasting money on advice that harms their own interests and threatens the biosphere. A failure to insist on adequate safeguards for biodiversity or the rights of forest-dwelling peoples, or indeed to provide a realistic assessment of the technical and economic feasibility of proposals, does not merely threaten harmful consequences for the client country, but actually jeopardises the whole future of the REDD+ concept" (p. 27).

It is hard not to sympathize with the central charge leveled by Greenpeace at McKinsey, that the confidential nature of the McKinsey MAC curve is deeply problematic when that curve becomes the basis of national forest policies (e.g., Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Guyana, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Indonesia) and, in effect, global REDD policy. Certainly McKinsey has rights to intellectual property, but this must be balanced against the political and practical requirements for transparency in the formulation of international forest and climate policy. Unfortunately, much of what follows in the Greenpeace argument is intended to discredit large-scale reforestation and afforestation projects as counter to the interests of developing countries, forest inhabitants, biodiversity, and the global climate system. From the perspective of geoengineering, centralized commercial and industrial reforestation/afforestation strategies are worthy of consideration as ways to enhance carbon sinks and reduce atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, and there is no a priori reason to regard this approach as inimical to social and ecological wellbeing. Surely it is possible to increase the transparency of the REDD policy process in a way that maintains openness to the potential of reforestation and afforestation to help combat the effects of climate change.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

CDR Bill Reintroduced in US Senate

A bill designed to promote the development of CDR technologies has been reintroduced in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and John Barrasso (R-WY). The bill (S. 757) would establish a commission within the Department of Energy (DOE) charged with distributing grants to promising CDR systems that combine direct air capture and CCS technologies. Sponsors of the bill see potential for bipartisan support for CDR/CCS technologies, and are seeking to move the proposal through committee, although no date has been set for formal consideration.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Brief Update on SRMGI Conference

Last month, the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI) held a conference to discuss regulatory questions related to research. The meeting was generally off the record, and little information has been forthcoming. However, AP has reported a couple of interesting tidbits:

  • Most participants assumed that a coalition of advanced countries, led by the US and UK, would spearhead SRM research efforts. Membership may resemble the G20.

  • An independent panel of experts would be assembled to evaluate and offer recommendations on specific research proposals.

Hopefully more information will be made available in the near future.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fukushima Dai-ichi and Geoengineering

The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan threatens not only the local population and environment, and perhaps places farther away, but also threatens conventional plans to mitigate carbon emissions in response to global warming. Despite safety and cost concerns, the emissions-free baseload electricity provided by nuclear power is an essential component of any credible plan to shift the world economy away from fossil fuels. In recent years there has been talk of a “nuclear renaissance” driven by improved reactor designs, generous loan guarantees, streamlined licensing and regulatory procedures, growing recognition of the climate benefits of nuclear energy, and the absence of serious nuclear incidents since Chernobyl in 1986. This renewed push for nuclear power may be stopped or even reversed by the damage and possible meltdown at Fukushima Dai-ichi.

In the US, safety concerns now dominate the nuclear debate, and many government and corporate leaders have begun to reconsider new and proposed investments in the nuclear industry. Chinese authorities have announced plans to review construction of 77 new nuclear reactors. Germany, the country perhaps least friendly toward nuclear power, is set to backtrack on a 2010 decision to extend the lives of seven aging reactors. France, which is among the strongest proponents of nuclear power, is unique in viewing the crisis in Japan as a potential commercial opportunity for its domestic nuclear firms.

Movement away from nuclear power cannot be offset by increases in other forms of zero-emissions generation—renewables such as wind and solar are characterized by technical and performance constraints, available hydropower resources are dwindling, and energy efficiency faces inherent limitations in its capacity to squeeze out additional savings. Greater reliance on natural gas is an improvement over coal, but still results in significant carbon emissions. The remaining strategy to fight climate change is geoengineering, making it the only tool available to take up the slack left by a fading nuclear industry in any concerted effort to stabilize the climate. Geoengineering, in particular CDR, is therefore likely to play an even larger role in future climate policy following the hydra-headed disaster in Japan.