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.