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.