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.