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.