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.)